Government’s decision of erecting a wall around Bangladesh’s National Parliament has been covered in most if not all of the news agencies of the country. Quite expectedly, distinguished people from different jurisdictions stood against one such decision, even though the ‘decision’ was portrayed as a ‘protection’ to the Parliament. The people who stood against the decision surely are not against the protection of the parliament, rather against the way it is proposed to be handled with. Needless to say, these (or any other groups of) people were never reported to stand against erecting a wall around hundreds of thousands of ordinary buildings in the country, nor around other non-ordinary ones (if you so call them), such as Ganabhaban, Bangabhaban, etc.
To start with, as soon as a building is conceptualised and allowed to stand strong as the Parliament of a country, it is not an ordinary building any more. It has now engraved with historical components, and enriched with the philosophical ingredients deeply embedded in the nation’s embodiment. Louis Kahn, the architect of the parliament, is quoted to have written, “It was not belief, not design, not pattern, but the essence from which an institution could emerge.” And this is how the Parliament of Bangladesh has become one of world’s largest legislative complexes with significant architectural values. Erecting a wall around would have a significant impact on the ‘essence’ of this great institution.
Aesthetically speaking, the parliament will lose its open space, which could potentially be referred to as “welcoming as the nature, open as the mother, and free as the democracy”, resulting in an encaged parliament. We understand how crucial the security concern of such a great institution is, but does a wall ensure adequate protection against such a security threat? If it does, say for the sake of argument, is it the best way to ensure protection? Even if the answer to this question is yes (again, for the sake of argument), we have at least a couple other issues to be concerned about.
First, this does not appear to be compatible with the Article 24 of the Constitution that clearly says, “The State shall adopt measures for the protection against disfigurement, damage, or removal of all monuments, objects, or places of special artistic or historic importance or interest.” [National monuments, etc., Fundamental Principles of State Policy (part II), The Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Page: 119] I am not an expert of the legal issues, but this article (no. 24) does not seem to support any measures that would unambiguously result in disfigurement of the parliament.
Second, if there indeed is an impending security issue, which is not unlikely at all, why punish the potential prey and not the alleged predator. Does it not sound like the notion of warning women to be cautious about what they wear to protect them from the rape threats, “dress properly or you will be raped”? Inherent to entertaining such threats are that ‘rape’ is allowed to be a measure of something that is considered inappropriate to some (which is totally unacceptable), and that the rapists are entitled to ‘punish’ women for virtually any standard of dressing as, being highly subjective, any degree of dressing might be considered inappropriate to some. And once such demands/threats are entertained by the state itself, similar or even worse threats would expand exponentially from the parliament to all the major institutions across the country, including the National Monument, all the symbolic Shahid Minars, etc. Would it be appreciated to have all of these institutions encaged?
If this is granted as a solution to such security threats, then people might argue that the wall itself requires further protection, so a grand wall be erected which might further be protected by great grand wall and so on. People might be sarcastically creative to offer the policy of “no institution, no threats”, to have no institutions altogether only to avoid security threats!
Considering the constitutional incompatibility with erecting the proposed wall around the parliament, and the aesthetic significance of the institution, we urge that the Government of Bangladesh consults relevant experts including security specialists, architects, and urban planners to come up with a more creative solution without compromising the parliament’s architectural and philosophical dimensions.
Nazrul Islam is research assistant at St. Paul’s Hospital, Canada, and Honorary Lecturer, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia.