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Statue of Woman Removed From Bangladesh’s Supreme Court

Hefazat burst into the public consciousness in 2013, staging mass marches and sit-ins that paralyzed Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital. The group has demanded that Bangladesh be brought into line with strict Islamic doctrine. Its leaders have called for a “ban on foreign culture, including free mixing of men and women,” and for the separation of boys and girls in public schools and the death penalty for those found guilty of blaspheming Islam or Muhammad.

Mrinal Haque, a Bangladeshi sculptor, said the Supreme Court had ordered him to dismantle the two-and-a-half-ton stainless-steel sculpture, which was commissioned by the court and erected, at a cost of about $ 22,000, only five months ago.

He said the government had capitulated to the demands of Hefazat.

“This is an alarming signal for our country,” he said. He called it a “defeat for the freedom-loving, secular people of the country,” and he warned that it would lead to a broader campaign to purge representational art from the country.

Photo

Protesters demanding the removal of the statue from the Supreme Court complex in April. Critics say any depiction of living beings is un-Islamic. Credit A.M. Ahad/Associated Press

“We all have to stand against this fundamentalist movement,” he added.

The influence of Islamic hard-liners has been growing steadily in Bangladesh, which broke away from Pakistan in 1971 and, for decades, defined itself as adamantly secular and democratic.

In recent years, its authorities have struggled to contain extremist violence against religious minorities, foreigners, gay people and secular intellectuals. Attendance at madrasas, or Islamic schools, is swelling, and more women are wearing the hijab, or head scarf.

The statue became a proxy for simmering tension between proponents of secularism, which is enshrined in Bangladesh’s Constitution, and religious leaders. About 90 percent of Bangladesh’s citizens are Muslim, with a steadily shrinking Hindu minority and small groups of Christians and Buddhists.

Last month, Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, signaled that she supported the statue’s removal, describing it as a depiction of Themis, the Greek goddess, who is traditionally seen blindfolded and carrying scales and a sword.

“Why would a statue of the Greek Themis be set up in Bangladesh?” she said last month.

Mr. Haque, the sculptor, denied that the statue represented the Greek goddess.

As workmen dismantled the statue on Friday, scores of left-wing, secular activists gathered outside the court’s gates, protesting its removal.

As dawn approached, the protesters tried to break through the Supreme Court’s gates to prevent the statue’s removal. Police officers were deployed to repel the crowd with tear gas and water cannons, and the sculpture was placed on a truck and driven away.

The left-leaning Workers’ Party, a coalition partner with the governing Awami League, issued a statement calling the decision “a shameless surrender to fundamentalists.”

Source: NYT > World

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