By Dimitrios Vassiliadis
The statue of Themis has become a symbol of justice and secularism in Bangladesh after its re-installation in front of the Dhaka Supreme Court complex.
The statue made by the eminent Bangladeshi sculptor Mrinal Haque (1958-2020) is a combination of Greek and Bengali art and depicts a blindfolded Bengali woman wearing a traditional sari, blouse, petticoat and bangles, and carrying a sword in one hand and the scales of justice in the other.
The statue was originally placed in front of the Supreme Court in December 2016, but was removed in May 2017 following months of protests by the Islamic organizations Hefazat-e-Islam and Bangladesh Olama League, as well as other concervative religious groups who regarded it as an ‘anti-Islamic idol’.
The removal of the statue provoked the reaction of students and secular activists who gathered outside the courthouse to protest. Sculptor Mrinal Haque choked back tears as he oversaw the statue’s removal, saying “Even my mother’s death did not make me so grief-stricken.” Likewise, Imran Sarkar, leader of the Ganajagaran Mancha organization, said “Our art and culture will fall victim to this fanaticism”.
The final solution was given two days later when the Supreme Court decided to satisfy both sides by relocating the statue of Themis to another central location within the supreme court complex, but away from the place of prayer.
Bangladesh, which is the first and only Muslim-majority country in South Asia to establish secularism in its constitution, has experienced increasing tensions between conservative religious groups and secularists in recent years. However, the secular government led by PM Hasina Sheikh aspires to make Bangladesh a global model of tolerance and peace and to prevent the country from destabilising and confrontational situations.