Monday, July 27, 2009

Unveiling the Sufferings of Muslim Women in Bangladesh & Afghanistan

The cuts on Rahima Begum's legs are healing but the unmarried mother will carry, for her whole life, the psychological scars from a public whipping for revealing who was the father of her child. In conservative Muslim Bangladesh, having a child out of wedlock is a great taboo, and the elders (Jirgas) in Rahima's village in Eastern Bangladesh decided she should be taught a lesson after pointing the finger at a neighbour, who denied the charge.

“They called me before a makeshift court and ruled that I was a liar”, the 22-year-old told AFP from her hospital bed. Rahima's punishment was to be caned 39 times in front of the village elders and its Islamic clerics. The case shocked many in Bangladesh, with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ordering Rahima to be moved from a small village hospital in Comilla to one of the best in the capital Dhaka. There, she is receiving treatment, including further counseling, a month after the beating.

“Every time I close my eyes, I just play the scene over and over in my head”, said she.

Human rights groups say that Rahima's plight is becoming increasingly common in Bangladesh, with Hardline Islamic clerics are taking the law into their own hands and handing down harsh punishments, mostly to women, found guilty by unlawful village courts (Jirgas). The so-called crimes heard by these illegal courts, most common in rural areas, range from adultery to being raped; in one case, a Muslim woman was whipped even for talking to a Hindu man?

Women's groups and human rights activists have protested the unexplained rise in caning cases in the past two months, and note that many such incidents of violence probably go unreported.

“We've recorded 15 such incidents in May and June’2009 alone. We've never seen such a sharp rise in such cases. It's very worrying” said Ayesha Khanam, president of the women's group in Bangladesh Mahila Parishad. “There are undoubtedly many more than have gone unreported”.

In Rahima's case, police have arrested those men, who whipped her; but campaigners say that most of them actually get away with these illegal punishments, because these kangaroo courts have, until recently, been largely ignored by the authorities.

Salma Ali, head of the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association, said that while urban parts of the country were becoming more progressive in dealing with women's rights, some rural areas were going the other way:

“Conservative Muslim clerics are losing power in an Islamic country where Muslim women are increasingly holding more prominent positions. But some parts of the country are becoming more conservative day by day. Perhaps they are inspired by the kinds of courts used by the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan”, said she.

Rahima said the physical and mental sufferings of being publicly whipped means that, her hospital bed in Dhaka, 80 km away from her village home, is the safest place for her right now.

“My legs are almost healed but I'm not ready to go back to my village yet… I don't know whether I can ever go back again", said she.

Over in Afghanistan, when battered wives opt for divorce instead of suicide, they are considered to be adulteresses and are ignored by their immediate families and also by society, just left to die…

In this article we will look deeply into such cases where the western world reaches out to these helpless Muslim women in their plights through NGOs.

After regular beatings, torture and attempted murder by her husband, the 35-year-old Zahra tried to burn herself to death to escape her marriage. Then she learned of a safer option: a divorce.

Zahra is among the growing number of Afghan women living in Afghanistan’s western Herat province, who with the help of a women’s charitable organization, have taken on such patriarchal laws by seeking divorce from their beastly husbands—a taboo in the devoutly Muslim, formerly Taliban-led state.

“I did not spend a single happy day with my husband... he was not like a human being. He used to beat me every day”, she said, revealing deep scars on her right leg and feet, caused by electric shocks given by her husband.

After marrying at 14, Zahra, who declined to give her full name for her own safety, said she suffered years of abuse. Then a property dispute with her in-laws turned her “sour marriage” into full-blown living nightmares, as she explained:

“They wanted to kill me three or four times in the past. Once they even gave me rat poison... I cannot go out of my house because of the divorce and my four brothers are looking for me; they are after me to kill me, so I am living in hiding”.

Continue reading here at Islam Watch

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