Is the ‘Banksy of Bangladesh’ implying escape is futile?

Is the ‘Banksy of Bangladesh’ implying escape is futile?

Mysterious graffiti featuring a character trying to flee has been popping up all over Dhaka. Is this representative of the marginalised?

By Sheerso Bhowmick

Published on :

A new form of protest has emerged within the socio-political space in Bangladesh. Exquisite street art, carrying intense political connotations, began to appear in the capital city of Dhaka sometime in May. The graffiti shows a disheveled man running, sometimes with a cage which has a bright, burning sun inside. There is a message–“Subodh, run; time is not on your side.” The red circle in the Bangladesh flag signifies the sun rising over Bengal.

With a caged orange sun, ‘Subodh’ is on the run. This graffiti appears on the walls of old port.

Similar graffiti appeared in several other parts of the city. The picture is nearly the same, of a distraught man trying to escape. However, the message changes. “Subodh, run; humans have forgotten how to love” or “Subodh, run; your luck has run out”. But one picture shows Subodh behind bars. The message is – “Subodh is now in jail; a sense of guilt is ensconced in people’s hearts”. All of these graffiti are accompanied by a caption os sorts ‘HOBE KI?’(What will happen?)

Here the colour of ‘Subodh’s’ sun is red. The ill-fated Subodh is on the run here as well.

The ‘Banksy of Bangladesh’ is not a surprise for many. Art has always played a crucial role in Bangladeshi politics right from the freedom struggle against the British Raj, during the liberation war in 1971 and even during the Shahbag protests in 2013.

As with all matters relating to art and politics, critics and observers have come out with different interpretations. Some claim Subodh (used interchangeably for the artist and the man depicted) is a victim of poverty, while others say he is a victim of communalism. But can we really blame the economic perils of Bangladesh for Subodh? Currently, if we go by the latest statistics, Bangladesh is right now the economic success story of the sub continent. Millions have been lifted out of poverty and the efforts of the country in this direction are duly acknowledged by the likes of World Bank, Asian Development Bank, etc.

But there are many political reasons that hint Subodh (a Hindu name) may have to escape from Bangladesh soon. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina wants to cling to power and for that her latest political experiments may turn out to be dangerous. She wants to rid herself of the anti-Islam tag that her opponents accuse her and her party Awami League of and her current actions are a clear indulgence to Islamic hardliners.

On the walls of the Old Port situated in Agargaon-Mohakhali link road, hangs Subodh’s caged orange sun.

For instance, she expressed her displeasure with the Lady Justice statue in the Supreme Court premises, when Islamic parties, especially Hefazat-e-Islam (protectors of Islam) demanded the removal of a statue for being anti-Islamic. The Islamic parties hit the streets and even warned those who supported the statue of dire consequences. She was prompt in ordering the removal of statue. Significantly, Hefazat’s demand also received support from Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent.

Another demand of the hardliners was to revise school textbooks in favouring of making them ‘more Islamic’. Hasina gave in to their agitations by removing certain poems from the curriculum. The worst was yet to come. In April, the government agreed to the long-standing demand of Islamic hardliners that madrasahs degrees will be equivalent degrees issued from state-backed institutions. This includes thousands of unregulated madrasahs. It must be noted that some of these Islamic hardliner movements, such as Islami Andolan Bangladesh, Hefazat-e-Islam are based out of madrasahs.

Possibly the most dangerous of her foreign policy decisions is to woo the Saudis. Her outreach has been ‘fruitful’. Stories in local newspapers claim that Saudi Arab promised $1 billion in aid to build a mosque in every town in Bangladesh and true or not, it has swayed public opinion. She may be planning to use this as an outreach tool for her electoral arithmetic. But what she forgets is that propagation of Saudi brand of Islam, that is Wahabbism, can wreak havoc in a country already brimming with rising cases of terrorism, murders of liberal bloggers, and attacks on minorities.

Subodh’s problems do not end with Hasina and Saudi Arabia. There are numerous Islamic hardliner political parties in Bangladesh such as Islami Chhatra Shibir, and Hefazat-e-Islam, whose common agenda is to seek capital punishment for atheists, apart from opposing secularism. Their ideology, clubbed with fiery speeches, is enough to make minorities feel unsafe. Interestingly, the appearance of the Subodh graffiti coincides with the Lady Justice controversy.

Subodh is jailed now. This is drawn on Sher-e-Bangla Nagar Govt. Boys’ High School’s wall

Fact is that the condition of Subodh’s across Bangladesh is precarious. In November 2016, more than 100 Hindu homes were attacked and many temples were razed in Nasirnagar, Chittagong after mobs were incited in a rally organised by Hefazat-e-Islam. The incident took place after one Hindu fisherman allegedly insulted Islam on Facebook. In June 2016, Nityaranjan Pandeya, an ashram inmate was hacked in Pabna, Bangladesh. Again, in Pabna in 2013, about 25 Hindu homes were attacked. Additionally, the economic aspects such as property grab also play a major role behind such attacks. Rising fundamentalism in the last two years has taken a huge toll on religious minorities in Bangladesh and liberals, and bloggers. Niloy Chatterjee, Anata Bijoy Das and Avijit Roy, were all popular bloggers who were murdered. Their only fault – they were rational freethinkers.The main idea is simple- removing Bangladesh from the path of secularism.

Possibly, Subodh wants to escape from the country but his emotions for his motherland refuse to let him. The red in the flag also signifies the blood of the martyrs of the liberation war of 1971. Hasina must remember her father founded the new nation based on the ideals of secularism. She might be trying to occupy the space taken by her primary opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party by pandering to hardliners, but in the long run this may do her more harm, politically.

On the way to Shishumela form Agargaon, the graffiti of Subodh appears on the right wall.

The only saving grace for Subodh is the fact that whenever there has been an onslaught on the ideals of liberalism and secularism in his country, the people have led the war on the streets.