Religion-based party Jamaat-e-Islami has observed that Mongol Shobhajatra procession is a part of the Hindu culture and labelled the iconic event of the Pohela Boishakh celebrations as haram or forbidden in Islam.
Nayeb-e-Ameer Mujibor Rahman in a statement on Wednesday also urged the authorities concerned to take “emergency measures” to stop observance of the procession.
He also threatened Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina mentioning that Islam is the state religion of Bangladesh. “... The government should not impose any anti-national cultural elements violating the constitution … [and if Hasina does] … the outcome will not be good,” he added.
Islam “never approves this procession” as the participants wear masks of dolls, elephants, dragons, horses and other animals, and parade the streets dancing with their partners, Mujibor said.
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Hindus bring out Mongol Shobhajatra procession to celebrate the birth of Krishna, the Jamaat leader said.
Jamaat chief Maqbul Ahmad in a separate statement greeted the nation on the Bangla New Year and alleged that there had been conspiracies to destroy the Islamic heritage and culture of Bangladesh.
Maqbul alleged that “anti-national cultural elements” had been introduced in the guise of Molgol Prodip (earthen lamps with cotton wicks) and Mongol Shobhajatra.
A key ally of the BNP-led alliance that opposed the birth of Bangladesh and committed war crimes, Jamaat has remained out of the streets since they observed a series of violent blockades and shutdowns across the country in 2015.
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The statement came hours after the prime minister said that Pohela Boishakh festivities including Mongol Shobhajatra had nothing to do with religion.
“It is part of our culture. Pohela Boishakh has been celebrated since the Mughal Empire. There is absolutely no scope of spreading confusion about it,” she said Wednesday.
However, the ruling Awami League chief decided to call off her party's Mongol Shobhajatra
this year the same night, reportedly arguing that there was no point in turning the Pohela Boishakh celebrations into political programme.
The Dhaka metropolitan unit of the party used to bring out a colourful procession from Bahadur Shah Park and end at Bangabandhu Avenue on every Pohela Boishakh.
Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader told the media on Thursday that the decision was taken “considering the suffering of the people.”
Her government reinstated secularism in the constitution in 2011 but did not remove the state religion provision, introduced by military ruler HM Ershad in 1988, adhering to long-standing demands of the secular forces.
On the other hand, military ruler Ziaur Rahman, the founder of BNP, had dropped secularism and withdrawn the ban on religion-based politics.
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File Photo: Clad in colourful attires thousands of people take part in the traditional Mongol Shobha Jatra festooned with life-sized replicas of bird, fish, animals, and other motifs, brought out on Pohela Boishakh in Dhaka Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune
The Mongol Shobhajatra procession – first introduced in 1985 in Jessore and then replicated in Dhaka since 1989 – features large colourful masks, carnival floats of birds and animals, and other motifs of Bangladeshi culture.
It has now become a key element of the Pohela Boishakh celebrations among the Bangalis at home and abroad. Foreigners living in Bangladesh also observe the day with much enthusiasm.
Not only Jamaat; Qawmi madrasa-based Islamist platform Hefazat-e-Islam, Olama League and Islami Andolon Bangladesh are among dozens of like-minded groups, and the militant groups carrying out killings, long been campaigning against the observance of Pohela Boishakh terming it anti-Islamic and alien culture that promotes obscenity and free mingling of men and women.
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In 2001, the Bangladesh chapter of Pakistan-based militant group Harkat-ul Jihad al-Islami (Huji) killed 10 people and injured scores of others in a deadly blast at Ramna Batamul where the Chhayanaut cultural group was performing traditional songs to embrace the Bangla New Year.
Inspired by a Unesco recognition, the government in March declared the procession mandatory for all educational institutions this year, prompting the Islamist parties and groups to take to streets.
The most colourful event of the first day of Bangla New Year, Mongol Shobhajatra, was inscribed on the Unesco's Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in November last year.
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The Unesco agreed that Mongol Shobhajatra “symbolises the pride of the people of Bangladesh in their living heritage as well as their strength and courage to fight sinister forces, and their vindication of truth and justice.”
Before the Unesco announcement came last year, the government introduced festival bonus for public servants on the occasion of Pohela Boishakh. Various hardline Islamist groups opposed the move.