Monday, 22 December 2008

A Cruel Parallel

Imagine a 32 year old educated and mature woman being thrown into a vehicle, gagged by human hands to the point of an unbearable sense of suffocation and fearing that the tin roof of that van was possibly the last sight her eyes would ever see. Then imagine a 20 year old new bride, adorned with gold and glittering reds, still glowing with excitement and her fresh coyness, feel her skin turn wet, burn slowly and then unimaginably intensely, scorching and searing till it resembled black leather. Both images may make you sigh, or as it did for me, make your stomach turn. But both women I can now tell you were Bangladeshi, oppressed, tortured and victims of a situation where they had no control.

However as some of you may have already recognised, indeed for my first example the ending was a happy ending - the law successfully intervened and returned 32 year old Dr Humayra Abedin back home to the UK earlier this month - From the safety of her family who had duped her, and then imprisoned her in order to force her into a marriage with Dr Khondokar Mohammad Abdul Jalal, whose proposal she had declined earlier this year. Together with the pressure from a Bangladeshi Human Rights Group, as well as more importantly the pressure of the British Court, the Bangladeshi police were able to track Dr Abedin down on 15 December. The Dhaka court immediately ruled that she be freed and allowed to return to Britain. Indeed Dr Abedin has returned and after a painful period in her life, is still free to pursue her plans of becoming a trained GP in East London.

However the story of my second victim, does not have an ending that sits as well. On the 18th January 2007, Sabina Yasmin in Dhaka was married to Khairul Islam. But instead of her auspicious wedding day being the beginning of a more blessed and auspicious new life, it was a day that would prove devastating. Sabina that day, fell prey to the vengeance of some neighbours of her husband's family who had a long dispute with them and on her wedding day, she became another statistic in Bangladesh's shocking acid burning record. She was admitted into Dhaka Medical College hospital with 55% of her body mangled and melted by lethal acid from treacherous hands. After 22 long days and nights of suffering the agony of such burns, Sabina passed away. The police did not arrest anyone in relation to her assault, despite having strong evidence about the perpetrators and the campaigning of a human rights group.

The painful suffering and eventual death of Sabina is difficult to swallow, when set aside the new lease of life Dr Abedin has to now begin her life again and follow her ambitions to train as a GP. But what is more difficult to contemplate is how the life and wellbeing of Dr Abedin was worth more than the young life of the new Dhaka bride. For her, courts across the Atlantic and of course Dhaka set loose all possible efforts, to ensure her safety was restored and protected. Yet for Sabina, her life was left to wither away in a hospital and justice and the law did not just dust their hands of her, they forgot her from the very beginning. A hollow statistic to be brushed under the carpet as soon as she was gone. To even find the news article on her was an investigative feat.

I don't feel comfortable with reeling off statistics now for you all to picture the context of what the situation for women such as Sabina in Bangladesh is really like. Because any statistics I come across, on UNICEF, from Bangladeshi Government Records, just cannot reflect the real picture. Firstly with almost half the Bangladeshi population living in abject poverty with token access to statutatory assistance and unable to report crimes properly, in addition to the actual government institutions being corrupt and grotesquely pervasive when it comes to recording actual crime and injustice in the country, looking at any statistics is as good as not. But I'll give you some anyway, save you thinking I write and speak from a cloud above. 8.76% of the burns treated in Dhaka University in a four year period were as a result of acid throwing (, and most of these victims were young girls. More than 14% of pregnant women's deaths are associated with injury and violence they are subjected to ( and according to the Bangladesh police, registered cases of cruelty to women topped over 12 000 to 20 000 every year between 2003 and 2007, compared to around 1000 recorded cases of robbery each year from 2003 and 2007 (

Women like Sabina are withering away in hospitals and homes across Bangladesh, daily. The system does not care and does not want to care, as they are not worth the efforts of the police or court of law. But for the Bangladeshi court, pressure from world media and moreover the routine desire to appease Colonial Father Britain, urged them to relentlessly seek protection for Dr Abedin. Interestingly, Dr Abedin's message to women in her situation was 'come forward and don't give hope.' Sadly, hope is a step too far for most women in Bangladesh who do not have the royal visas of Britain to fight for them, or the wealth or influence of the ruling elite. For those who have been born into the average family in Bangladesh, struggling to survive, justice and the promise of protection from the State is nothing but a dream which will never manifest itself into reality.

For a country which has been praised for its corruption clean-up, and more recently its impressive democratic election process which was deemed as possibly 'fairest' in the world by American Presidential candidate McCain, it would seem that justice and human rights records in such a country should be as dazzling. But this obviously could not be further from the truth, where justice is conditional to how high profile you are and whether helping you would bring the Government any benefit. Clearly for Dr Abedin, pursuing justice for her was unavoidable as the eyes of the world and the British Government impinged on it.

To be able to protect women in Bangladesh, not a select few women, it is evident that we need a Government that will believe in this and pursue this. Throughout the short history of Bangladesh, never has there been a time where oppression, subjugation and a failure to protect people have not been the absolute norm. It's therefore time we stop looking to the political options in Bangladesh that have been handed to us pre-prepared, but call for a new type of politics which will uphaul the rotten current system to replace it with one that places justice at its heart.

In the Islamic ruling system, the Khilafah State, justice for the oppressed is not conditional to how much wealth they have, their status or particular situation, rather any oppressed citizen deserves justice by the State. This is because the ruler in Islam must abide by the principle that he is responsible for the wellbeing of all his citizens by the hadith of the Noble Prophet SAW: "Each of you is a shepherd, and all of you are responsible for your flocks." [Bukhari, Muslim]. Rather than fearing their colonial masters in the West in how they execute their rule of law and justice, the ruler in Islam fears his accountability to Allah on the Day of Judgement according to how he looked after and protected the flock he was entrusted with. In addition to this, crimes against women would be something which would be far from tolerated. Rather the viewpoint towards women in an Islamic State is one of high stature and honour. As the Prophet (SAW) said, "The world and all the things in it are precious but the most precious thing in the world is a righteous woman" . He SAW also said: "Whoever has three daughters and shelters them, provides what they need and shows compassion towards them, will certainly deserve paradise." Finally he SAW very famously said, "The best of you are those who are best to their wives." Clearly an Islamic society would build a strong respect for women, where oppression and subjugation of any kind would be abhorred. The rule of law would support this, with strict punishments for even accusing falsely a chaste woman.

It is conclusive that it is only the Islamic rule of law and its correct implementation which can secure real justice for women in Bangladesh, irrespective of their social standing or situation. Without this, justice will be just like a lottery, if you get a winning ticket then the Bangladeshi Government will pull out the highest of stops for you, but if you happen to get a losing one, expect a dark and devastating road to despair.

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