Islamist Groups Demand Removal of Sculpture in Front of Supreme Court in Bangladesh

The Supreme Court of Bangladesh situated in the capital Dhaka. Image via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0

In Bangladesh, right wing religious groups are demanding the removal of a sari-clad sculpture of the Lady Justice in front of the Supreme court. They have threatened a countrywide movement from February 24 if their demands are not met by authorities.

The sculpture was created from stainless steel by renowned artist Mrinal Hoque and is scheduled to be officially opened in April this year. The statue is currently in position outside the court but is still being decorated.

Hefazat-e-Islam and other Islamist political parties such as Islami Oikya Jote claim the statue of Lady Justice resembles the Greek deity Themis and is offensive to the religious sentiments of the Muslim-majority country. They also urged the government to reform the country's judiciary.

Mufti Foyzullah, joint general secretary of Hefazat-E-Islam told journalists: “This [sculpture] has been cast in a sari and presented in a way that gives into vulgarity.”

Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh came into the limelight in 2013 during the #Shahbag protests when they demanded a ban on free mixing of the sexes and capital punishment for “atheists and blasphemous bloggers”. They introduced their 13-point demand on April 6, 2013 in Dhaka. In addition to capital punishment for blasphemy the group demanded compulsory Islamic education and a ban on the proliferation of sculptures across the country.

A number of people like Noor Hossain supported the demand to take down the brand new statue:

গ্রিকপুরাণের কল্পিত দেবী থেমিস রোমানদের কাছে ন্যায়ের প্রতীক হতে পারে, কিন্তু সংখ্যাগরিষ্ঠ মুসলিম স্বাধীন দেশের নাগরিক হিসেবে আমরা তাদের ইতিহাস ও ঐতিহ্য থেকে ধার করে কেন হীন ঔপনিবেশিক ধ্যানধারণা লালন করবো? [..]

আমাদের প্রতিবেশী হিন্দু অধ্যুষিত ভারতের সুপ্রিমকোর্ট-প্রাঙ্গণে কোনো ধরনের মূর্তি স্থাপনের নজির নেই। [..] তাহলে আমাদের হাইকোর্টের সামনে কেন গ্রিক দেবীর মূর্তি স্থাপন করা হবে?

Deity Themis may be the symbol for justice for the Greeks according to their mythology. But why should we, as a majority Muslim independent country, borrow from Greek history and heritage with its mean colonial mentality? [..]

There is no instance of such foreign statues in the supreme courts in our neighbour India. [..] So why should there be a sculpture of a Greek deity in front of our Supreme Court?

The Attorney General Mahbubey Alam dismissed the demands as irrational and baseless. The sculpture (Justitia), is a personification of the neutrality of the justice system and is found in many countries of the world, including Islamic countries like Iran, he said.

Rafi Chowdhury wrote on Facebook:

হেফাজত মূর্তি আর ভাস্কর্য এর অর্থ বোঝার মতো যথেষ্ট শিক্ষিত নয়।
মূর্তি অপসারণ হলে হেফাজত নিষিদ্ধ করার দাবি তুলবো।
এদেশ এদের কথায় চলবে না, চলবে ৭১ এর চার মূল নীতির উপর ।গনতন্র- সমাজতন্ত্র- ধর্মনিরপক্ষেতা-বাংগালী জাতিয়তার ভিত্তিতে ।

Hefazat is not educated enough to understand the difference between a statue of a deity and a sculpture. If the sculpture is removed, I will start demanding a ban on Hefazat. The country should not be run by their demands, we should honour the four founding principles of our country; democracy, socialism, secularism and Bengali nationalism.

There were some angry reactions in Twitter:

Abdur Rahim Rana wrote on the Ishtishon blog:

আজ হেফাজত বলছে ইসলামে মূর্তি হারাম তাই সুপ্রিম কোর্টের মূর্তিটি সরিয়ে ফেলতে হবে।
কিছু দিন পর বলা শুরু করবে, ইসলামে নারী নেতৃত্ব হারাম! শেখ হাসিনা গদি ছাড়। এই তো শুধু বলার বাকি।।। [..]

সাধুগন সাবধান, হেফাজতী আগ্রাসন না ঠেকাইলে অস্তিত্য খুজিয়া পাইবে না।

Now Hefazat is saying a Statue is haram in Islam so the sculpture in front of Supreme court should be removed. After some days they will say a woman leading a nation is haram, so (Prime Minister) Sheikh Hasina must go. This remains to be said. [..]

Please beware, if you don't pay heed to this Hefazati aggression, your existence will be threatened one day.

The state minister for cultural affairs, Asaduzzaman Noor, also criticized Hefazat's demand:

হেফাজত এমনভাবে বলছে মনে হয় এটি গণপ্রজাতন্ত্রী বাংলাদেশ নয়, যেন ইসলামি প্রজাতন্ত্র বাংলাদেশ।

Hefazat is speaking like this is not the People's Republic of Bangladesh, as if it is the Islamic republic of Bangladesh.

It remains to be seen whether or not Hefazat's claim that hundreds of thousands of people are ready to take the streets to bring the sculpture down if it is not removed by the authorities has substance.

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