05/28/2009, 00.00
BANGLADESH

Village woman mercilessly whipped after fatwa is issued against her

by William Gomes
The woman was punished for filing a paternity claim after her son was born out of wedlock. Village judges say they imposed punishment in accordance with Qur’anic tenets. Human rights activists describe the affair as another “example of social discrimination” and call for greater protection for women.
Dhaka (Asia News) – Rahima Akter, a woman from Noagon (Daudkandi sub-district, eastern Bangladesh), was mercilessly whipped until she lost consciousness after she dared to file a paternity claim against a married man with children. A fatwa ordering that she be whipped 100 times was issued against her by a local Islamic judge for “false testimony”. For human rights activists, the case is but another example of “social discrimination against women” based on the failure to implement laws that protect them and the overall lack of gender equality. After her public ordeal the single mother was taken to the Dhaka Medical College for medical treatment.

“Arbitration in my daughter’s case began at 8 pm on 22 May. The Mawlānā chaired the committee,” Rahima’s mother, Rasheda Begum, told AsiaNews. “She [the daughter] explained that she started an affair with Abdul Karim, who is married and father of three children. As a result of their relation, my grandson Ramzan was born.”

The young mother tried without success to get him to acknowledge paternity and this led to an arbitration hearing, which was held in the village madrassah or Qur’anic school.

“There were 200 to 400 people,” Rasheda Begum said. “My daughter swore on the Qur’an that Karim was the father, but he strongly denied it. He, too, took an oath.”

The arbitration council then ruled that the man was right, based on the Islamic legal principle that the testimony by a man is worth more than that of a woman. Therefore, Rahima was found guilty of perjury and was sentenced to be whipped 100 times.

The sentence was carried out right away, but the young woman lost consciousness after 39 blows. Her parents took her away but the conditions of the young woman were so bad that she had to be hospitalised.

Village leaders also warned the family not to file any complaint with the police, or they would suffer consequences.

Contacted by AsiaNews the doctor that treated Rahima said that when the victim arrived in hospital “she was in a really bad situation. I was shocked at the brutality of the treatment.”

On Tuesday the family too was moved to the hospital where they took DNA tests.

For security reasons, outsiders were not allowed to meet them.

Police said that they were conducting an investigation into case and announced that they already had “three of the six accused in custody after a case was filed by Abdul Matin, the father of the victim."

The men charged are Mawlānā Abul Kashem, 55; Abdul Karim, the alleged 35-year-old father; and Shah Alam, 50.

Police are also trying to apprehend the other three men involved in the case but are facing legal hurdles since the law has no provision about fatwas issued by Islamic judges. 

For human rights activists the whole story is shameful. Khushi Kabir, coordinator of a human rights organisation that helps poor families, explained that “there is no specific law regulating fatwas by Islamic courts or concerning paternity.” For this reason the “government should take the proper initiative and introduce a new law.” Rahina’s case is “an example of a gross injustice against a woman.”

For Sarah Hossain, a barrister and human rights activist, the whole affair smacks of “social discrimination against women” based on the failure to implement laws to protect them.

Equality between men and women in Bangladesh remains a pipe dream because of the country’s dominant patriarchal culture which crushes every effort to emancipate women.

Despite government openness in the matter and some social groups in favour of change, Islamic legal scholars and ulemas are steadfastly opposed to gender equality because in their view it is incompatible with the Qur’an and the Sunnah, “the way and the manners of the prophet”.

In Bangladesh many women who dare rebel against their husbands or demand greater social justice have been dealt with sulphuric acid.  

The first documented case goes back to 1967. Since then there has been a steady rise in the number of cases: 47 in 1996, 130 in 1997 and 200 in 1998. In 2002 more than 480 women were disfigured. In fact in October 2008 AsiaNews published the story of a young woman who was disfigured with acid by her husband because her family would not pay her dowry.

As a result of local and international awareness raising campaigns, the government adopted in 2002 a law banning throwing acid in the face of young women for economic reasons, jealousy or refusal to submit to forced sex.

So far though, only 190 cases went to trail between 2002 and 2007 out 1,428 cases filed in courts with 254 people found guilty and sentenced.

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