Islamist attacks on Bangladeshi mystics condemned

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Baul singers have faced repeated attacks from Islamic extremists in Bangladesh in recent years

A Baul singer performs at a festival in Bangladesh in 2016. (Photo: Stephan Uttom/UCA News)

Posted: September 06, 2022 10:16 GMT

Updated: September 06, 2022 10:28 GMT

Rights and culture activists marched through the streets of southwestern Bangladesh to lament and demand justice for the latest Islamist attack on a mystical singer, which they called an assault on religious freedom in the country to Muslim majority.

“The situation in our country has reached such a stage where we are not able to practice our religion properly, even those who sing mystical songs are insulted only because they are a minority,” said Moloy Kundu, a Hindu. and president of Sommilito Sangskritik. Jote (The United Cultural Alliance) in the Narail district.

The group joined a protest rally outside the district town’s Press Club on September 4 to condemn the attack on a Baul (mystical singer) in Purulia village in Narail on August 27.

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A Muslim mob led by Ali Mia, a local leader of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party, physically and verbally assaulted Harez Fakir, 70, a Baul and disciple of Lalon Shah, a 19th-century Bengali mystic, philosopher and social reformer .

The next day, the attackers broke into a Baul singers’ ashram and threatened to evict a group of singers while destroying their musical instruments, including ectara (a one-stringed instrument), alleged Moin Fakir, an assistant to Harez Fakir.

Kundu said religious minorities face increasing attacks from Islamist extremists in Bangladesh.

“I am very sad to say today that minorities in Bangladesh are prevented from practicing their religion by Muslim fundamentalists. They attack minorities on religious grounds, kill Fakir Lalon supporters and insult them,” Kundu told UCA News.

Since the attacks, Baul singers have lived in fear, said Moin Fakir.

“We now live in fear. All we want is to live singing songs like ours, and we don’t want to hurt anyone. So why attack us? He asked.

“We want the freedom to practice our lifestyle and philosophy. The state gave freedom to practice one’s religion or follow one’s ideology but did not provide opportunities to practice it,” he told UCA News.

Harez Fakir filed a complaint at the Kalia police station following the attack.

Sheikh Tasmim Alam, officer in charge of the Kalia police station, said a complaint had been filed against 20 to 25 people, including Ali Mia, for the attack.

“We would take legal action after investigation,” he said.

There are no exact data on the number of cases of attacks on Baul singers. However, local media have reported a series of attacks, including lawsuits against the Bauls, as extremist Islamists consider them heretics and brand their chanting and other activities as un-Islamic.

In January 2020, police arrested prominent singer Baul Shariat Bayati after Islamists filed a complaint against him under the country’s draconian digital security law. He was accused of offending the religious feelings of Muslims by defaming the Prophet Muhammad.

He has drawn the ire of Islamists for stating in one of his performances that “the Holy Quran does not forbid songs and music”.

He was detained for nearly two months, which sparked protests from civil society groups. He was released on bail only after the High Court issued a ruling.

In May of that year, unknown disbelievers burned down the ashram of Baul Ranesh Thakur in the northwestern district of Sunamganj. The fire emptied all of his belongings, including his books, notebooks and musical instruments.

In 2011, an Islamist mob assaulted a group of 28 Baul singers in Rajbari district and forced them to shave off their long hair and mustaches to socially humiliate them.

In 2014, a Baul singers program in Jessore district was bombed and a knife attack killed a Baul. Another attack was reported in 2016.

Lalon researcher Surbala Ray says the continued attacks on the Bauls are a blow to the non-sectarian, liberal and humanitarian culture of the Bengalis as a whole.

She said the Bauls are repeatedly attacked, but often the news does not reach the media.

“The Bauls are peaceful, non-communal, so they don’t even protest about it. But we have to come forward to protect them,” Ray told UCA News.

“Society-conscious citizens have a moral responsibility to stand with the Bauls, the state must in no way take a position in favor of fanatical groups and must create the space for religious freedom and respect for different opinions. rather than the safety of these minorities,” she added.

Father Patrick Gomes, secretary of the Bangladesh Catholic Bishops’ Interreligious Dialogue Commission, said: “Literally all citizens of Bangladesh have the right to freedom of religion, but in reality minorities, including Lalon followers, find it difficult to practice under pressure from religious extremists”.

Originating in the Bengal of India in the 17th century, the Bauls constitute both a religious sect and a musical tradition. Lalon Shah popularized the tradition in the 19th century with his moving songs of humanism and religious tolerance.

Most Bauls are ascetics. They travel on foot from town to town singing and begging for alms, staying in ashrams and akharas (cells) but without a fixed address. Some choose to stay at home but lead quiet, secluded lives of music and worship.

In 2005, UNESCO classified the Baul tradition as a “masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity”.

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