Bangladesh authorities moved the Lady of Justice statue to a less visible location at the nation’s supreme court complex after facing pressure from conservative Muslim groups to remove it completely.
Both secularists and hardline Muslim groups expressed dismay after authorities relocated the statue of a blindfolded woman holding the scales of justice to a less-visible site on the court's premises on Sunday, two days after taking it down.
Mrinal Haque, the statue’s 58-year-old sculptor, choked back tears as he oversaw the statue's removal.
“It is a slap in the face of the progressive people in this country,” he told BenarNews. “I am burying my own child. It is very painful for me.”
On Sunday, after the stainless-steel statue was moved a few hundred yards away, Haque said he was still unhappy.
“It was the same as not displaying it because no one, except the court’s people, can see it now,” he said.
Bangladesh, home to 163 million people of whom about 87 percent are Muslims, adopted a constitution in 1972 declaring itself a secular nation. But a huge group of people in the country of 400,000 mosques seeks to transform it into a society based on Muslim laws.
Others have been fighting to retain secularism in state policy and overall cultural pluralism.
The statue of a sari-clad woman holding a scale and sword in her hands – a Bangladeshi version of the Greek goddess of justice Themis – was installed in December. Since then, Hefazat-e-Islam, an Islamic organization dominated by hardline Qwami teachers, students, imams and their disciples at Muslim boarding schools, has staged protests to have it removed.
The National Eidgah, the prayer ground where Muslims mark the Eid holiday following the end of Ramadan, is in front of the Supreme Court, which stoked the religious sentiment of hardliners who called the sculpture an example of idol worship.
In an effort to avoid public protests, workers began removing the statue around midnight Thursday. Alerted by social media, almost 100 people gathered to protest the efforts.
On Sunday, the statue was reinstalled at the high court’s annex building.
Secularists described the move as a surrender to conservative Muslims and part of efforts to gradually radicalize society. The ruling Awami League is being criticized for compromising its ideology of secularism to appease Hefazat.
Conservative religious groups, meanwhile, condemned the government for mocking their religious sentiments.
Top justice ordered statue be moved
Surendra Kumar Sinha, the country’s first non-Muslim chief justice, faced complaints that he bowed to political pressures in ordering the move.
In April during a meeting with Hefazat chief Shah Ahmed Shafi and other top clerics, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed her dislike for the statue.
Despite that meeting, Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said the chief justice decided to move the statue.
“The government has nothing to do with it,” he told the BenarNews on Monday.
Mahbubey said that the chief justice, seeking to avoid any untoward incident, had discussed the removal with senior jurists.
“We had also advised him that it would be prudent to remove the statue from the entrance of the court as it is adjacent to the national prayer ground,” Mahbubey said.
Sculptor Mrinal Haque chokes back tears while witnessing the removal of the Lady Justice statue in Dhaka, May 26, 2017. [Star Mail]
The original removal provoked protests across Bangladesh as secular groups pointed to the apparent growing influence of Hefazat on the government.
On Friday, members of student fronts, cultural organizations and left-wing activists protested on the Dhaka University campus, causing police to lob tear gas canisters and spray water cannons to disperse the protesters.
Several demonstrators, including Bangladesh Students’ Union general secretary Litan Nandi, were arrested.
Following his release on bail, Litan told BenarNews on Monday the reinstallation was a small victory for secular protesters, adding the rise of the government’s alliance with militant groups is a threat to the future.
Professor Anisuzzaman, an eminent academic, said,Bangladeshis were witnessing some shocking developments.
“The rise of Islamic fundamentalist forces and the Awami League government’s bowing down to their pressure give a bad signal,” he said.
Meanwhile, Muslim groups including Khelafat Andolan, Bangladesh Jamiatul Ulama and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam criticized the government after the statue was reinstalled. Many of them rallied on Friday in support of Hasina after the statue was removed.
On Sunday, Hefazat leader Shah Ahmad Shafi issued a statement saying “Reinstalling the statue was nothing but toying with the nation’s religious beliefs and sentiments.
“The statue of the Greek goddess has to go," he said. "It cannot have a place in Muslim-majority Bangladesh.”