Taslima Yasmin (TY): Registration of Muslim marriages is generally done as per the provisions of the Muslim Marriages and Divorces (Registration) Act 1974. This Act is applicable for the registration of the marriage and not for solemnisation of marriages. Section 5 of the Act read with the 2009 Rules make it clear that soleminising the marriage ceremony and registering the marriage are distinct functions – as such, the High Court Division's observation that the main functions of the Nikah Registrar is to conduct marriage ceremony and register the same is not supported by the legal provisions on the matter.
Further, the High Court Division also stated that as most marriages are conducted in mosques, it will not be possible for women Nikah Registrars to enter the premises when they menstruate. Menstruation does not affect the task of registration of marriage as required from the nikah registrars under the law. If the nikah registrar chooses not to solemnise the marriage due to religious reasons, she can easily get the marriage solemnised through a local Mosque's imam or any of her office assistants. In practice, we also see that many a times, office assistants of a nikah registrar solemnises a marriage. Neither the laws, nor the government notice upon which the applications to be Nikah Registrars were made, include any provision disqualifying women from performing the role of a Nikah Registrar. Our Constitution guarantees equality of opportunities and protection of law for all citizens and prohibits discrimination between genders. It is expected that our apex Court will play their part in strengthening the legal position against inequality and discrimination.
LD: Protecting the privacy of the victims of sexual violence remains a huge concern in the social landscape of Bangladesh. What are the causes and remedies for this?
TY: These days, the culture of analysing and sensationalising a case through social media platforms have become widespread. However, we must be careful about the extent to which this is done and the impact it may have on the legal proceedings as well as on the victims in question. In our society, matters like premarital sex are already stigmatised, as such in case of a victim of sexual violence, when uncontrolled deconstruction of the case is allowed in social and public media– these discourses often result in victim blaming. Also, public opinion may sometimes unfairly influence outcome of a case and as such it is important to understand when to draw the line when social media users or other media agencies publish news about any ongoing investigation.
The media, having the most significant role in forming public opinion, should exercise more caution when reporting instances of sexual violence. It is also crucial to keep in mind that the complainant's right to privacy is respected – Section 14 of the Nari O Shishu Nirjatan Daman Ain 2000 states that media shall not publish the identity of the victim. However, the implementation of this provision is practically impossible as victims or their families are often not in the condition to make complaints against unlawful publication of news materials containing identity of the victims. The Bangladesh Press Council or other regulatory bodies should formulate guidelines on how to report these incidents while respecting the rights of the parties.
The concerned officials having the authority to investigate the matter should also act more responsibly when sharing sensitive information about an ongoing case. Information or statements made in public platforms by authorities may get wrongly interpreted, paving the way for further shaming and blaming of the victim and her family.
LD: Although incidence of domestic violence has gone up greatly in 2020, why do you think the laws have been ineffective?
TY: We do have a number of laws; however, enacting laws is not the ultimate solution, implementation of these laws needs greater attention. We need mechanisms to ensure proper monitoring and evaluation of the laws to understand how the law is working or the challenges the law is facing in terms of its enforcement. Moreover, allocation of proper funding is extremely crucial to implement these laws. When it comes to issues around violence against women, we have seen that the budget generally remains inadequate. Although the Domestic Violence Act 2010 has some positive aspects in that it recognises the concern that victims do not always want to break off the marriage and want civil remedies aside the existing criminal remedies, the law is poorly enforced. The Act heavily relies on the proper functioning of various implementing agencies, but resources are scarce in terms of training of these implementing stakeholders. Without increased budget allocation, these laws may remain only on paper. The lack of state protection and shelter homes, together with lack of livelihood opportunities for victims of domestic violence perpetuate their victimization within homes, despite having protective laws. Alongside laws, training and sensitisation of the duty bearers are also equally important.
LD: How do you evaluate the overall efforts of involved stakeholders in tackling gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic?
TY: To my understanding, in our national strategies and actions to tackle the crisis caused by the pandemic, there was a relatively low attention to issues of gender based violence and harassment. We must remember that in the post-COVID context, women will be disproportionately affected – women are more likely to lose jobs in the post-COVID economy and are also likely to face increased instances of domestic violence as more people lose their jobs and are confined within homes. Existing issues such as workplace harassment is likely to receive even lesser attention by the employers. These realities must be taken into consideration while we prepare ourselves to face the challenges of the post-COVID Bangladesh.
LD: Thank you for your time.
TY: You are welcome.