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Would Fakir Lalon Shah be persecuted today?

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Any action or idea out of the ordinary in today’s age faces three types of consequences: firstly, ignored; secondly, it is either trolled and sheathed with controversy or finally, accepted by a large section of people. And when it is accepted by the soaring numbers, it becomes the new mainstream – the new normal that everyone else would be coerced to abide by in the society to avoid persecution. When you belong to the second group of people, you would likely see the harsher side of the world – maligned with judgments, criticisms which often leads to physical and mental harm. People ‘cancelling’ or shunning you from the society for having opposing views and sometimes, even at having a sheer bit of curiosity. Hence, in order to avoid risking the angry social critics, we keep our heads in the box. A trip to the social media, one would readily witness pseudo feminists quarreling against feminists, pro-religious with the agnostics, people from different races determining its supremacy, homophobes against the queers or West Bengalis against Bangladeshis to evince who are the real Bengalis and so on. We have become intolerable to anything we have widely heard, seen or read. But the same country has witnessed eccentric figures like Lalon Fakir Shah in the past who not only spoke their heart but has had many disciples with the same views. A man unlike majority today, denoted the inherent existence of oppressive structures and systems like casteism, communalism, and even patriarchy in the spaces of his own songs.

Lalon is well known for asking –

“If a Brahmin male
Is known by the thread he wears,
How is a woman known?”
Additionally, 
“A Muslim is marked by the sign
Of circumcision; but how should
You mark a woman?”

He questions the structure of the society in his songs – signifying how humans are all equal instead. In his song, ‘Jat Gelo Jat Gelo Bole’ – mockingly presents the preposterousness of the caste division in this short lived world and how it should be the least of our worries. 

Lalon’s songs also embark upon the divinity of the creator and His relationship with His creations. Never particularly specifying on Allah or Bhagwan or any other Godly entity, his songs search and plead to a creator or a cosmic entity (whom we never saw but have sentiments associated with). In his song, for example, ‘Milon Hobe Kotodine’ – he contemplates on how an individual begs to the creator to meet Him. As the creator is its true kin or “moner manush” (literally translating to, man of the heart). The beloved creator resides in the human body, itself hence, one must seek for self-discovery and enlightenment. A thought that could hit several nerves of the societal critics today.  

Whereas the old tantric traditions in India characteristically deemed that the human body meets an end upon death, Lalon conceives the ‘body’ to form a totality unto itself—for which, to quote Lalon’s own words, “sobkichhu roy” (everything resides) as the matter of the body including the “adhora” (the aura, symbolically). Lalon believed that to become united with the creator, one would truly need to understand themselves. 

‘Why do you run after the mirages? Look within yourself to get your peace. Peace and tranquility do not come from outside. You cannot discover them by owning the world.’, says Lalon, dismissive of the materialistic features of the world. 

His journey in the pursuit of peace influenced his art; reflecting the ideals of human existence, humanism, and a nonsectarian outlook. It expresses the joys, sorrows, sentiments, aspirations and dreams of an individual; focusing on the disciplines & philosophies of life and death. His songs are highly creative and full of mystic thought trends. Lalon did the impossible by disputing the ostensibly aesthetic assumption, that theory and creativity are incompatible with each other or mutually exclusive. However, in today’s day and age, the lyrics would need to pass through the scrutiny of the “activist” groups before even being considered to be labeled as acceptable, let alone an artistic brilliance. 

Socialization involves adaptation to a specific community or culture. As a result, learning and applying the acceptable actions of the society help us fit into it, as evident today. However, socialization is also the continuing process of knowing others. Or how an individual acquires their personal identity and learns norms, values, behaviour and social skill from different agents. The failure to use intellect only to remain safe from social persecution is nothing but a cowardly move. The author understands that radical sections of the society have always existed but we belong to the supposedly developed & ‘modern’ times which should perhaps be more understanding and compassionate, as opposed to the prehistoric times. 

Even at times of ordeal, Fakir Lalon Shah’s songs provide us with clarity and reflection upon the truth; how meaningless disagreements are. Instead, one should try to discover themselves and attain peace of mind. It is however, a question to pose ourselves, would we have listened to a man who seemed nothing like what we are accustomed to today, to preach thoughts that do not shape into the norm? Or would we have kept our senses shut and joined others even if we agreed to the words, because we fear being shunned by the larger portion of the society? The ‘cancel culture’ and the clampdown of socialization undoubtedly pose a great threat to creativity and the curious mind, of today and tomorrow. 

Sayere Nazabi Sayem is an alumnus of the Department of Law, North South University. Apart from publishing opinion writings all around the world on pressing social issues and advocating for human rights, she has worked as the Head of Research at Bangladesh Forum for Legal and Humanitarian Affairs (BFLHA). She is currently serving as an Assistant Editor at Progress Magazine and Editor of the NSU Law Blog.

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