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NOVEMBER 2001 Contents
Page 4 of 4
Muslim Women challenging
Sultana Kamal is a lawyer and an activist who has challenged the use of Islamic fundamentalist decrees known as fatwas, issued by village religious leaders in Bangladesh against women accused of ‘misbehaviour’. The rising face of fundamentalism in Bangladesh has threatened her, the Sahaba Soldiers have fire bombed her house and terrorised her in many different ways. Sultana is not affected – she is the true soldier. Her preoccupation with Human Rights began in 1971, helping war widows, rape victims and orphans – and today she represents the voice of women’s rights. Also a winner of the John Humphrey Freedom Award in 1996, Sultana "..has not faltered in her struggle to promote equality and freedom of expression and religion" especially her efforts to oppose fundamentalist groups that oppose women’s freedom and rights, and that have systematically attacked and punished women for transgressing sexual norms.
In an ongoing battle against the illiterate village clerics, Sultana cites an incident of a 21 year old woman. "Instigated by the 'Fatwa' given by the self appointed religious leader Moulana Mannan, Nurjahan was buried in the ground up to her chest to be stoned publicly for allegedly having committed adultery. Nurjahan had earlier been divorced by her husband. She was found guilty by the local salish led by Moulana Mannan, for contracting an illegal second marriage when she married a fellow villager. This marriage was arranged by her parents. The salish sentenced her and her second husband to death by public stoning. Her parents were also held responsible for this 'un-Islamic' act and were sentenced to 50 lashes each. Nurjahan survived the stoning, but committed suicide in humiliation. Pressurised by some of the women's and human rights organisations, the local police filed a case against the Moulana and his followers on charges of abetment of suicide and arrested each of them. The case is still pending."
"Another Nurjahan of Faridpur became the victim of medieval violence by being burnt to death in the dark of the night. She was found guilty of adultery by the salish which included her unemployed husband who was totally dependent on Nurjahan for his survival. She was tied to a stake and kerosene was poured over her until she burnt to death."
"Firoza of Satkira was similarly tried by a salish and was sentenced to 100 lashes, being accused of a love affair with a Hindu boy and committing fornication with him."
Many cases of violence against women are either not reported or have failed to reach the media. These are the women Sultana fights for and also accuses the village clerics or religious leaders of having "infringed upon the fundamental rights of the people concerned… the 'judges' of Nurjahans have not limited themselves to the act of illegally taking the laws into their hands. They have also infringed upon the rights of the people to be protected and tried only in accordance with law. Thus they have also violated the sense of security of the ordinary citizens."
Sultana Kamal is currently a member of the Unity for Social Action and the Aino Salish Kendra, a legal aid and human rights center. She also coordinates the Women and Law Program for Women Living Under Muslim Laws, and is a member of Mahila Parishad, a Bangladesh women lawyers' organization.
Courtesy: Ain O Salish Kendra, Dhaka
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