The indefensible is being defended vigorously, without much of conviction. The manner in which some ministers have sprung to the defence of the move to remove the Lady Justice sculpture from in front of the Supreme Court is not convincing, for all the right reasons. The deed has been done and the ministers, as also other diehard supporters of the move, would have done well to maintain silence on the issue. Silence is often the better part of discretion, particularly where emotions have been ruffled by institutional moves that militate against the national spirit in relation to national history.
Road Transport Minister Obaidul Quader has noted that no statues built in the spirit of the War of Liberation will be dismantled. Indeed, he reassures the country, more such symbols of the Bengali struggle for freedom will be built across the land. That is music to the ears. But he has not explained what the government plans to do about the fanatics who now have demanded that all statues be removed from every spot in this country. The Hefazat and its adherents have already had their way, in the school textbooks and in the matter of the Lady Justice statue. What guarantees, therefore, are there that Moulana Shafi will not have more achievements falling into his lap, in the manner of cherries ripened in the mellow breeze of spring, now that he has won two major victories, now that he has compelled a supposedly secular Awami League to eat humble pie?
And then comes the pronouncement of the law minister. Anisul Huq has enlightened the nation with his view that the statue that has just been removed from sight was not a true representation of Themis. Are we then to suppose that if sculptor Mrinal Haq had not chosen to have Lady Justice clad in a saree, had indeed placed Themis in her actuality at the premises of the Supreme Court, none of this controversy, nothing of this debate would have happened? The minister knows as much as the rest of us that the removal of the symbol of justice was in consequence of the demands of hardline Islamists, a position the prime minister did not challenge but went along with. If the problem was a misrepresentation of the image of Themis, as Minister Anisul Huq would have us know, should we then reach the rational conclusion that if Themis, in all her originality had been there, the bigots would have said nothing, that all this uproar in the country would not be there?
The law minister does not think that the removal of the statue has dented Bangladesh’s image. He is perfectly entitled to his point of view, as a significant cog in the wheel of government. But we do not have to agree with him. Bangladesh’s image as a secular State has indeed been damaged, badly, by this appeasement of the religious extremists. The impression of the country, both among its people and among people abroad, is patent. It is this — that the forces of regression are having a field day in Bangladesh, that a government desirous of gaining the electoral support of the religious Right, has been going out on a limb to acquiesce to its demands.
Minister Anisul Huq has told us the symbol of justice, as Mrinal Haq caused it to be shaped, was a distortion. The objective, obviously of the government, is to move away from distortion. Ironically, however, the removal of the Lady Justice sculpture from its place and relocating it before the annexe of the Supreme Court, away from sight, has only added to the litany of historical distortions this nation has been subjected to since the violent coup d’etat that brought down Bangabandhu’s government forty two years ago.
So distortion is in the air, all around us. The young students who protest the removal of the symbol of justice are water-cannoned into submission and hauled away to prison. But nothing happens to the zealots who have asked for Chief Justice S.K. Sinha to be removed, who have threatened to have all other statues in the country pulled down.
This is not the country that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmad, M. Mansoor Ali and AHM Quamruzzaman built, brick by patient brick, through the tumultuous 1960s to the decisive early 1970s.