Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Fatwa-related crimes persist

Strict, prompt action require. 

A recent case of a woman and her husband's male friend being sentenced to 101 lashings for engaging in 'anti-social activities' made its way into some newspapers. The woman, from Naogaon, was reportedly talking to her husband's friend in her home where no other male member was present. Upon discovering this, an over-enthusiastic neighbour claimed that the two were engaging in unethical relations and caught and tied the man to a tree. A local arbitration later sentenced both the woman and man to 101 lashings each, and fined them a total of Tk. 5,000. The money was later used to feed sweets to the locals to celebrate saving of the woman's marriage, according to a local influential who was a part of the arbitration. The sentence, as is often the case, was given by a local religious leader. 

For all practical purposes, the case is one of fatwa, a so-called religious edict, but which has been used vindictively time and again by local religious and community leaders to punish whom they judge to be 'deviant' persons, most often, poor, illiterate women. The Supreme Court last year declared fatwa legal in 'religious matters' only and categorically said that such edicts cannot be imposed on anyone, used to punish anyone or violate rights which are protected by the laws of the land. Incidents such as the above clearly do all three, yet they continue unabated, especially in remote areas of the country, where local influential community members use their power to exploit and punish the poor and helpless. 
In order to end such crimes, this and similar cases must be thoroughly investigated, the perpetrators brought to book with exemplary punishment. These acts are not only illegal but outright barbaric and totally against the rule of law.