On 5 October, the Police Bureau of Investigation (PBI) on the order of the Cyber Tribunal and Metropolitan Magistrate Court has completed the investigation against singer Rita Dewan, announcing that they will submit a report suggesting charging her for “hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims”, as reported by Dewan’s lawyer Abduallah Al Noman in conversation with Freemuse.
The charges concern Dewan’s performance of a song Pala Gaan / Folk Opera, in November 2019, which was shared on YouTube and social media channels. The song depicts the conversation between human and Allah, during which Allah is asked about his mysterious role. The PBI investigation aimed to conclude whether the artist humiliated Allah in her song, as alleged by a fundamentalist group, or not.
“[…] Due to this case, I am unable to perform. I am also very scared because of legal prosecution since I have no confidence in Bangladeshi legal system. Our government does not believe in freedom of expression nor artistic freedom,” Dewan told Freemuse.
“It is highly religious, biased, conservative system. I am very anxious whether I will get justice or not.”
According to Dhaka Tribune, the singer faces two accusations. One was filed on 2 February by Dhaka Bar Association Member Advocate Imrul Hasan under the section 28 of the Digital Security Act (DSA) which prohibits broadcasting any content “with the aim of hurting religious sentiments or values”. Dewan’s performance has been shared online, which made it possible to prosecute her under the Digital Security Act. The formal charge will be placed on 2 December 2020.
Another incitement under section 295 (A), 298,504 and 505(A) of the Penal code was filed a day later to the Dhaka Chief Metropolitan Magistrate court by producer and actor Russell Mia. These respectively refer to “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings”, using words “with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings”, intentionally insulting and provoking the public and making prejudicial comments. The formal charges for these will be placed throughout November and December this year.
Dewan commented on the charges saying that there had been attempts to ban Baul music in the past, due to the components of the genre.
“Baul singing is found inconsistent with Islamic philosophy or religious philosophy of Muslims, in the views of religious fundamentalists. There are long time attempts to ban Baul music from Bangladeshi culture,” the singer said.
Rita Dewan has been fascinated by Baul music since she was a child. She learned and practised for 12 years with the prominent Bangladeshi Baul singer Matal Kabi Razzak Dewan. Since then, Dewan started to perform solo across Bangladesh having around 80 show nights per year.
Dewan’s prosecution is not the only situation of restricting artistic freedom of Baul singers in Bangladesh. The Digital Security Act was used to charge Baul singer Shariat Boyati in June 2020 with hurting religious sentiment in one of his performances. His legal procedures continue.