Fatwa culture: Challenge to the justice system | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 12, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 12, 2011

Bitter Truth

Fatwa culture: Challenge to the justice system

Grisly crimes have put a blot on the image of the country. When the news of the death of 14 year-old Hena Akhtar, a rape victim in Shariatpur upazila, by whipping in public following a fatwa passed by self-styled religious leaders in collusion with some local Union Parishad members, a chill ran down the spine of the nation.
If the increasing incidents of macabre crimes in the capital or other big cities are alarming, the situation is no less frightening, rather worse, in small towns and villages.
What is most alarming are the edicts issued by some self-styled religious leaders that subject the rape victims to trauma, humiliation and inhuman punishment like lashing in public. The perpetrators are allowed to go scot-free without even being asked to be present in such an arbitration council meeting to prove their innocence.
Alas! Hena could not find anyone to judge her lapses, if any, and the circumstances that drove her to such a situation. Most shockingly, she could not find a safe abode even in
Chamta village, let alone living in dignity. Weary of human insensitivity, she plunged to her death.
It is hard to comprehend the anger or plain sadism that drives these so-called religious leaders to pronounce such judgments without even the sanction of the state.
But the real story here, the real horror chronicled in painful detail in the media is the aftermath: sympathy turned immediately from the victim to the perpetrator and his mentors who are still at large.
Mahbub's wife and her brother beat Hena brutally without looking for the perpetrator. As the news spread some influential locals headed by Idris Sheikh, a UP member, arranged an arbitration council. The five member judge's panel, which included a local madrassah teacher and the imam of the village mosque, sentenced the victim to 101 lashes and executed the sentence immediately without looking for the rapist.
People recall the lashing of mother and daughter in Charkakra village in Noakhali in June 2009 through an edict issued by the village leaders. The village matubbars held an arbitration meeting and inflicted 101 dorra on the victim while her mother was given 10 dorra. The victim and the mother didn't dare file any case against the abuser or the community leaders because of their influence and political connection.
As the wave of condemnation rattles the whole country, people describe these gory acts as a monumental aberration of the justice system and violation of the constitution of the country. Not even the harshest words could measure up to the indignation and outrage felt in the nooks and corners of the country.
When the Hena incident was brought to the notice of the High Court on February 2 last, the learned bench in a suo moto rule asked the concerned administration in Shariatpur to explain within 15 days as to what steps were taken after Hena was inflicted such a brutal punishment even when such salish and punishment were declared illegal by an apex court order in July 2009.
Hena's death has raised eyebrows about the civil and police administration in that locality. People are asking whether the law enforcers did their job in arresting the perpetrator and the self-styled leaders who handed over such brutal punishment even though it was banned by the apex court.
It is so intriguing that every time such a horrendous crime is committed the apex court has to issue rule on the administration, saying that the administration has been failing to live up to people's expectation. In any case, the police as well as the civil administration can't evade the responsibility of the charges made against them.
Crimes and criminality exist in every society, but sexual violations of women, and even minors, and patronage of the offenders by a section of influential persons manifests a sort of depravity which unless checked will tear apart the entire social fabric.The alarming frequency of such crimes proves that a sizable section of the society is being criminalised. It is not unnatural in our country that every time such dastardly acts of sexual assault take place and such fatwa-based salishes are held, people are naturally outraged and loud protests are voiced by all, especially by the human rights activists. But, as it often happens, the alleged offenders and their patrons go away with impunity, and the perpetrators feel emboldened to commit crimes of greater enormity.
The law enforcers' alliance with the criminals and their reluctance to tackle such crimes make the situation worse. Even after the alleged offenders confessed to the magistrate that Hena Akhtar was whipped to death and the persons who bathed the deceased before burial saw bruises due to torture on her body, the police inquest and autopsy report contradicted them. The apex court had to issue another suo moto rule again, asking for another autopsy to be done by experts.
No Islamic law prescribes such queer dispensation of justice that punishes the victim and glorifies the offender. All these incidents and resultant sufferings have exposed the sordid side of police action as well as community leaders' legal standing and domain of trying offences of this nature.
Dreadful lapses of the law enforcers are becoming an alarming trend. Policing in is falling apart, ridden as it is by the colonial lopsided structure, an overworked, corrupt and stressed constabulary with rock bottom morale. Crime graphs are no indication, thanks to unreported crimes and suppressed cases.
Rape is more than just a rape. The blame of the crime is pinned on the victim and the attitude of all members of the society to rape victims is very cold. In our country, the rape victim's real weakness is forced upon her again and again. It begins with the humiliation at the hands of the rapist and then a tortuous and shameful journey that the neighbourhood, police and finally the law subject her to.
The protectors of law rape the law when they put a rape victim to shame by their machinations or, more precisely, character assassination of the victim at different stages of case framing. How the fatwa culture has made its way back into the country after it was banned by a High Court rule in 2009 is a question that needs a quick answer.

Md. Asadullah Khan is a former teacher of physics and Controller of Examinations, BUET.
e-mail : aukhandk@gmail,com

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