… government and French Embassy officials have, without informing either the committee or the media, taken the items out of the museum in what resembled a police protected museum robbery…
— Shahidul Alam, Photojournalist, Activist.
[Dhaka Correspondent, E-Bangladesh.]
Ignoring a writ petition pending, Bangladesh government officials and representatives of the French embassy in Dhaka Friday sent 10 out of 23 boxes of museum pieces to the Guimet Museum in Paris for display. People, holding protests against the move, gathered near the National Museum, attacked the vehicles carrying the artifacts and attacked government officials as they fear the pieces will never be returned. Bangladeshi and French authorities in Dhaka began the process at the National Museum Thursday, a museum holiday, in presence of French embassy and Bangladesh cultural ministry officials.
“The process for sending the artifacts was not transparent and it created mistrust among the people,” architect Shamsul Wares said. The exact number of the artifacts in the 10 boxes could not be gathered, as Bangladeshi or French officials did not answer any questions regarding the matter. Several museum sources reported that there are about 200 artifacts in the 23 boxes.
Protesters present in front of the National Museum attacked the cargo trucks headed for the airport with the artifacts. They also assaulted government officials sitting inside the car at around 3 PM. Police picked up an artist in connection with the attack, but he was released at the intervention of journalists present.
An Air France cargo plane, scheduled to take off at 12.05 AM Saturday, is carrying the artifacts. Homebound trucks and forklifts reached the museum early on the day. The Homebound trucks and forklifts sported banners reading “Save the Children cyclone Sidr emergency relief.”
National Museum director general, Samar Chandra Pal, and the Department of Archaeology director, Shafiqul Islam, avoided newsmen and crossed into and out of the museum covering the face with their hands.
Jahangirnagar University archaeology department chairman, Sufi Mostafizur Rahman, also a member on the expert committee the government formed in connection with sending the artifacts to Paris, was present near the museum, and observed that the government could act in keeping the committee findings in the interest of the country. The findings include inaccurate recording of the artifacts, absence of counter-signs of the officials concerned, lack of video documentation, incomplete description, lack of photographs of the items and accession numbers.
A large number of archaeologists, artists, writers, architects, teachers and students formed a human chain near the National Museum at 10.30 AM protesting the illegal government move. Artist Quayyum Chowdhury led the protest.
The artifacts were scheduled to be sent to the Guimet Museum on October 13 in an Air France cargo plane. After hearing a petition, the first joint district judge’s court of Dhaka on October 11 issued a notice to the French ambassador and the cultural affairs secretary, asking them to explain why an injunction would not be issued against sending the artifacts abroad. The same court Monday asked the authorities concerned to submit necessary documents in connection with the move on January 15 when the court will hear the case next time.
The petition was filed by former archaeology department director Nazimuddin Ahmed, former National Museum director general Shamsuzzaman Khan, architect Shamsul Wares, art critic Mainuddin Khaled, and numismatist Nurul Islam.
Five eminent citizens Thursday demanded that the government should immediately revoke its decision of sending the artifacts to Paris and complete investigation of alleged irregularities. They, in a statement, said the government initiative of sending the priceless artifacts to Paris would make the interim administration controversial. Signatories to the statement: National Professor Kabir Chowdhury, Professor Salahuddin Ahmad, Professor Khan Sarwar Murshid, former Jahangirnagar University vice-chancellor Professor Zillur Rahman Siddiqi and journalist Faiz Ahmed.