Under pressure from religious radicals, Bangladeshi authorities have begun to remove a statue they claim depicts an “un-Islamic” goddess from outside the country’s highest court.
The sculpture of Greek goddess Themis erected in front of the Supreme Court is less than six months old, but Islamist groups ordered its removal on Friday.
Symbolizing “justice”, the robe-clad, blindfolded woman has angered Islamist leaders, who say it is unbefitting of the country and an insult to Muslim sentiment.
The figure, holding a scale and sword in each hand, has been the target of mass protest in the country’s capital, Dhaka, by groups who equate it with idolatry — a sin proscribed in Islam.
Despite Bangladesh’s secular constitution, the country’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who leads the secular Awami League party, joined the chorus of disgruntled Islamists in condemning the work.
Experts see in Hasina’s reversal on the issue an attempt to court conservative voters ahead of the general election, due to take place sometime next year
But the move still shocked secular groups, who see it as further evidence of growing tension between Islamists hard liners and liberals in the conservative country.
The sculpture’s creator Mrinal Haque told Straits Times that its removal was a “slap in the face of progressive people in this country,” but that it was being uprooted to maintain peace.
The country has struggled to contain violence against secular forces in recent years, experiencing a spate of killings of atheists, religious minorities, gay people and foreigners.