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Textbooks are the benchmark of a state’s ideology. The Awami League government had won praises for adopting a science-oriented and modern education policy based on the Qudrat-i-Khuda education commission report. Textbooks had been prepared accordingly, with the help of the country’s progressive educationists. Hefazat was not pleased and the government readily dropped the contents of the textbooks of which Hefazat disapproved. These writings which were dropped included Humayun Azad’s ‘Boi,’ Golam Mustafa’s ‘Prarthona,’ Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Bangladesh’s Hridoy,’ Gyan Das’ ‘Shukher Lagiya,’ Baul Lalon Shah’s ‘Shomoy Gele Shadhon Hobey Na,’ Sunil Gangapadhaya’s ‘Shankota Jhulchhe,’ and Rudra Mohammad Shahidullah’s ‘Khatian’.

The prose pieces dropped from the books included Satyen Sen’s ‘Lal Goruta,’ S Wajed Ali’s ‘Ranchi Bhromon,’ Ranesh Das Gupta’s ‘Malyadan,’ Kazi Nazrul Islam’s ‘Bangalir Bangla,’ and Sanjib Chattopadhaya’s ‘Palamou Bhraman Kahini.’

In 2018 they (Hefazat) demonstrated against the statute of the goddess Themis, the symbol of justice, when it was placed in front of the Supreme Court. The government later shifted this to the back of the Supreme Court, appeasing Hefazat

Awami League so long had been saying that when in power, BNP, Jamaat and Jatiya Party had diverted Bangladesh away from the spirit of the Liberation War. But the fact is that even during the BNP or four-party alliance government, no one dared to dictate terms about textbooks. Udichi has published a booklet with the writings that have been dropped from the textbooks. We found not a single one of these went against Islam. Even so, they have been dropped.

The constitution maintains how Bangladesh will be run. No matter who is in power, it is their responsibility to run the country on the lines of the constitution. Just talking about the spirit of the Liberation War is not enough. These words must be translated into deeds.

It is because the government gave in to Hefazat’s unjustified demands that today they have managed to create the controversy over sculptures. The president of the qawmi madrasah’s education board (Befaqul Madarisil Arabia), Mahmudul Hasan and a group of alems called upon the home minister Asaduzzaman Khan on Sunday to discuss the situation which has arisen over the sculptures. Befaqul Madarisil Arabia put forward a five-point proposal to the government. These proposals included 1. Instead of making statues or sculptures, to look for alternatives supported by the Quran and sunnah based on the beliefs and spirit of 92 per cent of the people in the country; 2. To ensure strict surveillance of the use of information technology to insult the prophet (SM) and to take strictest legal measures against the guilty persons in this regard; 3. To unconditionally release those arrested in the past movement, to drop cases and to halt all harassment against ulema, imams, khatibs and religious Muslims; 4. To allow all religious mehfils (Islamic gatherings) to take place freely; and 5. To stop all adverse and irresponsible behavior against the alems.

Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. Hefazat can express their views about sculptures. But they can’t say this can be done or this cannot be done. This is not the first time that Hefazat has taken to the streets about sculptures. In 2018 they demonstrated against the statute of the goddess Themis, the symbol of justice, when it was placed in front of the Supreme Court. The government later shifted this to the back of the Supreme Court, appeasing Hefazat.

Political analysts feel that no matter how vocal Awami League leaders may be against Hefazat, behind the scenes they have kept the doors open to compromise. They will never want Hefazat to be bracketed with BNP and Jamaat again

This time Hefazat and a number of religion-based organisations have been rallying against a sculpture of Bangabandhu being raised at Dolairpar in Dhaka. On the night of 4 December, the sculpture of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman being made at Kushtia, was vandalised. Awami League and its affiliated organisations are staging demonstrations in Dhaka and all over the country in protest. Cultural organisations are protesting too.

While no decision was reached on the first day of talks between the home minister and the alems, they have agreed to continue discussions. Many other parties and groups have voiced their demands to the government, placed memorandums, but the government does not feel the need to have talks with them.

The media reported of two cases being filed before and after the alems’ meeting with the home minister. The one before the meeting was against two leaders of Hefazat, Junaid Babunagari’s assistant Mamunul Huq and Islami Andolan leader Faizul Karim, under the Digital Security Act. Later case was filed by a relative of Ahmed Shafi against 36 leaders and activists of Hefazat-e-Islam, accusing them of killing Shafi. The Hefazat leaders, about the second case, say this is a strategy put place them under pressure.

The main crisis in the country at the present in the increase of coronavirus transmission. On average, every day 32 people are dying of coronavirus in the country. It is uncertain as to when the vaccine will be available. So what is the mystery behind creating such a hullabaloo over the sculpture issue rather than that discussing these issues?

The abolition of the women’s policy and the education policy feature significantly in Hefazat’s main 13-point demand. The government put the women’s policy on ice long ago. The science-oriented education policy has now become Hefazat-oriented. After its landslide victory in 2018, Awami League formed the government on its own. The anti-Hefazat elements in the cabinet then are no longer ministers. This is also an instance of compromise.

Political analysts feel that no matter how vocal Awami League leaders may be against Hefazat, behind the scenes they have kept the doors open to compromise. They will never want Hefazat to be bracketed with BNP and Jamaat again.

* Sohrab Hassan is joint editor of Prothom Alo and a poet. He can be contacted at [email protected]. This opinion appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir

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