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Bangladesh: Stop Parallel Justice System Issuing Religious Edicts to Punish Women

by, 9 December 2009

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The Daily Star, December 8, 2009


Dealing with fatwa: Human rights activists’ role is crucial

FATWA or an edict, that self-anointed rural adjudicators issue in collaboration with influential locals, is ruining the lives of many women in rural areas. Most of the victims are not in a position to fight for their rights as such decrees are passed in the name of religion. The image of religion itself is undermined in the process.

President Zillur Rahman has urged the National Human Rights Commission to work for elimination of the practice which is based on misinterpretation of religion and exploitation of religious sentiments of people. Obviously, the commission has to make some determined efforts to banish it and make sure that it does not remain a potent weapon in the hands of village headmen and mullahs.

Such decrees actually create misunderstanding and confusion in the public mind and in most cases the perpetrators are blamed for the punishment, often inhumane, meted out to the victims. However, the issue is definitely more complex than it looks. The victims are mostly women poorly represented in the rural power structure. There is nobody to plead their cases and the verdict passed often goes unchallenged. Regrettably, the arbitrator plays into the hands of vested groups, instead of taking a stand in favour of the victim. Nothing could be a more serious violation of the rights of women, that Islam protects as a matter of principle, than such crude application of judgment.

No less damaging for women is the social condition tilting heavily in favour of men. The male domination of rural society is so absolute that the crimes committed by men are often condoned or overlooked in arbitration meetings. The poor women have to suffer silently for the wrongs done to them by mischievous elements having a powerful position in society. The mock trial of some rapists in Barguna recently is a case in point.

So, blunting the force is inextricably linked to empowerment of women. The religious leaders also have a very important role in protecting women from being harassed, tortured or pilloried publicly by the exponents of so-called fatwa. They have to make a point of opposing the elements who have neither the competence, nor the legal authority, to issue fatwa. Their attempts to set up a parallel justice system amounts to a punishable offence.

The human rights activists have to organise a social movement against such manipulative tactics which allow religion to be used by self-seekers.

[See related materials]

The Daily Star, 2009-10-17

Enact law to stop fatwa

Staff Correspondent

Bangladesh Mahila Parishad (BMP) on Thursday demanded of the government to enact law to stop religious edict (fatwa) and eve teasing to ensure security of women.

In a statement, the Parishad expressed concern over the assault of a female student at Kaptai Sweden Polytechnic Institute by the male students.

It also demanded exemplary punishment to the students following proper investigation.

According to a news published in the Shamakal, a group of male students ordered the female students to cover their heads with scarf and not to wear ’tip’ on forehead and use high hill shoes.

As a girl of computer science department disobeyed the order, one Rafikul Islam of civil engineering department along with his friends assaulted her.

They also locked her in a room and threatened her with a revolver saying that they would throw acid on her if she further dares to do the same thing.

A general dairy was lodged with Kaptai Police Station in this regard.

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The Daily Star, 2009-06-18

Issue directives to local admin to stop fatwa Rights activists urge govt

Staff Correspondent

Lawyers and human rights activists yesterday urged the government to issue directives to local administration for taking immediate steps to stop issuing fatwa (religious edict) as it increased alarmingly in recent months in the country.

Expressing deep concern over the frequent incidents of whipping women in the name of arbitration following fatwa, they called on the government to take prompt legal action against those involved in issuing fatwa to ensure security of the victims.

Terming fatwa unlawful and inhuman, they also urged the government to circulate a message using state-run TV and Radio that issuing fatwa is a punishable crime and stern action would be taken against those who would issue fatwa.

They made the call at a press conference titled ’ Fatwa, illegal arbitration, intolerable punishment: Where is the rule of law?’ at Dhaka Reporters Unity auditorium. It was organised by Brac Human Rights and Legal AID Programmes and Brac Advocacy and Human Rights Unit.

Stressing the need for preventive measures against issuing fatwa, former adviser to a caretaker government and Executive Director of Ain O Salish Kendra Advocate Sultana Kamal said, "It is not enough to take action after the incidents, it is a must to take preventive measures against such crimes."

"It is the duty of law enforcement agencies to stop illegal activities, but how the incidents of whipping women after issuing fatwa are taking place across the country under the very nose of them?" asked Sultana.

Barrister Sara Hossain said the High Court verdict banning fatwa has been stayed by the Supreme Court, but the country’s constitution bans all sorts of fatwas that go against the humanity.

Dr Faustina Pereira, director of Human Rights and Legal Aid Programme, and Shipa Hafiz, director of Training Division, Gender Justice and Diversity of Brac, and Fouzia Karim Firoze, president of Bangladesh National and Women Lawyers Association, also spoke on the occasion.