Bangladesh government removes baul statues, triggers countrywide protests

October 25th, 2008 - 1:42 pm ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, Oct 25 (IANS) Cultural organisations, human rights activists, artistes and playwrights across Bangladesh are up in arms over the removal by the caretaker government - allegedly under pressures from Islamist bodies - of statues with folk motifs of the baul singers on the road leading to the international airport here.Despite the countrywide protests for the last 10 days, the military-backed caretaker government has maintained silence on the issue, media reports say.

Political parties that generally jump into such controversies are busy preparing for the upcoming parliamentary polls and have either kept quiet or left the matter out after issuing statements, the New Age newspaper said Saturday.

However, the left-of-centre parties, belonging to the Sheikh Hasina-led alliance, are gradually joining in the protests over removal of the baul statues on the road to the Zia International Airport (ZIA).

The statues are part of a monument to those killed in the Bengali language movement in 1954 during the Pakistan era and often the starting point for political and cultural protests.

The university campuses, the nerve centres of Bangladesh’s political and socio-cultural movements, have also joined the protest, with Dhaka University’s Faculty of Fine Arts in the lead.

The government is treating it as a law and order issue. It prevented Islamist bodies from staging a rally Friday to counter the protesters.

Baul is generally associated with folk music and the baul singer moves from village to village in Bengal, both in Bangladesh and neighbouring India, singing songs that are witty, but also convey home-truths. A baul singer is supposed to be the conscience keeper in the countryside.

Statues of bauls, who are part of Bangladesh’s cultural tradition, have earned the ire of Islamists who consider any statues as being against their religion.

The protests against the demolition have spread spontaneously to smaller towns “with a call for unity among all the progressive forces to resist religious bigots at every front to safeguard the country’s culture and heritage”, New Age newspaper said.

“Down with the zealots; bring the culprits to justice and safeguard culture,” are among the slogans chanted by protesters on Dhaka University campus and elsewhere in the country.

The protesters have demanded the setting up of a national committee, comprising leading intellectuals, artistes, sculptors, architects and government officials, to formulate guidelines for installation of sculptures.

Sachetan Shilpi Samaj, a platform of sculptors, artistes and cultural activists, took out a procession singing baul and patriotic songs in Dhaka University and marched across the campus.

Through their songs, the demonstrators chastised the government’s leniency towards the fundamentalists and asked the interim administration to take steps to safeguard the country’s culture and heritage from religious extremists.

Workers’ organisations have joined in too.

Sramik-Karmachari Oikya Parishat organised a protest rally and formed a human chain at the Central Shaheed Minar demanding immediate rebuilding of the baul sculptures at the airport crossing.

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