As the curtain rose on the 2017 Amar Ekushey Book Fair yesterday, the unprecedented move for police surveillance over books raised eyebrows among publishers, writers and activists.
Writers, publishers fear possible harassment from police
Such policing of books will limit freethinking in the country, they fear.
Their concern arose following an announcement by Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) that as part of security measures police will scrutinise books being released in the Ekushey Book Fair to find out whether their contents can hurt religious sentiment.
DMP Commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia on Tuesday also cited a section of the Penal Code as well as the ICT Act in support of the move.
The move came as a shock to many who believe freedom of speech is a fundamental and constitutional right.
“What I will write, what I will say is my basic right according to the country’s law, and police cannot control here. It is a clear violation of citizen’s rights to excising literature,” said Mustafa Jabbar, publisher and noted IT specialist.
“If I do anything wrong according to the law of the land, police can take action, but before committing it, the move by the law enforcement agencies is unprecedented,” he added.
“Instigation and provocation are parts of art and literature in line with positive and progressive argument and logic, and readers will decide which is right and which is wrong, not the police,” Robin Ahsan, a publisher, told the Dhaka Tribune.
“Before getting the judgement from readers and the courts of the country, how come police announce to take such action is a big question,” he said, adding that writers and publishers are in panic of possible harassment from police.
Robin also noted that police judging a book or work of literature as provocative is unprecedented in any other country of the world.
Because of “limited democracy,” influence and authority of police is increasing in recent times, and the new restriction in the book fair is just a continuation of it, said noted lawyer and rights activist barrister Shahdeen Malik.
“Such book fair is being arranged across the world, but such information of restriction and surveillance by police I have never heard before,” he added.
Writers also see the move as an authoritarian approach towards Bangladesh’s arts and literature.
Noted prose and fiction writer Rayhan Rhyne, who is also an associate professor at Jahangirnagar University, said it is a very ill sign to try to control art, literature and creative works, and the culture of control mainly originates from distrust and fear of losing power.
“Absence of true democracy in the country is allowing things like these to happen which is condemnable and a matter of concern. If the government tries to control intellectuals, freethinkers, writers, artists and educated people, the move for sure will not bring positive change for the country,” he observed.
In December last year, Bangla Academy banned five publishers from the fair for the next two years and reduced the stall size for 15 others for alleged breach of guidelines.
Srabon Prokashoni, a renowned publishing house of progressive books, was banned from the fair for raising voice against the closure of Ba-Dwip Prakashan’s stall and the arrest of its proprietor writer Shamsuzoha Manik last year on charge of selling a translated book titled “Islam Bitarka” (The Islam Debate), originally published in 2013, that allegedly hurt the religious sentiments of the Muslims.
However, Bangla Academy withdrew its decision to ban Srabon Prokashoni following protests by writers, publishers and activists.
Publishers on tow
A good visitor turn-up marked the opening day of the month-long book fair yesterday.
After the inauguration of the fair by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, book lovers began to pour in at the fair premises in the evening.
Publishers and staff at book stalls were on their tows with the last moment preparations.
Employees at Srabon Prokashoni and Ittadi Prokashoni said they have so far been able to complete 70 percent of the works for the stalls, and would come up with the full setup tomorrow.
The opening day of the fair also coincided with the celebration of Saraswati Puja and the 30th annual gathering by Jatio Kabita Parishad on Dhaka University campus that helped pull a crowd into the fair.