A Bengali violinist says his life has been “destroyed” after his name was replaced by an offensive term in an official festival programme. Abdul Shahid, who has performed around the world, said he has been subjected to “immense ridicule” after his first name was written as “bal” — “pubic hair” in Bengali. More than 85,000 copies of the programme were circulated by Tower Hamlets council for the annual Baishakhi Mela Festival last year, which drew 120,000 people to Brick Lane.
Mr Shahid is now suing Tower Hamlets for more than £300,000 for damages. The 43-year-old father-of-four claims he has been subject to “immense ridicule, taunting and humiliation” which rendered him unable to work. The programme features a picture of the musician playing the violin with his name given as “Bal Shahid”. Prior to the misprint, Mr Shadid performed across the world, including nine times in America, and was regularly broadcast on Bengali TV channels. He says he now stays indoors for fear of humiliation.
“My name has been destroyed, it’s a disaster. Everybody in this community knows me. When I go outside everyone who knows me and my family are like ‘woo, woo, woo’, making fun of me. They say ‘Bal, Bal’ and I am ashamed. I have lost my livelihood. I was a very popular player, but since this has happened, I haven’t been out of the house much at all. I only feel comfortable going out at night. Last week my friend met me at the Tube station, he shook my hand and said ‘Bal Shahid, how are you?’. It was terrible. Losing your name is the worst thing that can happen to a man in my community. Everyone in my family is very upset.” Immediately after printing the brochure, the mistake was flagged by Bengali speakers within the council.
Mr Shahid, from Aldgate, claims he had an urgent meeting with Heather Bonfield, Tower Hamlets head of culture, learning and leisure and Steven Halsey, corporate director of communities, localities and culture. But Mr Shahid says the council failed to stop printing. He said: “I have asked the council to write a letter of apology, but they didn’t do anything.” His writ claims that the council “demonstrated a callous contempt” for his “dignity, reputation and feelings”. Mr Shahid’s wife, Nazam Begum, 30, said she now shops online to avoid comments at the local market. A spokeswoman for Tower Hamlets council said: “A claim has been issued against the council which it is in the process of defending.” She insisted Ms Bonfield had “never met” Mr Shahid.