(Moved to

A Flag Fails to Flutter

It was a bad day for cows

meat-outside-museum-0511.jpg Korbani meat being distributed outside National Museum during Eid. 21st December 2007. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

But the Bangladesh government had a supreme sacrifice in mind. When the most prized of your possessions needed to be sacrificed, and when the gods have changed to western powers, the four-legged creatures simply wouldn’t do. The nation’s most prized archaeological possessions were therefore bundled away in Homebound chariots to distant museums. The door to heaven’s gate might not have opened, but a Schengen visa and perhaps a few trips to Paris for some, had surely been assured.

It was well timed. The Eid holidays meant there would be no newspapers for two days. Most reporters would be away. The streets of Dhaka would be empty. Holidays meant there was no rush. No pesky public to worry about at opening hours. Still one needed to be sure. Bus no Dhaka Jo 11 1767, was on standby with riot police. The police jeep Dhaka Jo 11 4364 followed behind. Then the media that got in the way. With so many Eid events to cover, why had they gathered round the national museum? The sanctity of sacrifice should surely have been respected. Reinforcements in the form of another busload of riot police came in via bus number Dhaka Jo 14 1799.

balloon-man-0516.jpg Balloon man outside National Museum. Friday 21st December 2007. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

eid-passengers-0532.jpg Family out on Eid. Friday 21st December 2007. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

aisha-0504.jpg Aisha outside National Museum. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

museum-closure-0500.jpg Sign says the museum is closed from the 20th till the 22nd on account of Eid. Friday 21st December 2007. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Aisha had come with her parents to visit the museum. Like many others they were turned away. The museum was closed, at least to the public. The Eid holidays of museum officials had however been cancelled. The shippers were working overtime.

dgfi-0498.jpgriot-police-on-standby-0556.jpgriot-police-leaving-museum-0573.jpg Police returning to station, after staging the ‘escape’. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Police and plainclothes intelligence officials were present in abundance, their riot gear jarring with the bright new clothes of Dhakaites. Then it took another turn. Spitting and booing had failed to stop the Homebound trucks earlier. This time the protesters changed tack. Chains were put on the gate of the national museum. Visions of the Chipko Resistance

protester-chaining-museum-gate-0536-d.jpg Protester chaining front gate of National Museum. Friday 21st December 2007. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

police-breaking-museum-lock-8277.jpg Police breaking padlock at front gate of National Museum. Friday 21st December 2007. © Gazi Nafis Ahmed/DrikNews

burning-shirt-in-protest-0775.jpg Burning shirt in protest outside National Musuem. Friday 21st December 2007. © Munir uz Zaman/DrikNews

media-0526.jpg Despite emergency rule and government efforts to bury the story, media continued to give the event full coverage. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

sprang to mind. In place of burglars breaking in, the comic view of government officials breaking their way out of the national museum to escape with museum valuables would have brought laughter in a trirotno drama (popular Bangladeshi sitcom). In the theatre of Bangladeshi governance, it was yet another tragedy.

“The benefits, for both countries, are cultural: it is a win-win situation where France gains a better knowledge of Bangladeshi heritage and Bangladesh gains a better image on the international cultural scene,” the French embassy handout had clarified.

The partially demolished Rangs building continues to be a grave for the buried Bangladeshi workers far down the priority chain. Presumably, that is a ‘Bangladeshi heritage’ the Parisians will not get to see.

The last time round, they had been playing one of my favourite Bhupen Hajarika songs. This time there was no music, and no one was smiling. Even the Bangladeshi flag failed to flutter on this Eid day. Video of trucks carrying artefacs out of museum. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
unfluttering-flag-0531.jpg Bangladeshi flag refuses to flutter as prized Bangladeshi objects are taken out of museum. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

December 22, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. Nothing could stop it, the leak, the screaming, the protest, the shame, every civilized effort of foreboding. Those hell bent to steal, cheat and hoodwink entire people of their heritage, dignity and past have won ( Thanks to all those who fearlessly worked to bring the story out despite the fact that powerful groups get what they want, be they oil under someones feet, priceless paintings in someones drawingroom or stale justices to smoke screen the real tragedies (theft of power in 1/11).

    Comment by shakib ahsan | December 23, 2007 | Reply

  2. This caretaker government has failed miserably. The French government also cannot shed itself of its responsibility in the theft since it had actively pressed for clandestine passage of the valuables by Air France. The CTG was so deep ino this conspiracy that it had arranged the secretive operation on our holy Eid day. The outgoing French ambassador and the foreign advisor of the unconstitutional military-backed junta should immediately be fired and taken into custody for interrogation by the joint interrogation cell and Interpol. There is definitely something sinister about this fiasco. All including the French and Bangladesh high-ups must have received huge kickbacks from global museum piece robbers and dacoits who have links and agents working under international agencies, embassies and NGOs to steal precious priceless historic relics from poor countries. This crime syndicate must be busted as it has creeped it’s way into the caretaker setup in Bangladesh.

    After this incident, I have developed strong distaste and disgust for anything French. To me the French have disgraced and insulted our culture and heritage. It is unpardonable.

    Comment by pathik nabi | December 24, 2007 | Reply

  3. […] Alam, who reported about the protests to stop the second shipment is furious: Their fear of items being stolen, or not being returned, was considered preposterous. […]

    Pingback by Global Voices Online » Bangladesh: The Musée Guimet affair | December 25, 2007 | Reply

  4. […] Alam, who reported about the protests to stop the second shipment is furious: Their fear of items being stolen, or not being returned, was considered preposterous. […]

    Pingback by The Musée Guimet affair | E-Bangladesh | December 25, 2007 | Reply

  5. Who gave the so called caretaker govt of Bangladesh the mandate to sign the agreement with the french emabassy? is this government legal and constitutional? does it have any right to decide on handing over– even though temporarily–of our national treasures to foriegn countries?

    Comment by cheated | December 25, 2007 | Reply

  6. See this:

    Comment by SR | December 25, 2007 | Reply

  7. Dear Sir,

    I am a sub editor for a french independent news website, Rue89. We would like to use some of the pictures you took to illustrate a story about the musee Guimet affair.

    Let me know if you are OK.

    Best regards

    Yann Guegan

    Comment by yannG | December 31, 2007 | Reply

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