Why the focus on statues -- and why now?
The first argument that comes to mind regarding the ongoing debate about whether sculptures or idols should be allowed to remain or not is that, if these structures are against religious principles, then sale of alcohol should be targeted first.
However, as far as I know, bars all across the country are thriving, including off-hour sales. As Bangladesh steps into her 50th year, I step into my 49th -- younger than the country by roughly four months.
So, it won’t be an exaggeration to say that we grew up together, witnessing the austerity, privation, transformation, development, and the rise of a country which, at one point of time, had poverty written all over it.
The word disaster cannot be used for Bangladesh anymore -- though a number of detractors once only saw gloom for this country. In all this time after independence, the issue about historical sculptures being against established religious beliefs never became a topic of contention.
The first question to ask: Why is it that now, so many years later, when the country has established her credentials for being a pluralist nation, the matter of what is Islamic and what is not is being debated with such verve?
Reportedly, the sculpture of Bagha Jatin, an anti-imperialist revolutionary, was recently vandalized, triggering the question -- if all sculptures of historical figures come under attack, then won’t history itself also face a threat?
Sculptures of men/women who stood up for what is right and protested what is wrong are here to ensure that the past is not forgotten or distorted.
Not everyone reads history and so, these works are placed in public so historical figures and their contributions to life, liberty, and society continue to live in collective memory.
If the religious argument is used, then the target should first be the drug selling spots, which are doing more harm to society than a few stone and concrete pieces.
I am sure that each and every religion has spoken against acts that harm others and since drugs, especially yaba, have become a pervasive menace, the ire should have been directed towards the pink pill.
Interestingly, as I write this at 3am, the street peddlers in the alley by my house are busy selling the stuff.
Without claiming to be an expert on theology, one can easily say that all faiths, including Islam, have unequivocally stated the need to check activities that disrupt social harmony, endanger lives, and plunge men/women into a world of depravity.
Wage war against social afflictions
Sculptures are doing us no harm; but there are countless other practices which are -- child marriage, domestic violence, persecution resulting from non-payment of dowry, and a variety of criminal acts ranging from extortion to abduction to fraud.
These are the issues that need to be taken up by those who are in a position to provide moral guidance to the masses.
The importance of the “waaz mehfil,” or the gathering to deliver sermons, is paramount in tackling social evils. Unfortunately, in the religious sermons, the emphasis is more on trivial matters that have no direct impact on current day living.
Common sense states that if sermons or advice from religious scholars fail to highlight major social maladies that then, over a period of time, the masses will subconsciously begin to accept grave aberrations as normal.
There are several such religious sermons available on the net and very few talk about the scourge of yaba, the surge of mercenary values, or the insidious rise of sexual harassment, assault, and rape.
Shockingly, in one sermon, made right in the heart of the city, an articulate preacher, below the age of 40, is seen to denounce English medium education. Referring to a socially established figure, he says education in English is the reason for the destruction of all values and, therefore, children should concentrate only on traditional theological education.
Not a single person seated in the audience protested though it never occurred to anyone that, without English, a person’s education plus professional future will be limited.
Even in the world of theology, debates at the international arena are in English and without mastery over the language many of the misconceptions about Islam cannot be dispelled.
Religious scholars are supposed to guide society amidst turbulent waters filled with temptations and, as such, these sermons should be on cyberbullying, smart phone addiction, and those adolescent demons which, unaddressed, spawn diabolically wrong concepts.
As I mentioned in the beginning, if there is so much concern about what is religiously right or wrong, then there would not be so many drug-selling spots or rampant corruption.
In Bogra, a school student was allegedly abducted and raped after she rebuffed a marriage proposal. As we all know, such incidents are common. If not violated in this manner exactly, we continue to see regular incidents of harassment, taunting, and intimidation of women after the rejection of a proposal.
That a woman has the right to say “no” and that men must accept it is something that is never taught.
Just this simple lesson, if propagated by religious preachers, would go a long way towards bringing down the number of rapes and gender based violence.
Sadly, the focus seems to be on matters that are frivolous or have little or no lasting impact on society’s greater good.
By defacing sculptures, seeds of intolerance plus bigotry are being sown. An insular mind will only try to dissect an incident from one angle, failing to realize that when the sculpture of a historical figure, in this case Bagha Jatin, is under attack, a glorious chapter of our history of nationalism is also being stained.
Towheed Feroze is a journalist and teaches at the University of Dhaka.