Bangladesh Orders Statue of Woman at Supreme Court Put Back Up

This post was originally published on this site
https://static01.nyt.com/images/2017/05/29/world/29statue/29statue-moth.jpg

DHAKA, Bangladesh — Two days after the authorities in Bangladesh gave in to pressure from Islamist groups and ordered the removal of a statue from the country’s Supreme Court, they flip-flopped on Sunday, ordering that the statue be put back up again, albeit in a less prominent location.

The government’s vacillation over the statue of a blindfolded woman holding the scales of justice shows the pressure it faces from the Islamist group, Hefazat-e-Islam, which has become bolder and more demanding.

Though Bangladesh’s Constitution, adopted in 1972, declares it a secular country, more than 90 percent of its population is Muslim. Large areas of rural Bangladesh are embracing conservative Islam, and the country’s secular intellectual class is receding from public prominence.

Hefazat had demanded the removal of the stainless-steel statue, which was erected five months ago in Dhaka, the capital, on the grounds that representations of the human form are forbidden by Islam. Around midnight on Thursday, workers arrived to take it down, apparently hoping to avoid public scrutiny.

But left-wing student groups condemned the concession to religious hard-liners, and a triumphant Hefazat issued a demand for representational statues to be removed from public spaces nationwide. Both sides held rallies on Friday, increasing scrutiny of the government’s decision.

The compromise on Sunday — moving the statue 300 yards away, to a Supreme Court annex building, where it cannot be viewed from the street — seemed to please no one.

Mrinal Haque, the sculptor, said the statue had been “sent to isolation,” and might as well have been removed entirely.

“I am still disappointed,” he said. “People won’t be able to see it. I am also worried because the fundamentalists are still protesting against the sculpture’s relocation.”

The leader of Hefazat, Shah Ahmad Shafi, also expressed his frustration.

Hefazat has maintained that the statue represents Themis, the Greek goddess of justice, which Mr. Haque denies.

“It was not an issue whether Themis would be in front of the Supreme Court or at the back side of the Supreme Court,” Mr. Shafi said in a statement. “The issue was whether Themis would exist or not, whether this symbol would be removed from Bangladesh forever.”

The statement went on to issue a sort of warning: “Don’t push the country into the very dangerous curse of Allah by spreading different types of anti-Islamic activities.”