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Members of the Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ) shout slogans during April 4 hartal. PHOTO: REUTERS
Members of the Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ) shout slogans during April 4 hartal. PHOTO: REUTERS

The recent Hartal by Islamist demagogues has claimed to be tantamount to a ‘crusade’ against the ‘infidels’! Past experiences suggest that similar ‘crusades’ by the Islamist zealots have always been waged against the progressive forces of the country (such as against Taslima Nasrin, Humayun Azad and Shamsur Rahman). In the present occasion, the ‘infidels’ are not communists or progressive culturists but the leader of the centre-left party Awami League and the country’s sitting prime minister Sheikh Hasina.

The prime minister’s ‘infidelity’ is deemed to originate from the government’s proposed “Women’s Policy” which, according to these self-proclaimed Islamic pundits and their disciples, is in conflict with the interpretation of the Holy Quran. The zealots propagated that the Holy Quran is ‘under attack’ by the ‘infidel’ prime minister and her cabinet and the only way to ‘protect the integrity of the Quran’ is to oust Hasina’s government of power and establish a ‘Khilafat’.

Under the guise of a hartal, the citizens of the country experienced major inconveniences. In addition, numerous public and private properties were damaged. The most outrageous aspect of this movement was their use of very young children to impose hartal. Thousands of minor madrassa students were engaged in different parts of the country to enforce something that is beyond their comprehension. Some of these children were as young as 8 years old!

Many newspapers have reported that these children were brain-washed and were brought to the street by their teachers. Can these zealots provide us an Islamic interpretation of the use of children in destructing public property and inflicting pain on the ordinary Muslims? The leader of the group who pretends to be a Mufti must know that no religion (including Islam) would ever sanction destruction of public and private property and exploitation of children for political purposes. Another disgusting aspect of these Mullahs’ reactions is the choice of words. The use of vulgar languages directed at the country’s elected prime minister, who herself is a practicing Muslim, in the public meetings by the so-called Islamists prove nothing but their class!

One MUST understand that Bangladesh was established as a secular republic at its birth by the sovereign will of its people. The fundamental on which the country separated from ‘Islamist Pakistan’ was its secular cultural fabric. The post-1975 efforts of the military dictators who deflowered the secular fabric of the constitution have been trashed by the recent verdicts from the country’s apex court. In essence, what would be the nature of the republic is a settled issue.

Those who are against the constitution are not only in a course of direct collision against the sovereign will of the people but also under ‘political intoxication’ to bring back ‘Pakistani model’ of Islamic Republic. The so-called Mufti and its political organisation (IOJ) must also understand that the republic is run by a written constitution, NOT by the whims of some half-educated fanatics.

The constitution of Bangladesh clearly states the inalienable rights an ordinary folk would enjoy by virtue of his/her status as a citizen. Article 27 of the constitution promulgates that “[all] citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law”. This has been fortified further under article 28.1 stating that “[the] State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth”. Article 27.2 nullifies any disparity between men and women stating that “[women] shall have equal rights with men in all spheres of the State and of public life”. This promulgation of equality and equity before law goes one step further when the constitution states under article 27.4 that “Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making special provision in favour of women or children or for the advancement of any backward section of citizens”.

The above article provides all the necessary authority and legality to legitimise government formulation of policy/laws including the ‘Rights of Women’. The government’s proposed “Women’s Policy” is guided by this provision. Do not forget that the proposed policy is about women who are disadvantaged in every conceivable way. Starting from birth to death, a girl child in Bangladesh encounters continuing forms of discrimination, deprivation and inequality.

With few exceptions, the birth of a girl child in Bangladesh is not a welcoming incident in an ordinary working family. Rather, she would be treated as a burden. It is very likely that a poor girl child would experience their future as a maid or in some other hazardous job rather than attending school. Once she is a teenager she would be forced to marry an unknown man after paying an awful lot of dowry that her poor father could barely afford. Naturally, she would be deprived of her father’s inheritance since her marriage cost a huge debt to the family. Despite her sacrifices to satisfy her husband and his family, she would be treated as an inferior human being. Since she is married to an older man she is likely to be widow at her middle age and she is likely to be thrown out by her husband’s family. If she is able, she would make her ends meet by selling labour. In her old age, she would be treated a nuisance to everyone.

The proposed policy is a first step toward ending the above vignettes of about 70 million women in Bangladesh. The policy is far from being perfect, it only vaguely touches some of the contemporary issues women encounters in their everyday life (such as economic opportunity, right to education, workplace support etc.). The policy is far from dealing with some of the core issues of discrimination. One particular example is the law regarding women’s inheritance of father’s property. The Muslim Family Law which prevails in the country is utterly discriminatory. The legal provision that a male son would inhere twice the amount provided to a girl bestows a ‘half status’ compared to her brother.

The differential treatment on the basis of gender regarding inheritance shares violates the dignity of a girl and her rights to be treated as equal to men. This is also against the fundamentals of the constitution as described under the article 27.2. Yet, such an important issue has not been addressed in the policy. Instead, the proposed policy laid out some abstract statement such as ‘eliminating discrimination against women and girl” (article 16.11).

Moreover, the proposed policy does not offer any means how to retain the tiny share that a woman is entitled to inhere from her parents. The current reality is that under implicit and explicit pressure as well as benign threat from their social milieu, women give up their property rights. Unfortunately, the issue was not treated with any importance in the proposed policy. Rather, it was jumbled up with other topics under the article 25.2.

Despite its serious drawback, the proposed policy is under fire from the so-called Islamists who seek to situate their concern within religion-oriented context. Yet, there is no single statement in the policy that is contrary to the faith.

Unfortunately, two innocent young lives have been lost in the process of protest that was instigated by some of the fanatics. Yet, the so-called Mufti’s madrassa-based party (IOJ) and other similar organisations appear hell-bent on their pledge to reuse young children to force government to reconsider the policy.

Essentially, what certain mullahs want is more restriction for women so that they could repress them even more. What is surprising is the timidity of the government to tackle these forces, as if their threat is real. The government must take firm action against these zealots not only to continue the current course of formulation of the policy but also to take initiative to reform all other laws (especially Muslim Family Law) that discriminate against women. Especially, the effort of the so-called Islamists should be seen as subversive to the state since their claim is against the constitution.

If the issue is so politically sensitive, the government should arrange 70 million women to speak for themselves. Women would have their say in deciding their fate, not these zealots. The government must remember that a few thousand maddrassa students and their ‘cheer-leaders’ cannot decide the fate of 70 million women.


Hasan Reza holds a faculty position at Shah Jalal University of Science and Technology, Sylhet and is currently pursuing his doctoral studies in The University of Chicago, USA.

7 Responses to “Unholy ‘crusade’ against 70 million women”

  1. mahbubshakil

    Thank you very much. It is a very timely write-up indeed. We must unitedly stand against these traders of religion. People saw their ugly faces during our Liberation War. So, wake up and resist these culprits and those so-called democratic parties who are patronising them.

  2. Omar Khasru

    This is a disappointing article. It is written in platitudes and hyperbole added to vague generalities. The author has taken a political position on the proposed women’s policy. Then he goes on to some phony issues, including the Islamist derision of progressive forces and puts Taslima Nasreen, Shamsur Rahman and Sheikh Hasina in the same bracket. Give me a break! Let us not forget that the party of the PM once signed a written covenant with fatwa advocates in an election alliance for opportunistic political designs. So much for progressive and secular stance!

    As for the April 4 hartal, the zealotry of the religious leaders was matched by the incendiary pronouncements by government high-ups. Rather than trying to defuse the situation and douse the passion, the prime minister, the state minister of religious affairs, Awami League big shots like Sajeda Chowdhury and Mahbubul Alam Hanif talked in high pitch rabble rousing tone, in insulting and offensive language, adding fuel to fire. Both sides were more interested in making cheap political mileage out of the issue than to bring it to a sensible end.

    In this country, women suffer from repression for dowry and iniquitous acid burns inflicted on them by unsuccessful suitors. Women are convenient targets of fatwa. An alarming number of them are subjected to rapes, occasionally followed by murder. In the past, we related the repugnant anti-women acts for dowry in places like New Delhi or elsewhere in India. These unfortunately have crept into our society with misogynist ferocity and wrath.These are basic facts and a set of progressive, sensitive and sensible policy guidelines to protect and uphold women’s rights is a crying need.

    This article, unfortunately, does nothing to promote that. This is mainly a political statement with unimpressive and one sided propaganda and lambasting the opposition in an attempt to present all Islamic political groups as extremists and militants.

    We all know the inconveniences and downside of a hartal. The ruling party, the world champion of hartals, has taught us that repeatedly. The problem with public university teachers taking a position is that many of them are adherents to one political party or the another. The political affiliation of the author is crystal clear.That is the main drawback of the piece

  3. Ezajur Rahman

    It is hypocritical to complain of the vulgar language used against the Prime Minister by some nitwits from a madrassa when the Prime Minister herself uses vulgar language. Our madrassas, religious extremism and politcial religion thrive mainly because of the rubbish in our center politics today. That the Prime Minister practices Islam is of no relevance when she presides over the immorality, corruption and decay in our society. The madrassa system thrives because AL and BNP can dispaly no moral compass.

  4. Somnath GuhaRoy

    When did fanatics and their politically clever instigators ever listen to reason? Why are the faces of these “religious” demonstrators filled with anger and hatred, unlike normal people who love their neighbours and women family members?

  5. sajjad

    Hasan Reza’s article is a bit misleading. Everytime a hartal is called, people are inconvenienced, businessmen lose money, property is damaged/destroyed, even people are killed or maimed, and these hartals are called by each party.
    Now please count the number of hartals called by AL & its chief Hasina.
    Whether the Govt. wants to empower women by enacting a new law or amend the existing one, and whether the proposed law goes against the Quranic injunctions is not the main point in Reza’s article, it appears to be against the hartal-call by “mullahs”.

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