Barred by an arbitrary religious edict imposed by a local pir (religious leader), female voters of an entire union in Faridganj upazila have willingly not exercised their right to franchise in independent Bangladesh.
That is to say they have not voted in any election held since 1972, and educated locals said those female voters are most unlikely to cast their votes this time too in 11th parliamentary elections to be held on Sunday.
There are 24,454 voters in nine wards of the Rupsha South Union, and almost half of them -- 12,114 if counted precise -- are women, according to the district election office.
Asked, a number of female voters - even those belonging to the Hindu community- said they even cannot think of casting their votes defying the order of the pir. Some of their male counterparts frankly said they will not allow their wives to go out to vote, even if they wanted to.
"Our Pir Hazrat Hasan Maudud Zainpuri (RA) once in 1972 directed us to wear veils and not to go out of the house for casting votes on the day of voting," said one of those females not voting since the country's independence.
Elderly people of the area ruminated about the year 1972 when two fatal diseases- diarrhoea and cholera-broke out in the area in epidemic form. Locals started terming it a curse, as disease struck and spread within a particularly deadly spell of three days, claiming a number of lives.
They said the pir then emerged and prayed to God, ostensibly saving them from the fate of inevitable death, and thereby winning the locals' unwavering devotion. He later imposed the prohibition on women leaving their homes for the purpose of any entertainment, with voting bundled in.
Numerous attempts were made by the government officials and NGOs to bring them to booths ahead of the national elections in 1991, 1996, 2001, 2008 and 2014 to cast their votes but all such efforts went up in smoke.
Adding to the difficulty, a rumor circulating among the women has it that some educated and politically conscious women came out of their homes to cast their votes in 2014's national election in defiance of the pir's hoax edict; only to end up in a tragic road accident that left them severely injured.
There was also an incident in which a housewife died at the polling center soon after casting her vote in an election. The group of women UNB spoke to clearly did not question the veracity of that version of events.
Rupsha South UP Chairman Eskander Ali said awareness-raising initiatives will be implemented to motivate female voters to exercise their right to vote ahead of the impending national election slated for the penultimate day for 2018.
Helaluddin Khan, District Election Officer said, "We'll make all security arrangements for the women and polling stations ensuring the female voters' presence."