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Progressive political and cultural quarters, including the political and cultural allies of the government, have said that certain events that have taken place in the political arena over the past few days are ominous signs, threatening the very basis of democracy and the non-communal spirit.

It began with the controversial amendments of school textbooks at the behest of Hefazat-e-Islam.

The signs grew more ominous with a cascade of incidents including Hefazat’s demand for the removal of a statue in front of the Supreme Court, debate over celebrating the Bangla new year Pahela Baishakh, smearing Pahela Baishakh wall murals with blackened diesel in Chittagong, and the prime minister unconditionally giving official recognition to Qawmi madrasas during a meeting with Hefazat leaders at Ganabhaban.

Political and cultural circles as well as the intelligentsia are aghast at the government’s compromise with Hefazat-e-Islam, the group responsible for the 2013 anti-government movement that created serious unrest in the country, against the rise of Shahbagh square.

Observers see a distinct link between the recognition of Qawmi madrasas, the demand for removal of the statue from the Supreme Court premises and the resistance to celebrating the Bangla new year. They have expressed dismay and concern over these developments.

Prothom Alo talked to several ministers, pro-Awami League academics and cultural activists over the development. Following the excerpts:

Rashed Khan Menon, civil aviation minister and Workers Party president

Making a compromise with Hefazat-e-Islam will damage the non-communal and democratic ethos, will weaken the hand of the non-communal force.

Whatever is happening centring on the celebration of Pahela Baishakh [Bangla New Year] is an ominous sign. It is a universal and non-communal festival. Those who are speaking against it are enemies of the nation.

This compromise in politics will throw a challenge against the roots of the democratic and non-communal spirit.

Asaduzzaman Noor, cultural affairs minister

I just can’t understand why the Bangla new year celebration programmes have been curtailed on security grounds. Why should the new year celebration programme be winded up by 5:00pm? It is a fight against darkness and evil forces.

It’s a struggle against those who understand neither logic nor religion. They launched an attack on the Eid congregation at Sholakia, on an Egypt church and in London. But the question is: what is the logic behind it all?

This is true that the law enforcers are working to ensure security, but it is not their duty alone. Whom do they want to keep on the streets by sending general public and cultural activists back home. People want to fight.

I think there is scope for the cultural activists to be active. They will have to shoulder the responsibility.

The cultural activists should go from school to school. Its not that everyone should be a singer or recite poetry. It’s now an imperative to enlighten the children, and to help them flourish. This campaign should be carried out through writing songs, poets and stories.

Now the evil force is working to give birth to militants. The effort against it, to nuture enlightened people should begin now.”

Nasiruddin Yusuf Bachchu, cultural activist

It is true that communal force has arisen in the country. We fear that there is political backing behind it. The government has recognised the Qawmi madrasa whereas we have all along been demanding for a unitrack education system.

We’ve effectively backtracked on the education system based on the spirit of the liberation war what we have long been speaking of, thanks to this decision of the government.

We’ll now not be able to build a modern and secular state.

We the cultural activists will not accept the instructions to conclude the Baishakh programmes by 5:00pm. We will continue the programmes.

Muntasir Mamun, DU professor

I see a link between the changes in the textbook curriculum, recognising Qawmi madrasa certification, removal of statues, defacing wall murals and threatening the Bangla new year procession.

It is fine to remove a statue if it is not appropriate, but it is not acceptable to remove it in face of demands made by fundamentalists.

If that statue is removed, they will demand the removal of statues from all around the country. The sculptures in the cantonment and everywhere, the statues of Banglabandhu, of freedom fighters, all will have to be removed.

The government has recognised Qawmi madrasa certificates. If other groups make similar demands and the government does not acquiesce, that will display the government’s bias in favour of Qawmi madrasas.

Recognising Qawmi madrassa certification has devastated the education system. This doesn’t bode well for the future.

We note that the government is giving in to all of the fundamentalists’ demands. We feel if things continue in this manner, bloodshed will be inevitable. Those who have brought the government to power are remaining silent.

Selina Hossain, writer

Most members of the conscious section of society feel that an evil force is behind the changes in the textbook curriculum. It should be determined whether similar nefarious forces are behind minimising Pahela Baishakh celebrations.

That is what I want to ask those who are suppressing culture in the name of security. Culture can’t flourish behind closed doors. The new generation must be given a free environment for cultural inspiration, for a non-communal humanitarian spirit to flourish. This is everyone’s responsiblity.

We have always demanded a uniform education for the educationally and culturally conscious Bengali society. It is uncertain how elevating Qawmi madrasa education to the level of higher education will contribute to the overall standard of education.

There are questions also as to how justified it is to consider the removal of a sculpture on the demand of those who spread terror and militancy in the name of religion.

Rasheda K Chowdhury, former caretaker government advisor

It is confusing. It is not clear whether the Qawmi madrasa has actually been given recognition. The educational institutions in the country have to follow certain rules. Recognition of an institution that doesn’t adhere to the rules, can’t not be accepted.

As a women’s rights leader, I am very uncomfortable that compromise is being made with those who reject women’s leadership. They are threatening the country’s culture, demanding that all statues be destroyed. They are threatening the spirit of the liberation war. How is this acceptable?

Controlling Pahela Baishakh celebrations is interfering with culture. These are ominous signs. This is the government of Bangladesh Awami League, the party that led the struggle for independence. We can’t believe they will make compromises that will cast a shadow on our long-standing traditions.

Special clauses in the law against child marriage, changes in the textbooks, none of these can be accepted.

Abul Momen, poet, columnist and journalist

This is a compromise with fundamentalists. Religious fundamentalists are pressurising the government and exerting themselves. The government is concerned about militancy.

The fundamentalists are taking advantage of this and are pushing forward their political and social agenda. I don’t understand why the government is capitulating.

There has long been conflict in Bangladesh between the progressive thinkers and the conservatives. This conflict has reached a height. The government is compromising with the fundamentalists to consolidate its power.

This goes against the non-communal and democratic spirit. The government, as in the case of removing the statue from the Supreme Court, is not standing up against the fundamentalist forces.

Hasanul Haque Inu, information minister and Jasad president

A quarter has stood against Bangladesh’s history, tradition, culture and language. They are misinterpreting Islam. They are for all practical purposes misogynists and anti-democratic force.

Those who stood against these exercises and sculptures are reactionaries.

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