It was I guess 1977. On a Friday morning around 10:00AM, suddenly there was a huge commotion in the lobby of Surja Sen hall of Dhaka University where I was a resident student. Upon inspection, I came to learn that two young activists of Jamaat had been apprehended who were going from room to room, to collect signatures to petition the university authority to demolish “Aporajoyo Bangla”, a sculpture that still stands in front of the arts faculty of the university.
The sculpture that constitutes three figurines, one woman and two men were erected to commemorate the victory in the liberation war. Soon the two Jamaat activists were paraded around the campus. In a hastily arranged press conference at Modhu’s canteen, the student leaders of the secular parties stood together and condemned Jamaat’s heinous effort to use its traditional religious card to undo the achievements of our liberation war.
When the press conference was in progress, uproar was heard from the road adjacent to Modhu’s canteen. Two truckloads of hoodlums armed with machete, hockey stick and sawed-off rifles descended from the trucks and ran towards Modhu’s canteen. Caught unprepared by the unexpected attack the students ran helter-skelter while the attackers were in hot pursuit. Some reached the safety of the hall and many were caught and beaten mercilessly. Later, it was disclosed, that Jamaat leadership with the active encouragement of the head of a powerful intelligence agency had decided to taste the pulse of the students by initiating the foul play.
The attackers were mostly professional butchers of old Dhaka and Jamaat militants. Hundreds of innocent students who could not grasp what was going on and did not take shelter were roughed up.
One of the victims was a close acquaintance of mine named Munir, who was one year junior to me and was a student of final year BA (Hons). He was a valiant freedom fighter who was viciously attacked with an iron rod and hockey sticks in front of the hall. The attackers retreated after one hour of pitch battle with students from Surja Sen, Mohsin and S. M. Halls. When the attackers retreated, we found Munir lying on the road unconscious soaked in blood. We laboriously transported him to Dhaka medical college. Our close common friend, the then President of Intern Doctors’ Association and his friends did everything to take care of Munir.
There was hardly any part of his body that did not have an injury mark. By evening when Munir regained his senses he was running a high temperature and his body had swelled alarmingly. Even under that critical condition, we were forced to remove him from the Emergency as doctors informed us that detective police were making visits to lodge cases against the students under treatment.
For the next two days, Munir fought for his life in a hideout in Bhuter Goli. Not long after he left the country for good. Presently he lives in North America.
I am recounting this tragic memory of my university days as I am seeing the repetition of the same today after long 43 years, though the context has changed.
The so-called religious forces today are much more emboldened after years of indulgence by powerful entities and successive governments. This time they are not protesting against any established structure but against proposed sculpture of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. They are no longer timidly collecting signatures to petition the government rather throwing dire threats to bring the country to a standstill. In reality, they are testing their political muscle against the backdrop of a devastating pandemic.
Their counterparts in West Bengal lodged a similar protest when the bust of Bangabandhu was unveiled in front of “Baker Hostel” in Kolkata in order to memorialize his brief stay in the hostel before the partition of India. Curiously, the nexus of Mullah’s who are vehemently opposing the proposed statue did not raise any hell against the statues of other political figures that were there already.
It is true that if one only adheres to literal meaning of the Quran and the Hadith, then all sorts of images are forbidden in Islam and that should include passport photos, facebook photos, images on currency and so on. If those self-styled Allamas and Ulemas who claim to be authorities on Islam cannot find any difference between sculpture and religious icon then they should not differentiate between portrait and photo and refrain from using it whether in travel document or currency.
If one wants to go by pure orthodoxy, then one must support chopping off hands for theft, stoning to death of adulterators, need of “Mehram” for a woman to go out of home, strictly abstain from listening to any music or enjoy in any art form because the Quran and the Hadith certainly prescribe them. I don’t think Bangladeshi Muslims, who are fundamentally moderate and decent want to follow puritanical orthodoxy rather their faith is guided by the spirit of the law.
It is also intriguing that on this issue, disparate groups of Mullahs with eclectic practice and belief system have unified to protest in unison. No sane person will say it is a pressing issue that these Mullahs should make molehill into a mountain. They pay no taxes, live on largesse of the working majority. Yet they want to be heard on every national issue and they threaten violence when they fail to get what they want.
To the envy and admiration of the whole world, particularly of the neighbours in the sub-continent, Bangladesh is progressing at stellar speed.
Bangladesh’s potentials have drawn the attention of powerful countries. Each superpower wants Bangladesh in its own camp. So far Bangladeshi leadership had sagaciously refrained from joining any. But each has its strategic assets in the country who operate according to their master’s wish and dictate.
The present government, despite shortcomings, has so far pursued the policy of appeasement with these fundamentalists in order to maintain peace and stability. But judging from the events of the past few weeks, it is evident that it cannot avoid a confrontation with these reactionary forces.