Safeguard the cultural heritage of Mahasthan, Bangladesh sign now

We are shocked, dismayed and appalled by the ongoing destruction of cultural heritage of Mahasthan area, Bangladesh, the attack on Bangladesh-France Joint Excavation site, the security guards and the abuse of grass root level archaeologists. The repeated violation of Bangladesh High Court's ruling regarding the protection of the cultural heritage of this site made us seriously concerned. We are enraged by the complete failure of the concerned bodies and authorities in ensuring safeguarding of this site with huge archaeological potential. The series of events pertaining to the destruction, attack and humiliation of the cultural heritage and people fighting for the protection of the site must be taken into serious account.

Mahasthangarh is one of the most prominent 'urban citadel site' in South Asia, situated in present Shibganj Upazila of Bogra district of Bangladesh. There are over hundred satellite sites in the form of mound surrounding the main city fortified by a massive wall and rampart. It is identified as the Pundranagar, the ancient capital of Pundrabardhan of Varendri (a historical geographical zone of Ancient Bengal). Several excavations have been conducted on various parts of this site. Continuous habitation from the early historic period to the colonial period has been detected. Archaeological stratigraphy from the Interim Report of the excavation conducted by the Bangladesh-France joint team has suggested with the corroboration of the Radiocarbon dates that the earliest date goes back to the 4th-3rd century BCE (the earliest levels couldn't be dated in the absence of reliable samples). However, most of the area covered by the citadel is yet to be excavated. Besides, recent excavations at Vasu Vihara (a Buddhist monastery) and Bihar Dhap (a mound) and Mazar area have revealed interesting and illuminating cultural and environmental history in this part of undivided Bengal.

There is a Mazar (tomb of saints worshiped by the devotees) of Saint Shah Sultan Mahisawar on one of the prominent locations of the southern fortification wall. Oral history and legends associate Mahisawar with Raja Parashuram. The narrative suggests that local Hindu king Parashuram was defeated by the saint. The narratives are different in the causes and consequences of the battle between the two, embodying possibly the contours of complex grammar of rise of Islam in this part of Bengal.The site, site museum and the mazar attract thousands of people every year. A huge mela (fair) is organized during the Bengali month of Boisakh (April-May) in the Mazar area.

The recent event of destruction started in the name of constructing a multistory building beside the mazar on 27 November 2010. It is to be noted that, the destruction, illegal digging for looting valuable artefacts, for the collection of soil for even governmental developmental activities are very common in the Mahasthan area where site density is heavy in a wide area (approx. 60 sq. km.). Mention could be made of the Karmasrijan Project (Project to ensure employment) by the local Shibganj Upazila Parishad (an administrative unit) involved the digging of an important archaeological mound - Baro Tangra Dhap- in mid-2010 for the construction of a road.

On 7 December Human Rights for Peace in Bangladesh submitted a writ petition to the High Court of Bangladesh alleging the violation of the constitution by the destruction. Preservation and protection of the National Cultural Heritage have been ensured in the constitution of Bangladesh and any kind of construction work threatening the protection has been prohibited. High Court Bench promptly ruled for the immediate stop of the destruction in the name of construction. The nexus between the ruling party president of the Bogra district, District Commissioner of Bogra and Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) of Shibganj upazila was covert. The nexus of the local elites and Bureaucrats inhibited the implementation of the high court rule.

Another Karmasrijan project by the UNO started ransacking another satellite mound - Nitai Dhopanir Pat for the construction of a road. The same High Court bench again summoned five persons including two local ruling party men on 2 February 2011. The bench again ruled for the construction of a ten member inquiry committee and asked the ministry and local administration the reasons for their failure in the protection.

Then came another suo muto ruling on 11 February and 14 February 2011 of the High Court following the newspaper reports of the re-commencing the construction activities during night. The District Commissioner, Police Super and The chairman of the Mazar Development Committee have been summoned to the court for their failure in protecting the integrity of the site as per the previous High Court rulings. The bench had also asked the ministry to evaluate the possibility of removing the mosque associated with the mazar considering religious sentiments and ordered for the deployment of security forces for the protection.

On 23 February, a team chaired by the secretary of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs went for a visit and exchange of views with several stakeholders in conformation to the High Court order. According to the media reports, the local influential stakeholders carefully maneuvered the religious sentiments of the local inhabitant by circulating rumors and lies (i.e the mosque and mazar will be demolished, the inhabitants will be uprooted, etc.). They managed to orchestrate a protest rally that attacked the sites of ongoing excavation by Bangladesh-France Joint Excavation team. The attackers also humiliated some local journalists who were on the spot for professional purposes. Three of the site guards were beaten. They used sexually abusive words to the custodian of Mahasthan site museum.

Meanwhile, reliable sources disclosed that during the meeting a local ruling party leader verbally used sexually derogatory remarks to the female custodian who is acting dynamically for the preservation and protection of the site in front of several high officials. The woman representative of the parliament, who was present at the meeting, protested vehemently against the verbal abuse. These actions of verbal sexual abuse is a violation of guidelines to prevent sexual harassment on women and children at work places, educational institutions and on the streets Bangladesh laid down by Bangladesh High Court. We think that this act of harassment of the grass root level Government employee and archaeologist is alarming and punishable.

We contend that the measures for the protection and preservation of a world famous cultural heritage site like Mahasthan must be undertaken on the basis of value based heritage management. We strongly believe that the local peoples' perception, values and sentiments must be taken into account for devising the protection measures. However, we also think that main perpetrators of this act of violence and destruction are not the general mass. The local powerful elites from the local administration and party leaders are responsible for misleading the public sentiments.

We condemn the attack on archaeological site, archaeologists and local journalists who are fighting for the protection of a culturally rich archaeological site. We urge the concerned authorities of the Government of the Peoples' Republic of Bangladesh to take immediate actions.

We demand immediate punishment of the District Commissioner, Police Super and Bogra district President of the ruling party for violating the constitution of Bangladesh, for the failure in upholding the High Court rulings and for complete negligence and sheer audacity they have shown by crossing the limits of the jurisprudence.

We insist that a judicial inquiry into the entire affair and open publication of the reports by previous inquiry committee.

Finally, we demand the security of the grass root level Govt. officials and journalists, and specially, woman archaeologists who are continuously living with terror.

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  • 06 August 201591. Bangla A
    Position and Institution Art & Heritage lover Please save the pricless legacy
  • 12 July 201590. Meer Ahsanh
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  • 23 May 201589. Soumik Nandym
    Position and Institution Senior Lecturer, Kala Bhavana, Visva Bharati It is urgent.
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    Position and Institution Assitatn Professor, State Univesity of New York at New Paltz В
  • 13 January 201584. Vasant S
    Position and Institution Professor of Archaeology and Joint Director, Deccan College University, Pune/India Destruction of an archaeological site intentionally is a crime. The Government of Bangladesh must stop the destruction of a such site, which has c
  • 02 January 201583. S Ms
    Position and Institution Programmer, Ministry of Primary and Mass Education Protect all our national heritage
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  • 14 December 201480. Sam H
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  • 14 December 201479. Tim Williamsf
    Position and Institution Senior Lecturer, Institute of Archaeology, UCL Protection of the local archaeologists and the site is essential - now.
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  • 09 October 201475. Probir G
    Position and Institution Writer and teacher While entirely in sympathy with Sufism and its lore, a multistoreyed building is an exercise in real estate taking advantage of the saint's urs. And destroying archaeological sites can be prevented at all costs
  • 26 September 201474. Catherine B
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Briana PearsonBy:
Nature and EnvironmentIn:
Petition target:
Government of the Peoples' Republic of Bangladesh

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