Dhaka (AsiaNews) - The Ministry of Education should ensure that women - employed in public institutions - are not required to wear the veil or 'hijab "against their will." This was ordered by the Bangladesh High Court, in a ruling issued yesterday of historical significance. The grounds, the judges Syed Mahmud Hossain and Syeda Afsar Jahan agreed that "it is a personal choice of women to wear the veil or not." They add that "forcing a woman to wear the veil against her will" is considered a "flagrant violation" of basic human rights "enshrined in the Constitution."
The historic ruling comes after a dispute between a government official and the director of an elementary school in the district of Kurigram, for which the man later apologised. Arif Ahmed had insulted Sultana Arjuman Huq, director of State elementary school Atmaram Bishweshwar, because she was not wearing a veil. The incident occurred last June, during a public meeting at the headquarters of the Department of Education in upazila (an administrative sub-district of Bangladesh, ed) in which the school is located.
On June 26, 2009 Bangladeshi newspaper Shamokal reported that the man called the school's principal "beshya" - prostitute in the local language -, for not wearing the veil. Sultana Arjuman Huq was deeply affected by the insult causing her to fall into a depression. The woman finally decided to file a lawsuit for injuries. In January 2010 Arif Ahmed apologized to Sultana Arjuman Huq before High Court judges, who then closed the case. The woman, in fact, decided to forgive him.
On April 8, the judges issued the verdict, explaining the reasons for setting veils for women as non-mandatory. "In Bangladesh - write Syed Mahmud Hossain and Syeda Afsar Jahan - there is no established practice that requires women to cover their heads." In recent years, attempts have emerged, "to force" women to this practice "not only at an individual level but also in public offices." The case in hand, they concluded, is evidence of violations of the rights of women and girls "in public spaces, schools, educational institutions and places of public and private education."
Human rights organizations and members of civil society welcomed the court ruling because it is a further source of protection of women's rights. However, some Islamic fundamentalist movements attacked the judges, branding the move as "a conspiracy to destroy Islam in Bangladesh."