On 18 May 2020, the Ashor Ghor (music room) of Baul singer Ranesh Thakur was set on fire in an apparent arson attack, reported the Dhaka Tribune. Reports suggest that the incident occurred in the Sunamganj district Derai Upazila and resulted in the building structure and its musical contents, such as monochords, harmoniums and drums, being burnt to ashes by unidentified persons.
According to the Dhaka Tribune, Ashor Ghor was used to teach and play music, particularly Baul songs, by people from across Bangladesh. It was particularly populated by followers of famous Baul singer Samrat Shah Abdul Karim to teach and engage Baul culture and expressions.
“Various forms of nationalism are deepening the discourse of intolerance towards minorities in Bangladesh and across the globe. Freemuse calls on the Bangladesh authorities to conduct a transparent investigation into the fire at the Baul Ashor Ghor in Sunamganj and ensure a safe environment for Baul artists in the country to express themselves artistically,” said Freemuse Executive Director, Dr Srirak Plipat.
Setting the music room of Baul singer Ranesh Thakur on fire is not an isolated incident, rather violence against Baul singer in different aspects are common phenomenon in Bangladesh. Just a few months earlier in December 2019 another Baul singer Shariyat Boyati has been arrested alleging offended on religious sentiment during his performance in a live Baul concert. Boyati is still detained.
“BIHR and JusticeMakers Bangladesh are gravely concerned over the incident of burning and urging the government of Bangladesh to ensure the prompt exemplary punishment against the perpetrators after an impartial investigation by the judicial officials and also urging to ensure physical, psychological and financial integration of Baul Ranesh Thakur as well as ensure the safe and secure environment for exercising artistic expression free of fear and intimidation,” said Advocate Shahanur Islam Saikot, Secretary General, Bangladesh Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) and JusticeMakers Bangladesh.
“Traditional artistic and cultural expressions are the backbone of any culture and crucially important for maintaining and continuing the diversity of human life on the planet. Interpersonal understanding and respect require that every artistic expression is given opportunities and can be practiced and cultivated in freedom without censorship and threats. Safemuse condemns the attack on Ashor Ghor and calls for a thorough investigation of the incident,” said Jan Lothe Eriksen, General Manager of Safemuse.
Baul people typically live in Bangladesh and West Bengal, India and are inscribed on the 2008 UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. They are mystic minstrels that preserve their culture and heritage through songs, philosophy and language, with Baul music representing a particular type of folk song. In recent years, Baul’s in Bangladesh have been marginalised and their artistic freedom censored and curtailed, with the torching of the Ashor Ghor music room the latest incident in the protracted censorship against the group.