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Sunday, July 31, 2022

When The Police Became Music ‘Vigilantes’


I did not know when the police were given responsibility for ensuring singers sing to the proper tune of the song, especially ‘Rabindra Sangeet’ (Tagore Songs).

Tomorrow, they will haul singers singing ‘Nazrul Geeti’ or band (or pop) music for not strictly following the music grammar.

Remember, the police arrested folk singers and send them to prison for singing folk songs, which they said had hurt the feeling of the Muslims.

During the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, two Baul (mystic) singers—Rita Dewan and Shariat Sarker were arrested separately under the repressive Digital Security Act, for allegedly “hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims.”

Social media is flooded with protests and satire posts by academics, journalists, social justice advocates, human rights defenders and of course the netizens.

Police recently harassed a nondescript Youtuber and video-blogger Hero Alom, who was born and lives in Bograand was summoned to the office of the Detective Police.

He was not charged after he signed an apology on a piece of paper stating that he will never sing Tagore Songs in distorted tune and proper pronunciation. It is understood that some aggrieved persons had complained against Alom to the police. Is it a crime to sing inappropriately?

How do the law enforcement officers understand Hero Alom’ssongs on the YouTube channel were distorted? Are they certified by a musical institute or themselves graduates from a music college or an institute – likeChhayanaut, Bangladesh Academy of Fine Arts (BAFA), Government Music College or any recognised music institutions in the country?

If they are not certified music experts, have they consulted with a music connoisseur or teacher of RabindraSangeet? Unfortunately, they have not!

The nation has not forgotten that songs and poetry penned by Rabindranath Tagore were banned from broadcast by the Dhaka station of Radio Pakistan in 1967 during the military junta of General Ayub Khan.

Tagore is considered taboo in Pakistan since the partition in 1947. Finally, all works of Tagore were officially banned in government media (Radio Pakistan, PTV, government-owned newspapers) by the orders of powerful information and broadcasting ministerKhwajaShahabuddin and vetted by East Pakistan governor Monem Khan in 1967.

One reason is that he is an Indian. Secondly, he was dubbed as a Hindu – which fortunately he was not. His family practised Brahmmo – believing in One God, singing the Upanishad’s ‘ekeshwar’ and distanced themselves from idolatry. His father, Debendranath Tagore, adopted the Brahmofaith and does away with the rituals of Sanatan Dharma (faith).

Rabindranath Tagore is a poet of Bengal, India, and the world. Songs of Nobel laureate Rabindranath are national anthems in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and of course,in the minds and hearts of the Bangalee diaspora (from both sides of Bengal) living abroad.

The Islamists in Bangladesh for decades have been demanding of the government to trash the national anthem written by Tagore, who is dubbed a Hindu and an Indian.

Scores of Mullahs in Waz-Mehfil(Islamic rallies) uploaded videos on YouTubethreatening to forcibly change the national anthem, which they explain compromises the culture, language and spirit of majoritarian Sunni Muslims.

Well, the Islamist has not only called to get rid of the national anthem but also dared to speak nonsense against the national flag, and state constitution. They debunkedPahelaBaishak (Bangla New Year), Ekushey February (International Mother’s Language Day) and the rich cultural heritage of Bengal.

They taunt at independence war which created Bangladesh, after a humiliating surrender of marauding Pakistan military at Dhaka on 16th December 1971. They challenge the figures of 3 million victims of genocide and said Muslim soldiers cannot kill Muslims.

In the Waz, they speak foul regarding women’s education, women’s empowerment and women in leadership.

Islamist hate-speech does attack Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and Adivasis. They warn them that the land they are born among the majoritarian Muslims. Even, they provoke the government to ban Ahmadiyya – whom they say are not Muslims.

This does not end here!

The Islamists coerced the authorities to change the school textbooks in Bangladesh. The authority deleted several pieces of literature and poetry written by Hindu litterateurs. Even the sketches in the textbooks have been replaced by girls and women in headcovers and men wearing ‘Tupi’ (cap). The boys in half-pants or shorts have been replaced with pyjama and panjabi.

Well, to conclude the police and civil administration have turned a blind eye to the Waz-Mefils spitting hate-speech against the state authority, the spirit of the liberation war, and the religious and ethnic minorities.

Not to be surprised, none of the Islamic evangelists has been prosecuted under the controversial Digital Security Act, nor faced music of justice.

Is it not true that the draconian cyber law is only used against critics of the government, opposition, journalists, netizens, cultural activists and human rights defenders and not the Islamist hate-speech mongers?

First published in The News Times, 30 July 2022

Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be reached at:; Twitter @saleemsamad

Wednesday, July 06, 2022

Farhad Mazhar’s Knowledge of Padma River


Padma Bridge possibly received the highest media attention, as well as millions of citizens, mostly proletariat and working class were enthusiasts of the landmark communication in this century. Of course zeal of the leaders, members and sympathisers of the Awami League fervour was at a different height.

The bridge’s pre and post-inauguration obviously received media hype and the issue was a priority on the prime-time talk shows, special newspaper columns and of course the first-page stories and photo features.

In one such talkshow hosted by a New York-based exiled journalist, Kanak Sarwar, the show sought the feelings and reactions about Padma Bridge from an acclaimed poet, writer and philosopher Farhad Mazhar. Well, I heard the entire discussion and understand the discussion fairly well.

Farhad Mazhar is a trained pharmacist and played a crucial role in the establishment of Gonoshasthaya Pharmaceuticals Ltd. We often met him (Farhad) in Savar while researching with Nadira Majumder writing for Shaptahik Robbar on ‘drug imperialism’ which resulted in the announcement of a landmark drug policy in 1982.

Farhad has huge followers and fans for his outspoken philosophical debate on society, religion and politics. His poetry books are best-sellers in the Ekushey Book Fair.

He advocates Sufism and ‘Naya Krishi’ or the organic agriculture movement. His love and hate for the present regime are very well understood. In his recent interview with BBC Bangla radio, he could not defend many of his deeds, actions and statements in the last decade.

In the BBC Bangla video interview, he failed to satisfy the audience regarding his undaunted commitment to the Sunni Islamist group Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh (Defenders of Islam), a staunch advocate for Sharia Laws.

Among the hosts of tainted speakers (including leaders from BNP and other reactionary elements in the society), he also joined the bandwagon of Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh’s showdown in Motijheel in 2013. He was shown live on private TV Channels from Motijheel Shapla Square expressing his alliance with the Islamist movement.

The downtown Motijheel, a financial district in the capital Dhaka was blocked for two days. The Islamist and rightist elements had plans to cripple the financial activities and force the secular government of Sheikh Hasina to bow down.

The show of political strength ended in chaos and fiasco after riot police with armoured personal carriers(APC) and volleys of stun grenades in a pre-dawn operation literally scared the Mullahs.

Farhad defends the shut-down of the Dhaka metropolis by tens of thousands of Islamists and argues that the shadowy outfit is a “democratic” organisation.

His feminist wife Farida Akter, in an article in a popular Bangla daily, defended the misogynist Hefazat’s opposition to the women’s empowerment goals.

Many were shocked to read Farida’s illogical argument against the proposed Women’s Development Policy, 2011. She continues to oppose the policy singing to the tune of Islamists and says the policy is influenced by multinationals, corporates and a donor-driven women’s development policy.

Unfortunately, despite the nation having a woman-headed government, it has failed to implement the women’s policy for fear of Islamist antagonism.

Meanwhile, the learned Farhad Mazhar has told Kanak Sarwar’s audience that the newly build Padma Bridge was in fact the third bridge over the mighty river the Padma.

The first was Hardinge Railway Bridge (1912) and the second was Lalon Shah Road Bridge (May 2004) connecting Pakshey, Pabna and Bherapara, Kushtia, he said.

He lost in a myriad of hydrological data on the location and position of Padma River and mixed it up with the lower Ganges (Ganga in Bangla) river.

In fact, hydrological experts had determined that the Padma River is 120 km in length and begins from Goalondo to Chandpur. While the Ganges basin originates in north India from the Himalayan Mountains. It reaches the Farakka Barrage and continues on the bank of Chapai Nawabganj and flows through Hardinge Bridge and Lalon Shah Bridge.

The Ganges merged with the yawning Jamuna River at the confluence of Goalundo (once a vibrant railway and steamer ghat). From here Padma River begins its journey ending the flow of the Jamuna River.

Thus Padma Bridge is the first and until now the only longest road and rail communication bridge, beside Bangabandhu Bridge (also popularly known as Jamuna Bridge).

The all-knowing poet and philosopher have interpreted the river under Hardinge and Lalon Shah bridges as Padma River based on a myth.

The myth says that the Ganges River becomes the Padma River from Chapai Nawabganj bordering India and Bangladesh, which has been challenged by hydrological experts and river morphologists.

To continue with the debate, the massive irrigation project is Ganges-Kobadak Irrigation Project (or GK Project). The project is not a ‘Padma-Kobadak Project’. The largest surface irrigation system serves the southwestern region of Bangladesh – covering Kushtia, Chuadanga, Magura and Jhenaidah districts.

Similarly, the Ganges Barrage Project was proposed to hold back rainwater during the monsoon season because of the periodic drying up of the Ganges River in Bangladesh due to the withdrawal of the flow at Farakka Barrage. However, the Ganges Barrage Project was formally cancelled in 2017.

Hope these few pieces of information will enlighten Farhad Mazhar’s knowledge of the location and geo-position of the Padma River and also adopt the scientific knowledge of hydrologists and river morphologists and shun the myths from his mind and heart.

First published in The News Times, Dhaka, 5 July 2022

Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at <>; Twitter @saleemsamad