A glimpse picture of the status of Religious Minority Women in Bangladesh
By Sitangshu Guha - Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist & Christian Unity Council, USA
In Feb 2007 in the UN, NY, Ms. Rachel Mayanja, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General of Issues and Advancement of Women in Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) told that: 'regrettably, violence against women and girls remain unabated in whatever form and manifestation, depriving them of the full enjoyment of their human rights'.
We want to echo her statement which is a reflection of the condition of the women in Bangladesh. Two women ran Bangladesh for quite a long time, but that did not improve the situation for women. The life and dignity of half of the humanity in Bangladesh is not safe at all, and human rights' is a day time dream for them. In any sex scandal women are considered responsible for that, and 'Fatwa' (Edict), social bindings, religious rituals made the Bangladeshi women a virtual machine to produce babies.
Let us focus on the issues of religious minority women. When the overall religious minorities in Bangladesh are considered as 'Infidel', it is easily understandable that the condition of the minority women, who are first infidel and then women, a double crime and they have to pay double the price. So the rate of rape of minority women is much higher in Bangladesh. Minority women, often the under aged girls, are subject to conversion to Islam in front of everybody's eyes, and that's a common practice. The problem is that, the administration always sides with the perpetrators. So many cases of rape, victims' even told the names of the rapists, but the police are usually reluctant to register cases.
Usually in Bangladesh, victims of rape are not encouraged to report the tragic incident and only a fewest percentage of rape victims come forward to file cases, even though they don't get justice. Why minority women are raped more? Because they are easy prey, poor and can't afford to go to court. Moreover, rapists are influential, Islamic goons, often Islamists like BNP & Jamaat cadres, and in some cases they are encouraged by the fact that the administration will not take action. The logic behind gang rapes are mainly persecution of religious minorities, rape is just a useful tool. If a girl is raped in a village or a wife is raped in front of husband, or mother-daughter is violated at the same time, the family then will be left with only one option to leave the village. Then entire minority families of that village also feel insecure and pass sleepless nights when their daughter or wives became the target of the Islamists. Slowly the village becomes minority free. Where do they go? India.
In Bangladesh, most of the girls abducted are teens and under aged. After abduction the police will not take cases. Even if the victim's family reports who abducted their girl, the administration looks otherwise. Sometimes, police will say that, it was a love affair; they can't do anything and threaten the victim's family. What next? By this time, two months passed, the girl becomes pregnant and she has no other choice but to convert and sometimes even marry the rapist or abductor. People know and support this, because they believe that, if a Hindu or Christian can be converted to Islam, the door of the heaven will be open for them, society and the government also encourages this.
There is no statistic on how many girls are abducted and converted every year in Bangladesh, but the number will be pretty large. It is not uncommon in Bangladesh that a newspaper advertisement will say: 'I am such & such, a Hindu, daughter of ---, village—age 18 and willingly converted to Islam. My new name is ------- Begum. I marry Mohammed Salam". Most of the time, the poor girl even doesn't know about the advertisement or her conversion, but society will force her to be a Muslim. Once a noted journalist wrote in his column: "When I see an advertisement that a girl became Muslim, I feel good as a Muslim. But when the same advertisement says that I marry Mohammed somebody, I understand something is not right'.
Let's now see how the religious minority women are treated in our own motherland: Purnima Rani, a 12-year-old Hindu girl, was terrified and broke down as she described what happened to her. She described: 'Nearly 30 people came to our house; I recognized many of them as my neighbors. They beat my mother almost senseless. I begged them to stop. They dragged me outside, I resisted but they hit me with sticks. I shouted to my sister to save me but they beat her too. I cannot tell you what happened next'. (Vidal, the Guardian, London. Monday July 21, 2003).
Savitri, A pregnant Hindu woman of village Chardashi, under the district of Gournadi, was gang raped by armed cadres of the Islamic nationalist and extremist groups, in front of her husband with his hands tied up. Rita Rani Das was only 8 on October 4, 2001 when she was gang raped. Sujata, A young Hindu housewife was raped by the Muslim terrorists in her own home in the village of Annada Prasad in October, 2001. Supta 20, Tinku Biswas 18 of a family was burnt alive in Patiya, as miscreants set fire to their house (The daily Star, August, 09, 2003). Bakul Rani Dey (50), a widow, and an assistant superintendent of an orphanage was slashed to death by terrorists. (Daily Janakantha March 6, 2002).
Mrs. X (Name withheld), 30 was raped in front of her husband on 30th October 2005. Both were coming back after a phone call to their son from a telephone booth. While at Hogolpota village, the alleged perpetrators, Kachi Munshi, Al Amin and four other persons stopped them nearby a sawmill. They tied the husband to a tree, beat him and forced the victim to a roadside field where she was raped in front of her husband. Shefali Rani, a village council member in Barisal. Fundamentalists attacked and ransacked her home on October 2, 2001. They beat her up and then gang-raped her
November 16, 2001 - "In one night, nearly two hundred women were raped in Char Fashion of Bhola, and amongst them was an eight-year-old girl, a middle-aged amputee, and a seventy-year-old woman," says Daily Star News. "The women were raped in paddy fields, in the bush; on the riverbank...The village was sprinkled with the bodies of molested women, numb with pain and shock in the aftermath of nightlong abuse." This is the tip of the iceberg.
Ms. Babita Barua, a Buddhist girl had been kidnapped from Uttara, Dhaka on 23rd August 2005 and was converted to Islam. Daily Janakantha wrote on 5th February 2002 that, the ruling party cadres along with Islamic fundamentalists continue their medieval rampage in Mullhahat. Again they have attacked and gang raped a school girl of Buddhist community in broad daylight. She was utterly crying when the reporter asked her to describe the incident, with great remorse she asserted, " I have lost everything, my very self, what more can I tell you …" . According to survey conducted by The Daily Janakantha, February 17, 2002 although the minorities today represent even less than 10% of population their share of the rape victims is an overwhelmingly high 98.68%.
Amnesty International (AI Index: ASA 13/006/2001, 1 December 2001) in its report said, human rights organizations in Bangladesh believe over 100 women may have been subjected to rape.
*A college student was reportedly raped in front of her mother at her home in Azimnagar, Bhanga, Faridpur.
*A school girl was reportedly gang-raped in Delua, Ullapara, Sirajganj on 8 October.
*Two Hindu women were reportedly raped in front of their husbands on 11 October in Khanzapur Upazila in Gournadi, Barisal.
*Two Hindu women were reportedly raped in their home in Bashkandi, Chorfashon, Bhola on 6 October.
*A number of Hindu girls were reportedly abducted. It is not known whether or not they have returned to their families.
*A gang of armed men reportedly abducted three Hindu girls at the village of Nohata in Shreepur in Magura district on 11 October 2001. They also molested the girl's mother and her aunt. There are fears that all of these girls may have been subjected to rape.
Human Rights Watch Report on January 18, 2006 said: Persecution of Minority Communities: Throughout 2005, there were persistent reports of abductions and forced conversions of minorities, and destruction and desecration of religious sites. There were also many reports of forced evictions of Hindus from their properties. In some cases of reported rape of Hindu girls, the police refused to pursue investigations.
Bangladesh: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2005 by U.S. Department of State. March 8, 2006. Bangladesh: Rape, torture, arson, forced conversion to Islam, forced possession of properties, levying "infidel taxes", forced expulsion form the country and other heinous crimes against humanity are routinely perpetrated against Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and other ethnic minorities. The attacks are so endemic that keeping track of all the incidents is impossible.
A leading daily in Dhaka, Bangladesh wrote: An overwhelming 98.68% of the rape victims are minority, and rapists happen to be the cadres of the ruling parties, particularly of BNP. (The Daily Jankantha, Feb. 17, 2002). Nearly "200 Hindu women were gang raped by Muslim men" in Char Fashion, Bhola, in one night at a single spot. (The Daily Star, Nov. 16, 2001). The police do not allow the minorities to press charges against the rapists, and if they insist they are given a run around for a few days so the evidence of rape disappear, and then the police officers themselves persecute them. That is followed by death threat or kidnapping (see, e.g. The Daily Janakantha, Feb. 16, '02). The cadres of BNP have even ganged raped mother and daughter together with the parents forced to watch; and they have raped mother in front of their children (see, e.g., The Daily Janakantha, Feb. 5, '02; April 22, '02). On August 28, 2003 "Nine indigenous women, three of one family, were gang-raped and some others assaulted during a nearly eight-hour mob attacks on at least 10 villages in Mohalchhari Upazila of Khagrachhari district (The Daily Star, August 31, '03).
A Bangladeshi women's group (Mohila Parishad) on 24th Oct 2001 said minority Hindu people in the predominantly Muslim country had been subjected to rape, looting and other abuse. They said: "we have come across at least 10 women from the minority Hindu community who has been raped by political activists from the ruling party," said Maleka Banu, general secretary of the Bangladesh Mahila Parishad (women's council). "In one village, criminals entered the house of a Hindu family and raped a woman and her daughter simultaneously in the same room," she told a news conference in Dhaka. "In one place, six women were abducted and confined to a hideout for seven days and raped by gangsters every day," they said.
Congressman Joseph Crowley, the founder and Chair of Bangladesh Caucus in the U.S. House of Representative said, "Intolerance has taken hold in Bangladesh," (The Daily Star, January 13, 2004).
The Economist: Describing the plight of the minorities of Bangladesh, The Economist wrote: "Bangladesh's religious minorities: Safe only in the departure lounge" (Nov. 29, 2003).
Human Rights Watch World Report 2003 says that: "…Attacks against Hindus in Bangladesh escalated dramatically --------Scores of Hindu women and girls were raped. In some cases, they were gang raped in front of their male relatives. Hindus were also assaulted on the streets, in their homes, and at their workplaces. The government did little to prosecute or investigate the violence".
Being said that let us look into the situation of the Muslim girls in Bangladesh. In October 1996 Shima Chowdhury was drugged and raped while in custody. She died in "safe custody" under mysterious circumstances after reporting the rape ("Bangladesh: Failure by state protects alleged rapist," AI Index, 13 May 1997). On 18 December 2004 at Gokhulkhali outpost, Chuadanga, Bangladesh, police camp in-charge, ASI Abdul Kuddus and Habildar Rokunuzzaman, picked up 20-year-old Dali Khatun and gang raped her. The victim reported: "After gagging me with a piece of cloth, they raped me by turns and beat me throughout the night. They raped me again in a field near the police camp." Mahima, a young woman, was raped by three youth activists of the BNP and one youth activist of Jamaat-e-Islam. Mahima committed suicide. Police brought charges against the four culprits, court sentenced them to death. On 12th March 2006, Mrs. Shahin Sultana Santa (34) beaten by the police in open day on the street. Police continued beating despite her pleas for help considering her pregnancy and diabetics.
You may ask what exactly the situation is now. Let us see some more examples: Mili Malaker (15) Gang Raped for 7 days: "Janakantha", "Jugantor" & "Jugaveri", May 6th 2008. Mother- daughter violated. Bituni survived gang rape, poison, and then was choked to death (Daily Janakantha . Dhaka. Sunday, 18 May, 2008). Lipi (13) Gang Raped: Destitute Hindu School girl (13) gang raped on 23rd June 2008. Local touts trying to conceal the facts (Daily "Samakal", 25th June 2008). On 4th April 2008 about 9 miscreants kidnapped Mrs. Krishna Dey (18) on the way to her father-in-law's home at Chandpur. Where is she now? Nobody knows. Upama Dutta, 15, Where is she? A Minor Minority Girl Abducted in Dinajpur. Rekha Barman Gang Raped. A destitute minority girl gang-raped, (Daily "Samakal dated 6th February, 2008):
A minor minority Girl was kidnapped at Mongla, Bangladesh. On the fateful evening of March 2, 2008 she was abducted by Saiful Molla and associates. Her father Parimal came to the press club and expressed his utter grief with the question "Will they do whatever they want to do to my daughter?". Muslim settlers have kidnapped a sixteen-year old girl Ms Nunu Ujai Marma from Lohajhiri village on 4 February 2007 when she was grazing her cows in the field. Her father Ming Mong Marma reported that the incident to police but no action was taken. Last year the settlers had kidnapped another Marma girl King Chai Marma from the area. She was killed after rape.
The next question, did the government take any action against those rapists? The answer is an emphatic 'No'. Police did not even take the cases. The government denied almost all the allegations. Usually the victims were advised not to open their mouth, or to go out of the country, or to marry the rapist. It may hard to believe but that is reality. Rape is a tool in Bangladesh used to get rid of religious minorities or to drive them out from the country (In 35 year's % of minority population declined sharply).
Finally, let's quote extracts from the report "With intent to destroy?" Rape as Genocide under International Criminal Law - the Case of Bangladesh by Jenny Lundström. Her concluding Remarks were: "[…] there are certainly clear indications that may lead to the conclusion that those rapes could constitute genocide under the ICC statute, article 6 (b). It has been my ambition to illustrate that the rapes in Bangladesh are taking place in a context of general structural discrimination and that the state appears unwilling or unable to acknowledge and/or take action. […] I can conclude that violence against women [rapes] in Bangladesh will not end until firstly, the general structure of discrimination against minorities and women is acknowledged and secondly, the notions and practices of male dominance are challenged, deconstructed and ultimately transformed. As a signatory to the CEDAW and to the ICC Statute, the ultimate responsibility for such endeavors as expected lies within the individual State. Unless the state of Bangladesh takes immediate action to acknowledge these atrocities and expresses its full commitment to bring them to an end, there might be indications that support the claim that the rapes in Bangladesh are committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part the Hindu group as such.
- Asian Tribune -