Current Affairs

First Published:
Date: 04.12.2013 | 14:17

In Bangladesh the existing legal frame work that supports a rape victim is very limited and outdated. The definition of rape itself dates back to the national penal code formulated in 1860. Now, more than 150 years later, what are the problems a victim faces and where can she seek help? Aziza Ahmed finds out.

Under this law, a man is said to have committed “rape” who has sexual intercourse with a woman under circumstances falling under any of the five following descriptions: First, against her will; second, without her consent; third, with her consent, when her consent has been obtained by threatening to kill or hurt her; fourth, with her consent, when the man knows that he is not her husband and she gives her consent thinking that he is the man to whom she believes she is lawfully married. Finally, having sexual intercourse with a girl under 14 years of age is also considered rape.

I talked with Barrister Sara Hossain who practices in the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, mainly in the areas of constitutional, public interest and family law. Sara is associated with several legal aid and human rights groups nationally and internationally. She is currently serving as Honorary Director of the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Service Trust (BLAST), and here in my article I am writing on the basis of my discussion with her.

The definition of rape needs modification. For instance, still in our country, rape within marriages is not recognized. No married woman can seek legal assistance if she is raped by her husband. This law discriminates between married and unmarried women. A married woman is obliged to have sex, even if she is not willing, with her husband.

The countries in the Indian subcontinent follow the penal code of 1860 which came into force during the British colonial rule. During the government of President Zia ul Haq in Pakistan, some amendments were made to the penal code, but these turned out to be for the worse since the Sharia law was included. According to the Sharia law, four witnesses are required to prove that a rape has occurred. Otherwise the victim will be accused of having an illicit relationship with the man who was originally her rapist. After the rape of a young woman in New Delhi last December, rape laws in India have undergone several changes. Women’s rights lobbyists have helped change the definition of rape to include sexual assault other than penetration.

However, the definition of rape in Bangladesh is still 150 years old and this is not sufficient to give proper legal support to women who have been victims of such incidents. In Bangladesh there have been Women and Children Repression Prevention Act, 2000 (amended in 2003) but still the legal frame work is not sufficient to support women in such cases.

In Bangladesh if a girl is raped, she gets stamped as a “dhorshita” meaning the woman who was raped. The social pressure on the victim is so intense and serious that recently a study by Ruchira Tabassum Naved, scientist at the ICDDR research organization in Bangladesh, revealed that less than two percent of women in Bangladesh report rape or any other sexual assault.

Apparently, victims feel it is better to be silent and get on with life keeping a very low profile. The main reason for this is, there are no proper shelter homes or no rehabilitation schemes for such victims. It is difficult to prove rape in court. The victims know that despite all their efforts, justice will elude them. Many woman right activists say that women are unaware of their rights and are therefore victimized. However, it is important to understand that, it is not always lack of knowledge that keeps them away to seek legal aid but the lack of remedies which holds them back.

A rape victim in Bangladesh has the right to be examined by the doctor as soon as she lodges a complaint that she has been raped. The doctor needs to examine her within the next 24 hours. The doctors should also give the victim a copy of the report. Under the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act, 2000 (amended in 2003), a rape case will move on despite lack of evidences.The immediate forensic examination will be good enough proof of her allegation. In Bangladesh, the law enforcers are not aware of their duties and lack of coordination further creates problems for the victim.

Along with the definition of rape the procedures of the legal frame work require modifications too. In the nineties, there was a very sensational case of rape under police custody. Yasmin, a young girl from Rangpur, was raped by a police officer. Following the case the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act says that the accused is responsible for proving himself not guilty. The victim is not responsible for producing proof in front of the court.

Unfortunately sex workers suffer a great deal in case of reporting rape. Even the present rape act says that sexual intercourse without the woman’s consent constitutes rape. However in Bangladesh it is almost impossible for a sex worker to file a rape complaint. Police and society, neither would believe her.

It is also important to make sure during a rape case hearing that there shouldn’t be any other people in the room apart from the relevant people and the responsible officers, since the charge sheet against the accused contains exhaustive and explicit information about all that has happened to the victim.

The Evidence Act of 1872 in section 155 says, in case of rape the victims can be interrogated about her character and lifestyle. Therefore, when a man is prosecuted for rape or an attempt to ravish, one could try and prove that the victim was of an “immoral” character. For instance, if a girl is engaged in any flirting or other kind of relationship with another man, the court might rule out her accusation as she is capable of getting into a sexual relationship with another man. This law needs to be changed in Bangladesh. India has changed this law in favor of the victim.

Sexual crimes over the internet have also increased. For example, a couple may have taken intimate pictures of each other when they were together in a relationship, but distributing these pictures online without the consent of the woman is abuse and a breach of trust. These should also be included within the definition of rape and sexual assault.

In Bangladesh, rape victims can go to Ain O Shalish Kendra, Bangladesh Legal Aid and Service Trust (BLAST) and Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA) for legal support. However, victims in Bangladesh do not have access to shelter legally, so they have to look out for themselves.


First published:
Date: 18.09.2013 | 14:09

The Viqarunnisa Noon School is one of the most prestigious and well-known educational institution for girls in Bangladesh. In July 2011, the school witnessed an incident of rape. According to reports, Parimal Jaydhar, a teacher at this school, had been harassing a student sexually and blackmailing her when she went to his house for private tuitions. He recorded these instances on video and also threatened to post these videos on the internet if she were to go and report his abuse to the police. However, the girl decided to complain to her parents, following which her father filed a case against the teacher.

Students of that school broke into protest to arrest Parimal and ensure justice for the victim. The girl was lucky as all of Bangladesh stood by her and ensured punishment for the rapist, but I wonder what happens to those victims who go unnoticed.

Some of them commit suicide and many face other social problems. Dr. Mohit Kamal, a famous psychologist in Bangladesh, says that rape causes various short and long term disorders in the victim. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a very common disorder among the victims. This could take even thirty years to heal. Patients of such disorders face long-term mental and physical illness. Some develop abusing attributes in their characters, some become violent and some become numb for life. Rape victims require constant support and encouragement from people around them. They require extra care for a long time.

While researching for this blog, I got to see the form used by the police in Bangladesh for interrogating a rape victim. Every small detail of her body is described in this form which is produced in court. The lawyers then read out the details in the presence of the victim, not once, but many times, which is like being raped for a second time and that too in front of a room full of people who are amused to be a part of such “mouthwatering” issues.

This causes the victims further trauma and stress. In one case a 13-year-old girl was abducted and kept in a single room for over a month and then repeatedly raped by a group of men who were from families with a lot of clout. The police recorded the report in favor of the rapist and described the young girl in a manner which seemed to suggest that the girl was used to regular sex and that her body had developed accordingly.

A girl who has been raped four to five times a day for more than a month will experience changes in her body, but this point was categorically avoided. The five men were freed and the girl didn’t get any justice. Most importantly, her body and her age or any other attribute of the victim doesn’t justify the act. Her age, height, the size of her breasts and other details have no role to play in the act. She was forced to have sex.

But such long forms and legal loopholes make it easier for the perpetrators to escape as they can make the incident look like consensual sex or in most cases, brand the girl as a person of low moral sense or a prostitute.

Another thing, which needs to be talked about, is the role of the media. In the case of Viqarunnisa student, the elite, educationists, activists, NGO workers and people from all walks of life in Bangladesh rallied for justice, but many newspapers published her name, her photographs and even her address.

The identities of rape victims need to be kept secret so she does not go through additional trauma, but many people still believe that a rape victim has an active role to play in the entire incident. She may have dressed inappropriately, which provoked the rapist’s attack on her or she may have given him some hint of acknowledgment because of which he dared to attack.

We saw the Indian media play a commendable role in the Delhi rape case earlier this year. Every newspaper and other media agencies referred the victim “Nirbhaya,” which is the Hindi word for fearless. Her name and identification was never made public. They published an illustration an avoided real pictures of the crime scene or the criminals.

The trauma a victim goes through ensures that she suffers for a very long time. However, we can take measures to ensure justice and support for such women in need.

Author: Aziza Ahmed

Editor: Manasi Gopalakrishnan

First Published:
Date: 16.08.2013 | 14:36

Rumana Manzur, a graduate of Dhaka University, was doing her post-graduation as a Fulbright scholar in the University of British Columbia. In June 2011, she returned to Bangladesh to visit her five-year-old daughter Anushey and husband, Syed. But Syed was not very happy with his wife’s choices.They were having arguments about this. On June 2011 one day he suddenly attacked her from behind as she was working at her computer. He pulled her her hair, bit her face and chewed her nose. He also scratched her eyes with his fingers and made her blind forever. Manzur was working on her thesis around that time. She was rushed to the hospital as she was bleeding severely. Later, she was taken to Chennai in India for further treatment.

Syed was always jealous of his wife’s career. He himself was jobless and less successful in his life compared to Manzur. He was arrested 10 days after the incident took place. Later he was found dead in his prison cell.

However, Rumana persued her studies once she was better. Her weak eyes couldn’t stop her from achieving what she wanted. After the incident she left the country with her daughter Anushey and her parents and settled in Canada. Life was not easy, she had to fight the new climate, new culture, deal with being a single mother, all this after having lost her eyesight. Manzur learnt how to read and write in the Braille system. Finally in June 2013, she received her second Master’s degree. Rumana Manzur is an epitome of courage, strength and zeal.

Manzur is not the only one who faced the “consequences” of trying to study and come up in life. A similar incident happened in the same year. On December 4, 2011 Hawa Akhter Jui lost her fingers as she was persung her studies without the permission of her husband, Rafikul Islam, a laborer working in the Middle East. Hawa was going ahead with her education despite vehement opposition from her husband. She had always wanted to finish her education.

After losing her finger, she took a while to adjust to it. In February 2012 she completed higher secondary school certificate examination. Special arrangements were made by the education ministry to help her and a person was hired to write on behalf of Hawa as she spoke out the answers lying on a sick bed in the examination hall. Artificial fingers now help her in carrying out basic activities like writing.

Strong women like Hawa and Rumana are today’s role models. One lost her eyes at the hands of her husband and another lost her fingers, but nothing could stop these women from achieving their goals. Life has been brutal, society was critical and above all there was severe mental stress and trauma.

Author: Aziza Ahmed

Editor: Manasi Gopalakrishnan

First Published: Date 29.05.2013 | 9:44

Infolady – the short form for “information lady” is a revolutionary concept that has provided thousands of Bangladeshi women the much-desired freedom and chance to use modern technologies. The infolady project is one of the winners in the Deutsche Welle Bobs awards for the category, “Global Media Forum Award.” Women in Bangladesh are usually trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty. They hardly receive any support in health-related problems and are not literate enough to improve their chances in life using Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). An infolady is a real person who delivers information-related support to the underprivileged rural women of Bangladesh at their doorstep. A typical infolady cycles about five to ten kilometers everyday and offers a variety of ICT-based and other services at the doorstep of the rural community she lives in.

An infolady is laden with a range of technological equipment such as, but not limited to – a netbook computer with a webcam, digital camera and mobile phone with internet connectivity and a headphone. She also carries a weighing machine, a device to measure blood pressure, a blood testing kit, a pregnancy test kit, a sugar testing kit and so on. Her distinctive service in the rural communities of Bangladesh helps the members acquire knowledge through the use of modern technology. The infolady is a trusted name among thousands of rural women.

Women of Bangladesh face several barriers towards development: first, they lack in formal education. Second, they are completely in the dark about computers and because of these two factors they have little access to political and social information which could change their lives. The infolady concept not only ensures employment but also boosts empowerment of these women who have been living sub-standard lives. Infolady has also provided enormous support in health services to pregnant mothers and elderly people.

An infolady ensures the fundamental right to health to vulnerable groups through medical advice (such as contraception, safe sex behavior, pre-natal/post-natal care of mothers and babies) and also creates awareness about medical services that are available at the government hospitals. The introduction of the Right to Information Act 2009 accelerated the free flow of information in Bangladesh. The Act smoothed the way for information to reach easily to the end beneficiaries. Nevertheless, people still need an effective interface to get access to such information.

The infolady has proved to be an effective tool to provide life supporting information. There have been many instances where a person came to know about his or her right to services through an Infolady. There have been successful cases where corrupt local representatives were caught depriving citizens of their entitlement. The infolady has made the government and stakeholders more responsive by ensuring delivery of such services to citizens.

Dnet, the planning & implementing agency of Infolady is currently initiating talks with the government and related stakeholders to franchise the model nationally in more places. Bangladesh government is considering the potential for introduction of Infolady in 4,500 Union Parishads of the country where information centers have been set up. Bangladesh Bank (the central bank of Bangladesh) recently allotted a 100 million Takas or 1.2 million dollars to facilitate the availability of low-interest loans for the infoladies. The fund is to be disbursed by the National Bank Limited (NBL), a private bank.

Over the years Infolady has received multiple awards for being a unique model of disseminating information, such as Manthan South Asia Award 2011, Stockholm Challenge Award 2010 and so on. Recently the Infolady project won the prestigious DW Bobs award for the category “Global Media Award (Jury) 2013.”

Author: Aziza Ahmed

Editor: Manasi Gopalakrishnan

First published: May 6, 2013, 3:42 pm

I was at the hospital with my ailing father, when news of the eight-story Rana Plaza collapse in Savar, Bangladesh first flashed on the television. While the doctors were writing a prescription as a process of discharging my father, I went for a quick visit to Shahbag (Mancha), in front of the hospital. Hundreds had gathered there to donate blood for the victims, but at the time, I couldn’t yet fully grasp the magnitude of the accident. The following morning, I tried to piece together the latest updates online on the Savar tragedy. What I read and saw was gut-wrenching. So my husband and I rushed to Savar to assess the situation firsthand and planned immediate relief for the victims.

We had to park our car near Enam Hospital, where the rescued workers were being treated, almost a mile away from ground zero. The sun was at its worst and it was difficult to walk for an extended period. When we reached Rana Plaza, all I saw was rubble, bricks, slabs and pillars stacked on each other; spools of clothes and threads scattered everywhere. I was walking toward the back of the building for a closer view, when I suddenly fumbled and almost fell, seeing a woman on the ground, her head face down on the rubble. Her lower body was under a huge slab and the rescue workers were trying to pull her corpse from the rubble. I decided to call her Mohamaya, even though I didn’t see her bleeding, mutilated face. But ever since that day, I have trouble sleeping. The image of her blue, printed kameez and curly hair gives me shivers every night when I close my eyes.

Later, I went to the school field where the dead bodies were being kept. A woman was walking from one corpse to the next, removing the sheet to take a glimpse at each face. She was looking for her precious, baby girl. “I let my daughter come to Dhaka to earn for our entire family. The last time I saw her was eight months ago, during the Eid holidays,” she said. I watched as she checked each lifeless face and breathed a sigh of relief when she didn’t see a familiar one. But fate was not kind after all. Suddenly, she uncovered a body and closed her eyes. “At least I found her,” she said as tears rolled down her wrinkled dark skin. Pulling the corpse close to her chest, she kissed her daughter’s forehead and wailed loudly. I desperately wanted to run out of the place. The field smelled of rotten corpses and blood. There were hundreds of dead bodies, lined up for claim.

Even now, after a week, I hesitate to take a deep breath. I fear I might again smell the stench of the rotten corpses, see Mohamaya, or face the old lady looking for her daughter in the queue of the dead.

Bangladesh’s ready-made garment industry is vibrant, and is its biggest money-maker. Since the ‘70s, garment factory owners have generated employment for the poor and have given a much-needed lift to the entire economy. The industry also gave a boost to women’s empowerment and economic freedom, as almost 80 percent of the workers are female. Garment workers of Bangladesh are skilled and labor here is the cheapest. Thus big brands from around the globe get Bangladesh to make their 10-dollar shirts, paying each worker an average of 3,200 BDT. If only they put in some extra 10-15 cents, it would be financially feasible to run fire safety measures and training, maintain standard working conditions for workers and also increase their minimum wages.

After the Savar Tragedy, Robert Reich, an American political economist, professor, author and political commentator said, “Walmart buys more than $1 billion worth of apparel from Bangladesh each year, making it the second-largest global purchaser. In April 2011, after the Tazreen fire, major global retailers considered requiring their Bangladeshi suppliers to make safety improvements in a system they knew to be highly dangerous. The retailers would have to pay 10 cents more per garment to ensure factory safety. Two participants in the meeting told the New York Times that Walmart played the lead role in rejecting the effort on the grounds it was not “financially feasible.” Walmart’s profit that year was $15 billion. Does Walmart have any responsibility here? Would you be willing to pay an additional 10 or 15 cents per garment you buy from Walmart or any other big-box retailer to help assure factory safety around the world?”

Bangladesh exports mainly ready-made garments including knit wear and hosiery (75% of exports revenue). According to information published by the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB), Bangladesh garment exports increased by 8.8 percent over the year to US $1.36 billion in November 2012. Extracted woven garment exports earned US $71,004 million, while knits earned US $65,396 million. Bangladesh’s garment industry has developed due to enormous support from Western buyers in the US and Europe. The Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) from the European Commission and the quota from the US till 2004, gave this sector a huge boom. However, since the quota system was removed, Bangladesh is negotiating to gain the preferential tariff privilege from the United States. As the US still doesn’t allow these preferential tariff demands, we cannot afford a high mark up and thus, we push the variable cost factors down to the society and to the laborer.

I know it will be difficult to read through the lines. After all, at the end of the day in business, each dollar counts. No matter how much blood and flesh goes into building business empires, workers come in millions. If millions die, millions more will replace them. Few charity and eyewash social welfare agreements can save the image in the market.
But next time you buy a shirt from H&M or GAP worth 10 dollars, think well. Would you be willing to pay 10 cents more for that shirt? It just might save hundreds of workers from becoming faceless, rotten corpses.

বেঁচে আছে, বেঁচে আছে… শুনেই সবাই একসাথে উল্লাসে ফেটে পড়ছে। হ্যাঁ, সে বেঁচে আছে, অবহেলায়, নিপীড়নে, দমনে ও করুনায় সে বেঁচে আছে। জীবনের তাগিদে, বাবার ওষুধে, মার আশায়, ছেলের খেলনায় বা বউয়ের শাড়িতে তাকে বেঁচে থাকতেই হচ্ছে। কিন্তু এ কেমন বেঁচে থাকা? এ কেমন জীবন? বাবা মার একমাত্র ছেলে সুজন। সুজনের মানে, সুন্দর যেইজন। মার চোখের মনি, বৃদ্ধ বাবার সম্বল, স্ত্রীর প্রেম ও সন্তানের রক্ষক সে। গরিব পরিবারের একমাত্র অবলম্বন। ফিরে পাওয়া ছেলের মাথা বুকে গুঁজে মা, ক্রমাগত সৃষ্টীকর্তাকে ধন্যবাদ দিয়ে যাচ্ছেন।

নিউ ওয়েভ পোষাক তৈরী কারখানায় কাজ করতেন, ২৪ এপ্রিল সকাল বেলায় ঘুম ভাঙে রোজকার মত। আজ কাজ নেই, ভবনে ফাটল দেখা গেছে। কালও কাজ হয়নি। তবু তৈরী হয়ে বাড়ি থেকে বের হলেন। যেখানে চাকরি করেন তিনি, সেই প্রতিষ্ঠান আজকে বিপদে আছে। যদি ভেঙ্গে পড়ে? তবে তাদের এমাসের বেতনের কি হবে? কিন্তু, কাজে যেতেই ধরে বেঁধে ভবনে তুলে দেয়া হল। ভবনের ফাটা, ইঞ্জিনিয়ার সাহেব দেখে গেছেন। আজ আর ভয় নেই। কাজ করা যাবে। তার মন বলছিল, উচিৎ হচ্ছে না। আপত্তি জানাতেই ম্যানেজার বললেন, বেতন পাবে না আগামী মাসে। ভয়ে ভয়ে কাজ শুরু করে সে। প্রথম আঊটপুট রেডি, ফ্লোর ইন-চার্জ দেখতে আসবেন। হঠাত বিদ্যুৎ চলে যায়। জেনেরেটর চালু করার পরপরই বিকট শব্দে ফেটে পড়ল চারদিক। ধ্বসে পড়ল সম্পুর্ন ভবন। ৯ তলা ভবন পাউরুটির মত ২ তলা হয়ে গেল নিমিষেই। ভেতরে আটকা পড়ল ৩২০০ জন মানুষ।

কাঁদতে কাঁদতে জীবিত ফিরে আসা রোকেয়া বলেন, “১৫ মিনিট ধরে ভবন কাঁপছে। কিন্তু মালিক এত নির্মম তা তো জানা ছিল না। শিফট ম্যানেজার চাইলেও আমরা বেরোতে পারতাম। সিড়ি দিয়ে বের হওয়ার সময়ই অধিকাংশ লোক মরেছে। মালিক একটা জানোয়ারের বাচ্চা। সেই জোর করে সবাইকে ভবনে এনেছে।” মালিকের দৃষ্টান্তমূলক শাস্তি দাবি করেই অঝোরে কাঁদতে শুরু করলেন স্বামীর জন্য। সে কি বেঁচে আছে, নাকি মরে গেছে? আমি একটু আগে এটিএন নিউজে সাভারের মৃত্যুকূপ থেকে বেঁচে যাওয়া দুই গার্মেন্টস শ্রমিকের মর্মস্পর্শী বর্ণনা শুনছিলাম! দু’জনেই বলছিলেন জীবনে বেঁচে থাকলে আর গার্মেন্টেসে কাজ করবেন না! ইয়াসমিন বলেন, আজ এটা ভেঙ্গে পড়ে, তো কাল ওটা, আরেকদিন সেটাতে আগুন লাগে, এভাবে আর না! অন্য যেকোনো কাজ করবেন যদি সুস্থ হন, তবে মরার পোশাক শিল্পে আর কখনই না।

ক্রিকেট স্কোর কার্ডের মত জীবিত, মৃত বা আটকে পড়া মানুষের হিসাব চলছে। কেউ বলছে আর পাঁচ – সাত’শ মানুষ বাকি আছে। পাঁচ – সাত’শ? এই নম্বরের ব্যাবধানে দুইশ মানুষের জীবন প্রশ্নের মুখে। অথচ আমরা কত অবলীলায় ২০০ জীবনের ব্যাপারে অজ্ঞ্যাত। যদি একটি পরিবারের একজনকেও খুঁজে বের করা না হয় তবে বাকি ৩৪৯৯ জন মানুষে তাদের কি আসে যায়? আজকে সারাদিন ভেবেছি, আসল সংখ্যা কত? আসলে ভেতরে ঠিক কত মানুষ ছিল? ঠিক কতজন জীবিত আছে ওই মৃত্যুকূপে? আর কতজন আটকা আছে লাশ হয়ে? কতজন উদ্ধার কর্মী ভেতরে আটকা পড়ে গেছে? আর কতজন এখনো আশায় আছে, টিম টিম করে জ্বলছে তাদের জীবন বাতি, কখন তাঁরা ঘরে ফিরবে?

গার্মেন্টস মালিকরা আপনারা সবকিছু দেখছেন তো? একটুও কি জেগেছে আপনাদের বিবেক? একটুও কি মনে হচ্ছে, যাদের রক্তের দামে দামি গাড়ি হাকাচ্ছেন, বিদেশ ভ্রমন করছেন বা সন্তানকে পড়াচ্ছেন বিদেশে তাদের রক্তের দাম কত? আপনাদের জীবনের নিরাপত্তা বিধানে তাদের আত্মত্যাগ, আপনাদের কি নাড়া দেয় আদৌ?

Women in Shahbag: Building a New Bangladesh

First published on: Tehelka Blog, 18 April, 2013.

In the last two and a half months, Shahbag Movement has been through many highs and lows. The movement started as a youth uprising – inspired by the primary teaching of our constitution – demanding justice for the bloodshed that happened 42 years back. Activists and general people want the highest punishment for the war criminals and banning of Jamaat-e-Islami from politics. These demands remain the main focus of the movement despite turmoil over the last few weeks.

Jamaat has always portrayed any action against them as “anti-Islamic”. This has been easy for them, thanks to their party’s name, but whatever action they take has very limited relationship with the proper teachings of the religion. Since the 10th day of the movement, when blogger Rajiv was murdered, Jamaat-e-Islami has been labelling the movement as anti-Islamic. Though this has caused few people to move away from the movement, most of the activists and protestors are staying true to the cause and are still steadfast in their demands for justice.

The movement is in full swing all over the country and abroad. Shahbag movement has been successful in creating a Gonojagaran Mancha in every district. There are various kinds of programmes and activities going on to keep the pressure on the administration to take all necessary steps to hold fair trials of the war criminals. The movement took a very interesting turn on 6 April when Hefazat-e-Islam, an Islamic organisation, held a rally and huge gathering in Dhaka. Though Hefazat wanted to establish it has no link with Jamaat-e-Islami, many of the Hefazat’s top leaders are associated with Jamaat. Hefazat’s demands would directly benefit Jamaat and its allies.

Hefazat has presented a 13-point demand, which goes against the spirit of the Liberation War and women’s empowerment in Bangladesh. Their demands clearly stand against secularism and social justice, as per the constitution. Hefazat also wants to put a stop to what it believes to be “foreign” or “un-Islamic” cultural practices, and mingling of boys and girls in public. Also, among the demands are: abolishment of the “anti-Islamic” inheritance law, modern education policy, and development policies benefiting women. This would mean women won’t be allowed to get equal share of property as their male siblings, women have to cover themselves according to Sharia (Islamic law), and their mobility will be restricted. Hefazat is also demanding to make Islamic education compulsory at all levels – from primary to higher secondary.

Fortunately, women of Bangladesh have boldly stood against these demands, and so did the government. Unfortunately, however, Hefazat is holding violent protests to establish its demands. They have beaten a female journalist on the day of their rally in Dhaka for “being a woman and covering their activities for the TV station she works for”.

It should be mentioned that Shagbag movement was successful from various ends but the outstanding female participation has earned a loud applause from around the world – marking themselves as equal progressive stakeholders of the development happening in Bangladesh. This has a major role in the upcoming general election as well. The working women will be crucial players as vote banks for the next election.

We are expecting the general election in 8 months. This will be one of the most crucial elections in terms of the present context and for the future too. If the current Opposition party BNP wins the election, it will be interesting to see their actions as Jamaat’s ally.

On 17 April, an article in the daily Prothom Alo caught my eye. It says that the Pakistan election commission has given a ruling against using religion as a tool in the upcoming election. For a country like Pakistan, and also for any other nation for that matter, it is important to go beyond religion when it comes to politics. Politics and religion should not be allowed to mix. We too hope for a similar ruling from our election commission.

International Crimes Tribunal Bangladesh has concluded the proceedings for Ghulam Kamaruzzaman and Ghulam Azam – war criminals and Jamaat leaders. The country is eagerly waiting for the verdict. We anticipate that Jamaat will again break into violent protests nationwide if the verdict goes against their interest. The government and law enforcing agencies are required to plan security checklists to avoid further violence against the people of the country. Shahbag movement has various programmes in the upcoming days to reinforce the primary demands of the movement. The coming days might be harder for Bangladesh; however, unity will decide our fate.

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