Dealing with fatwa
FATWA or an edict, that self-anointed rural adjudicators issue in collaboration with influential locals, is ruining the lives of many women in rural areas. Most of the victims are not in a position to fight for their rights as such decrees are passed in the name of religion. The image of religion itself is undermined in the process.
President Zillur Rahman has urged the National Human Rights Commission to work for elimination of the practice which is based on misinterpretation of religion and exploitation of religious sentiments of people. Obviously, the commission has to make some determined efforts to banish it and make sure that it does not remain a potent weapon in the hands of village headmen and mullahs.
Such decrees actually create misunderstanding and confusion in the public mind and in most cases the perpetrators are blamed for the punishment, often inhumane, meted out to the victims. However, the issue is definitely more complex than it looks. The victims are mostly women poorly represented in the rural power structure. There is nobody to plead their cases and the verdict passed often goes unchallenged. Regrettably, the arbitrator plays into the hands of vested groups, instead of taking a stand in favour of the victim. Nothing could be a more serious violation of the rights of women, that Islam protects as a matter of principle, than such crude application of judgment.
No less damaging for women is the social condition tilting heavily in favour of men. The male domination of rural society is so absolute that the crimes committed by men are often condoned or overlooked in arbitration meetings. The poor women have to suffer silently for the wrongs done to them by mischievous elements having a powerful position in society. The mock trial of some rapists in Barguna recently is a case in point.
So, blunting the force is inextricably linked to empowerment of women. The religious leaders also have a very important role in protecting women from being harassed, tortured or pilloried publicly by the exponents of so-called fatwa. They have to make a point of opposing the elements who have neither the competence, nor the legal authority, to issue fatwa. Their attempts to set up a parallel justice system amounts to a punishable offence.
The human rights activists have to organise a social movement against such manipulative tactics which allow religion to be used by self-seekers.