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Why Regulation is Not the Answer: 15 Black and Minority Women’s Rights Campaigners Explain

‘Sharia’ and other religious systems of arbitration are back in the news once again. There appears to be growing recognition of the profoundly discriminatory nature of religious arbitration systems which relegate Muslim and other minority women to second rate systems of justice. But is regulation the answer?

A joint statement signed by 15 prominent black and minority women’s rights campaigners clarified yesterday that “regulation is neither desirable nor viable” for several reasons.  In the signed statement the women’s rights campaigners stated that:

A close examination of the workings of ‘Sharia’ Councils and the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal reveal serious failings that flout principles of the rule of law and undermine the rights of women in fundamental ways. These forums use fundamentalist and ultra-conservative definitions of ‘Sharia laws’ in highly selective and authoritarian ways; they seek to impose a social culture of ‘Zina’ which compel women to resolve marital and family disputes using ‘Sharia laws’ or risk becoming social outcastes and worse.

Evidence from the UK and elsewhere shows that such religious arbitration bodies function primarily as a means of exercising control over female sexuality and autonomy. They do not treat women as full persons before the law, but instead subject them to degrading questions and investigative procedures and impede them from leaving violent relationships even if they experience torture or ill-treatment and are at risk of losing their lives. The emphasis is centrally on reconciliation even if this conflicts with the protection principle and gender equality. Questions of marriage, divorce, inheritance, financial and children arrangements as well as polygamy and other cultural forms of harm, must be determined by the civil and criminal laws of the land and not so called ‘religious laws.’ This also means that all religious marriages must be registered by law.

Politicians and lawyers would do well to listen to the voices of over 300 abused minority women who signed a letter last year describing how their rights are violated on a daily basis. Any incorporation and recognition of religious forums would sanction the place of religious leaders in making decisions about women’s lives and normalise deeply patriarchal value systems.

We therefore urge caution in accepting the suggestion that a ‘compromise’ involving regulation and training provides a way forward.  Regulation is neither desirable nor viable for the following reasons:

  • The sheer diversity of religious interpretations would make regulation unachievable;
  • Parallel legal systems create and legitimise arbitrary systems of ‘justice’ which means less scrutiny by state institutions out of fear of ‘causing offence’;
  • There will not be sufficient resources to offer impartial judicial oversight of religious arbitration bodies to ensure compatibility with anti-discrimination and human rights law;
  • In the wider society there is continuing public scrutiny and revision of law and policy and under a democratic parliamentary process but religious law is not open to such scrutiny;
  • There is no political will to reform from within – religious forums around the world have been resistant to progressive reforms on women;
  • Self regulation through bodies such as The Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB) and the Board of Sharia Councils has failed to ensure the rights of women and children are protected;
  • The accommodation of such forums, will amount to state sponsorship of fundamentalist and authoritarian forms of governance that encourage intolerance, misogyny and homophobia.

As black and minority women, we demand adherence to one legal system grounded within universal human rights principles. We cannot and will not settle for anything less.”

Signatories:

Pragna Patel, Director, Southall Black Sisters
Yasmin Rehman, Trustee, Centre for Secular Space
Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, One Law for All
Diana Nammi, Executive Director, Iranian & Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation
Sadia Hameed, Spokesperson, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
Gina Khan, Spokesperson, One Law for All
Houzan Mahmoud, Cofounder, Culture Project
Rahila Gupta, Writer and Journalist
Sara Khan, CEO, Inspire
Nasreen Rehman, Forced Marriage Commission
Marieme Helie Lucas, Founder, Secularism is a Woman’s Issue
Fatou Sow, International Director, Women Living Under Muslim Laws.
Gita Sahgal, Director, Centre for Secular Space
Rumana Hashem, Founder, Community Women’s Blog and Former-organiser of Nari Diganta
Elham Manea, Author of Women and Shari’a Law: The Impact of Legal Pluralism in the UK

 

Women’s rights campaigners hold hand written placards against Sharia law. 14 December 2016

For further information, contact:

Pragna Patel
Director of Southall Black Sisters
pragna@southallblacksisters.co.uk
02085719595

Gina Khan and Maryam Namazie
Spokespersons of One Law for All
onelawforall@gmail.com
07719166731

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Court of Appeal finds that #GenderSegregation can amount to unlawful Sex Discrimination

PRESS RELEASE  By Southall Black Sister

In a landmark judgment handed down on 13 October 2017, the Court of Appeal found that ‘separate but equal’ treatment on the basis of gender at a school can amount to unlawful sex discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 (EqA).

The Court (Etherton MR and Beatson and Gloster LJJ) had been asked to consider gender segregation at the Al-Hijrah school, a voluntary aided Muslim co-ed school in which boys and girls are completely segregated from the age of 9.

The Court found that the school’s policy of strict segregation was discriminatory since it had an adverse impact on the quality and effectiveness of the education given by the school to both the girls and boy pupils respectively, and could not be justified under one of the exceptions set out in the Equality Act.

Moreover, Gloster LJ went further and accepted the submissions of SBS and Inspire that the effect of gender segregation, in the specific context of this Muslim school, was not gender neutral but informed by particular precepts and practices of certain Muslim communities.

Drawing extensively upon the ‘Casey Review’, which was referenced in SBS and Inspire’s submissions, Gloster LJ concluded that the school’s policy was particularly detrimental for girls in that it reinforced the different spaces – private and public – that men and women must occupy, and their respective stereotyped roles which accord them differential and unequal status.

This is an important judgment with far reaching consequences for the rights of minority women and girls to equality and the freedom to participate in public life as citizens.

Pragna Patel of SBS said: “We very much welcome the judgment and its recognition that gender segregation can be unlawful and discriminatory, especially in contexts where the practice is tied to the rise of religious fundamentalist and conservative norms. For over three decades, we have seen how regressive religious forces have targeted schools and universities as a means by which to control and police female sexuality in minority communities. The imposition of gender segregation, dress codes and sharia laws are just some means by which gender inequality is legitimised and promoted despite the serious and harmful consequences. This judgment is a vital step forward in our effort to persuade the courts and state bodies to take account of the reality of the misogyny and gender stereotyping that is promoted in our schools and universities in the name of religious and cultural freedom. We are delighted that the court has seen through this and upheld the equality principle.

Sara Khan of Inspire said: “I am pleased the Court of Appeal has recognised that in the context of co-ed schools which apply gender segregation throughout the school day, separate is not equal. Inspire have long argued that the practice of gender segregation is discriminatory and is a violation of the Equality Act. Over the years, religious fundamentalists in our country have aggressively sought to normalise the practice of gender segregation in our schools and institutions; and unfortunately we have witnessed a growing accommodation to it in particular by local authorities. This landmark ruling can now act as a bulwark against this. The Court of Appeal’s judgment makes clear that the policy of gender segregation as practiced by Al-Hijrah and other co-ed schools across our country is unlawful and has no place in our multicultural and multi-faith society. I hope this serves as a reminder that equality and the rights of women and girls especially from minority communities must not be sacrificed in the name of culture or religion.”

For Further Information Contact:

Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters: pragna@soublacksisters.co.uk 02085719595.

Sara Khan, Director of Inspire: Sara.Khan@wewillinspire.com

For Background Information Check out CWB Blog: Gender Segregation amounts to Sex Discrimination https://communitywomenblog.wordpress.com/2017/07/11/gender-segregation-amounts-to-sex-discrimination/


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Reflection on a Trip to Bangladesh where Priest was Hacked to Death and Rape of a Five-Year Old was Possible

By Pushpita Gupta 

 

I am the co-founder and President of the pressure group, called the Secular Bangladesh Movement UK (SBMUK). I am also the elected President of the Campaign for the Protection of Religious Minorities in Bangladesh (CPRMB).  In March 2016, I visited Bangladesh on a fact finding trip to see for myself the victims of the atrocities committed against Hindus and other minority community. I subsequently produced a report that provided a detailed description of my tour, providing an insight of the difficult situation faced by the minority religious community, which was published on CWB alongside Secular Bangladesh Movement UK website.

This report is based on my follow up trip to Bangladesh in December 2016. Bangladesh is a country where the majority (90%) of the population follow the Muslim faith. After the partition of India in 1947, the Hindu population became an endangered community in their motherland, Bangladesh. During the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971, Hindus were one of the main targets of the killings and rape by the Pakistani military and their local militias. After independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the number of Hindus continued to dwindle due to persecution and oppression by the majority community. The Hindu community has faced large scale brutal attacks, including murder, rape, land grabbing and the destruction of temples by Islamist fanatics in 1991-1992, 2001-2002.
In recent years, with the rise of Islamism, atrocities against the Hindu minority community have increased to an ever more alarming rate. It is noteworthy that with the re-election of secular alliance government led by Awami League, which came to power in 2008, and the formation of International War Crimes Tribunal in 2010, attacks on Hindu minority has increased. Amnesty International in its 2013 report noted, “the attacks come in the context of large scale violent protests that have been raging across Bangladesh for weeks over the country’s ongoing war crimes tribunal, the International Crimes Tribunal (Amnesty International Report, 2013)”.

Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International’s Bangladesh Researcher at the time said that “The Hindu community in Bangladesh is at extreme risk, in particular at such a tense time in the country. It is shocking that they appear to be targeted simply for their religion. The authorities must ensure that they receive the protection they need” (Amnesty International Report, 2013).

Human Rights Watch in its “World Report 2015: Bangladesh” noted: “Supporters of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami party threw petrol bombs to enforce strikes and economic blockades. Before and after the election (referring to 2014 election), the attackers also vandalized homes and shops owned by members of Bangladesh’s Hindu and Christian communities”.

This trend seems to be continuing and increasingly worsening in 2016 and 2017. Bob Blackman MP, Chair of All Party Parliamentary Group on British Hindus, noted correctly in a debate at the House of Commons on 8 Sept 2016 that “the widespread and persistent violations of human rights and the persecution of minority religious groups—Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and other tribal communities in Bangladesh—by the extremist armed groups are deeply worrying to all concerned within the country (Bangladesh) and in this country” (UK). As a minority human rights campaigner from Bangladesh in Britain, I went to Bangladesh initially for 3 weeks on 26t March and stayed till 18 April in 2016 to see the situation myself. My follow up visit was on 10 December in 2016  and I returned from Bangladesh on 15 January in 2017. For my visit to Bangladesh, the charity funds raised by two organisations, namely the CPRMB and SBMUK, have provided support enabling me to visit different places and affected communities in several regions. Also during my visit in Bangladesh, I received invaluable support and resources from Ekattorer Ghatal-Dalal Nirmal Committee.

Religious persecution following the comments of Minister of animal well-being, who called Hindus as ‘malaun’. Source Ajanta Deb Roy

I visited some places including Gopalganj where a priest was hacked to death allegedly by a youth at Basuria village, Tungipara Upazila, Gopalganj in April 2016. Doyal Roy, son of deceased Poramando Roy, said that when his father was returning home from market, Shariful Sheikh, a resident of Gingadanga village, hacked his father indiscriminately on Saturday night. He was taken to Khulna Medical College Hospital and then was moved to Dhaka Medical College Hospital where he died later that night. The widowed spouse of Poramando Roy has lost all sense of reality.

Doyal Roy said that his father was a priest at Bai Ros Ram temple. Police have already arrested Shariful, but reason behind the killing could not be known immediately. Officer-in-Charge of Tungipara police station told the Dhaka Tribune that local people were saying that the youth was mentally ill and they were investigating the matter.  A case on the murder incident was filed by Police in April 2006. The question is, does this filing of a case ensure justice for the widowed spouse and the son of Poramando Roy? The answer is unknown.

widow-of-roy-dec-2016.pdf

I also visited Dinajpur where rape of a five-year-old was committed in October 2016. The five-year old girl, Puja, was found in a crop field not far from her home after going missing from home for over 10 hours. She bore stab marks all over her body. Physicians at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) where she was admitted in a critical condition told the Dhaka Tribune that the traumatised minor had developed infections in her genitalia.

The little girl had gone missing on 17 October. When her family members were frantically searching for Puja, one Saiful, the alleged rapist, told them that the girl was taken by a spirit.  This made the family suspicious and the girl’s father filed a complaint with the police station that evening. They later found Puja in the crop field, and happened to know by asking Puja that Saiful had raped her. Puja called him uncle and knew him as a senior relative in the village. Saiful was capable of raping a little girl who trusted him as her uncle. He is indeed the rapist.

The DMCH Deputy Director, Khaja Gafur, said that the hospital would carry the expenses of the Puja’s treatment and, if needed, send her abroad. He also said that there were assurances from the prime minister herself that the government would provide all expenses for the girl’s treatment. The victim was first taken to a local health complex from where she was moved to Rangpur and underwent treatment there for a week.

The accused Saiful, has been arrested from Dinajpur town and sent to court seeking remand. A court has fixed for the remand hearing. I have handed over our collective donation as a financial support as well as moral strength to the family of Puja. The meeting with Puja’s family and relatives was heart-rending. I cannot disclose details here for confidentiality.

I continued my journey from the far North to Southeast Bangladesh, where organised attacks against Hindu minorities were committed last year. The lessons learnt from the short visit to the affected communities were as illuminating as heart-breaking.  It is hard to describe in a short blog. A full report of my travel was published on Secular Bangladesh Movement, UK website and is currently available to all for open access.

Pushpita Gupta – a community women’s blog member and representative of minority rights hunger strikers stood with a placard for Santal people outside Bangladesh High Commission in London on Wednesday 23 November 2016. Photo credit: Atish D Saha

To conclude this brief reflection, I should note the ongoing atrocities against religious minorities and indigenous people in Bangladesh that have been committed by identifiable perpetrators are outrageous. Mere condemnation is not sufficient to prevent the widespread and systematic attacks on Santal and religious minorities in Bangladesh. The government should take actions to protect the religious minorities and to bring violence against innocent people to an end.

 


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GENDER SEGREGATION AMOUNTS TO SEX DISCRIMINATION

PRESS RELEASE

 

On 11 and 12 July 2017, Southall Black Sisters (SBS) and Inspire will be intervening in an important case on gender segregation to press the Court of Appeal to rule that the practice of gender segregation in a voluntary aided Muslim co-ed school amounts to sex discrimination under the equality law.  This is a potentially historical and precedent setting case, the outcome of which will have a far reaching impact on the human rights of minority women and girls.

 

Background to the case

 

School X segregates its pupils based on their gender. From the age of 9 to 16, boys and girls of Muslim background are segregated for everything – during lessons and all breaks, activities and school trips.

 

The school was inspected by Ofsted which raised concerns about gender segregation and other leadership failings involving the absence of effective safeguarding procedures, and an unchallenged culture of gender stereotyping and homophobia. Offensive books promoting rape, violence and against women and misogyny were discovered in the school library. Some girls also complained anonymously that gender segregation did not prepare them for social interaction and integration into the wider society. As a result of what it found during the inspection, Ofsted judged the school to be inadequate and placed it in special measures.

 

The school took legal action against Ofsted accusing it of bias amongst other things, and claimed that gender segregation did not have a detrimental impact on girls. Following a High Court hearing, in November 2016, the presiding judge, Mr Justice Jay, found no evidence of bias against the school but agreed with the school that gender segregation did not amount to sex discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. He went onto say that no evidence had been presented to show that gender segregation disadvantaged the girls in the school.

 

Ofsted is seeking to overturn this part of the judgment but the Department of Education and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, along with SBS and Inspire are intervening in support of Ofsted.

 

Why are we intervening

 

SBS and Inspire are intervening in this case because we believe that the right to equality for women and girls of Muslim background in this instance is being seriously undermined. We are alarmed by the growing acceptance of such a practice in our universities and schools; a move that we have also previously contested. In a context where all the evidence shows that minority women are subject to growing abuse, isolation, inequality and powerlessness, the practice of gender segregation cannot be viewed as a benign development because it is informed by the Muslim fundamentalist view that women are inferior and the cause of disorder and sexual chaos in society. If unchecked, the practice will give religious fundamentalist and ultra-conservative forces in our communities more and more power to define women’s lives. It will also signal the view that regulatory bodies like Ofsted have no business in investigating issues of gender inequality in faith based schools. We say that gender segregation amounts to direct sex discrimination and violates the fundamental rights and freedoms of women and girls under international human rights law on equality and non-discrimination.

 

Pragna Patel of SBS said: “Fundamentalist and conservative religious norms like gender segregation are becoming normalised in minority communities at an alarming rate. Separate can never be equal in a context of rising misogyny, violence against women and patriarchal control. Regressive religious forces want to implement their fundamentalist vision of education. They want to use religion to extinguish the human rights of minority women and girls to equality and self determination. We will not allow this to happen. We will not allow them to undo the strides that we have made for greater equality and freedom. Our struggle against gender segregation mirrors the struggle against racial segregation: it is morally, politically and legally wrong and the Court of Appeal and the rest of society must recognise this.”

 

Sara Khan of Inspire said: “I am deeply concerned about the rise and accommodation of gender segregation in our schools and universities.  This is due in large part to the rise of fundamentalist patriarchal movements over the last few decades which seeks to reinforce regressive gender stereotypes and restrict women’s rights in an attempt to deny women full and equal participation in public life.  I have seen first hand the damaging impact of gender segregation on women and girls.  As a British Muslim woman, I call on our country and our judiciary to stand on the side of equality and women’s rights, at a time when illiberals and fundamentalists seek to do away with them.

 

Maryam Namazie from One Law for All added: “Islamists have become adept at using rights language to impose rights restrictions. Islamist projects like the niqab or Sharia courts are deceptively promoted as “rights” and “choices” when in fact their aim is to control and restrict women and girls. Girls in Islamic schools are segregated not in order to enable them to flourish but because they are seen to be the source of fitnah and male arousal from puberty onwards. Which is why they must be veiled, segregated, and prevented from many activities that are essential to child development. The court would do well to remember that when it comes to children in particular, there is a duty of care to ensure that the girl child has access to a level playing field and is able to flourish – sometimes despite the wishes of parents and fundamentalists.”

 

For more background information visit http://www.southallblacksisters.org.uk/news/gender-segregation-is-gender-ap artheid

See the High Court judgment here: https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/x-v-ofsted.pdf and here: https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/x-v-oftsed-press-su mmary.pdf

Community Women’s Blog, Nari Diganta and Southall Black Sisters are part of the One Law for All campaign which also includes the Kurdish Culture Project, Centre for Secular Space and others working to challenge the rise of religious fundamentalism and extremism and it specific impact on  the rights of black and minority women in the UK. We are currently running a campaign against the accommodation of Sharia laws in the law or as part of alternative dispute resolution systems in relation to family matters. See details here: https://communitywomenblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/22/womens-rights-campaigners-echoed-the-voices-of-300-bame-victims-survivors-of-abusive-religious-related-practices-codeswho-will-listen-to-our-voices/

Information about previous contestations against gender segregation in universities can be found below: http://www.southallblacksisters.org.uk/news/campaign-gender-apartheid-uk-universities   https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/pragna-patel/’shariafication-by-stealth‘ -in-uk  http://www.wewillinspire.com/tag/segregation/


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“Glastonbury of Freethinkers” in defence of free conscience and expression to be held in London

There is not much time left for the historic 22-23 July 2017 conference, being dubbed the “Glastonbury of Freethinkers”. The conference jointly organised by One Law for All and Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain will mark the 10th anniversary of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB). “We will honour our dissenters and celebrate freethought”, said Maryam Namazie , the spokesperson of the CEMB.

It is set to be the largest international gathering of ex-Muslim activists and freethinkers in London. Over 70 speakers and acts including comedy, music and art will discuss censorship and blasphemy laws, freedom of and from religion, apostasy, the limits of religion’s role in society, LGBT and women’s rights, atheism, secular values and more, to be held to defend freedom of conscience and expression and argue that freedoms are not western but universal. If you wish to be part of what will be an historic event, you can register via Secular Conference website.

You can find out more about the conference aims in The Freethinker interview with Marieme Helie Lucas and Maryam Namazie.

Get your ticket here: http://www.secularconference.com/get-tickets/

Read more about the conference: http://www.secularconference.com/

 

 


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Kalpana was abducted at election night and never returned

By Rumana Hashem

Two decades ago an outstanding Indigenous feminist and a fearless leader of Hill Women’s Federation, Kalpana Chakma, was abducted from her home in Rangamati, Chittagong, on the night of the national election on 12 June 1996 in Bangladesh. She has not been seen since

Instead of ensuring justice for Kalpana’s family and to prosecute those suspected of criminal responsibility for her enforced disappearance, the Bangladeshi authorities attempted to close the investigation. Bangladeshi police on 27 September 2016 asked a court in Rangamati to close the case, citing a lack of evidence, which was being challenged by Bangladeshi feminists.  Multiple police investigations and a government-appointed commission of inquiry have failed to identify perpetrators, let alone initiate any prosecutions. This 12 June marks the 21st anniversary of Kalpana’s abduction. In tribute to the abducted feminist Kalpana Chakma, we reblog a previously published article, describing the dramatic events on her abduction and the aftermath, in the Dhaka Tribune. 

 

Kalpana Chakma, an indigenous women’s rights activist of Bangladesh held the position of General Secretary of the Hill Women’s Federation. Kalpana Chakma is reported to have been forcibly detained by security personnel from her home in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh on 12 June 1996 – her whereabouts remain unknown. Courtesy: Amnesty International.

 

June 12 has a historical significance to many Bangladeshis, especially to those who supported and voted for Awami League to form government in 1996. On June 12 in 1996, the AL won the Seventh National Parliamentary Elections and regained power to lead the nation after more than two decades.

The day is remarkable to the generation of 1975, including myself, who heard many stories about the party’s leading role in the war of independence in 1971 but never saw the AL in power before June 12, 1996.  Nevertheless, when many Bangladeshis note the day as a victory day of their favourite political party since 1996, it has become a commemoration day to the lives of a significant segment of population of the country — the people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

On June 12, 1996, an uncompromising Chakma feminist and an inspirational activist at Hill Women’s Federation, Kalpana Chakma, was abducted by unabashed state-security forces at the dark of the night when the nation was focused on the general election that would bring in democracy to the nation.

Kalpana was vocal against militarised violence and military occupation in the land of adivasi.  There is little doubt that her captors would belong to the same military that she regarded as enemy to her people and homeland. Protests in the aftermath of her abduction, of course, took place and outbursts across the CHT continued. But the end result of the protests against military is so that rather than bringing back Kalpana, four more protesters including a young boy, Rupan Chakma, were shot dead.

Rupan, Monotosh, Shukesh and Somorbijoy Chakma died in militarised violence against an outburst on June 28 in 1996, two weeks after Kalpana Chakma had been abducted.The incident brought in a clear message to the community and the nationals, who opposed militarised violence, that violence against indigenous people and women would continue while protesters against militarised violence are to be silenced.

Two decades have passed since. Many stories have gone around the gendered phenomenon over the past years, yet the demand for an independent investigation was cruelly ruled out as irrelevant. Instead of conducting an investigation on Kalpana’s disappearance, more lives were taken away. One may think that the trouble is the military. But the truth is more complex than we see.

It is not merely military, rather that of the misogynist civic nation that embraces culture of impunity as a way to uphold chauvinism. A close look to the events that followed Kalpana’s abduction after the General Election in 1996 would explain that the idea of democracy and justice has been disabled in the CHT, especially after 1996.

The incident of the notorious abduction of an uncompromising female activist with her two living brothers from her mother’s home was, as it appeared, less important to the majority of the nation. Only a small segment of progressive activists expressed willingness to discuss the matter. Others remained silent and did not want to know more — let alone speak.

If you search the profile of Bangladesh or the incidents on June 12 in 1996, there would hardly be any information available on Kalpana or the outrageous incident in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The lines about an uncompromising aboriginal feminist do not “virtually” exist. The crucial lines have been erased from the whole profile of Bangladesh.

The questions about who was behind a stretched dark event on the night of a general election and how was this disgraceful incident of kidnapping normalised in the national life seemed immaterial and obsessive to many within Bangladeshi civil society.

Instead of undertaking investigation into the gendered phenomenon, the continuum of gendered violence in the region, under peace-forces, has been aggravated through gang rapes and sexual abuse of women at daylight which were committed by both the military and civil Bengali men. During my fieldwork of a completed doctoral research on “gender and armed conflict” in the CHT, I was told by the Additional District Commissioner in Khagrachari that there have been some “isolated incidents on militarised violence against women.” But he would not comment on these or Kalpana Chakma’s disappearance because, in his words, “these are matters to be dealt by peace-force”. What he implied is that he was out of power as he was made up to chair an administrative body who would sit and listen to how brutal the sounds of militarised violence are.

There is no doubt that military plays an important role in controlling the incidents in the CHT. Subsequently, I was prohibited to speak to Kalpana’s family and was forced to return from Khagrachhari with incomplete data. Nevertheless, the point that should not be missed is that the nationals are equally submissive and misogynistic. The nationals submit to militarism and chose the culture of impunity as a way of controlling indigenous population. This was evident in the comments of the ADC in Khagrachari. At the end of the meeting, he ruled out the chances for Kalpana’s return.

Even so, the missing woman is far from being silent. The woman from the other side of the wall stands as more powerful than her skippers. Kalpana’s disappearance alone has discovered many more voices that are vocal against violence against indigenous people. At a personal level, the incident of Kalpana’s outrageous abduction and disappearance, on the night of a historical general election, has turned me into an academic from activist. I was an undergraduate student at that time, was committed to help the Election Commission in counting votes, delivering a prompt service and neutral result of the election to which the whole nation awaited.

On the night of Kalpana’s abduction, I had been serving the nation of Bangladesh as a loyal volunteer of Dhaka University Scouts. After a sleepless and hard-working long evening when I returned home at nine o’clock in the morning, the national dailies have already reached out to the people, across the nation, that were eager to read news of election. Kalpana’s abduction was only partly covered. Even so, it had its power which motivated me to pursue a scientific research on gender and armed conflict in the end.

We may not be able to bring back Kalpana, but the power of a missing woman is proven. It is time to reveal and overcome the misogyny of the so-called civic nation that submits to, instead of protesting, the culture of impunity.

 

Read full article on Dhaka Tribune: http://archive.dhakatribune.com/op-ed/2016/jun/15/missing-woman-far-being-silent


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When Will Attitude towards Women Change?

By Piya Mayenin

Society-made, insurmountable obstacles hinder the progress of gender equality. With one step forward and leaps back the ugly mountain blocks our future unless some real changes are made worldwide. ..Quantitative actions are not turning into qualitative change because of insurmountable obstacles of society. 

 

Why do women have to bang on about Women’s right?  Well, firstly as women they would have experienced inequality and, at some time in their life, they would try to find a reason for those inequalities and solutions. Secondly, the status quo that is harming women, economically and socially has proved to be one that is almost impossible to shift inspite of achievements in equality by society.  Despite achievements of women, worldwide, the inequality mountain stands almost still. In the new era of ‘Trumpism  – when a Man like Donald Trump gets the Presidentship of in the US after making all the despicable comments about women – we need to put down our feet firmly for real quality changes!

Quantitative actions are not turning into qualitative change because of insurmountable obstacles of society. Quantitative changes mean that there are more women working today then say there were in the 1940’s. So does that mean that work around equality by our foremothers is really paying off? Comparators across indicators of qualitative change show that this is not the case. I have put that down, I am sure many many others have too, to a lack of respect for women. This lack of respect, globally, for women is simply from deep rooted ideas of women’s inferior place in society and the economy. This is seen, all over the world, where women are still usually working more and getting paid less than men irrespective of the major global women’s rights treaty that was ratified by the majority of the world’s nations a few decades ago.

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Bangladeshi-British women, including the author of this piece, in East London hold placards against sexual violence against women in 2015. Situation has worsen since. Courtesy: P V Dudman

In the US and pretty much in other western countries, women begun to enter work for many reasons including the rise of wages that made couples see that it is more beneficial for them, deindustrialization and men moving offshore or getting out of work.  Women earned about 60-65 percent of what men earned from the 1950s to the 1980s. After 1980, this began to equalize so that by about 2000, women earned 76 percent of what men did. Since 2000 there hasn’t been much more progress toward equality.

Women still earn less than men for many reasons which are unbelievably discriminatory. One explanation is, for instance, that employers pay people when they have more years of experience, and women’s child rearing breaks make them unsuitable. A report by the Women and Equalities Select Committee concluded last year that responsibility for childcare and the concentration of women in low-paid sectors were key causes of the pay differential. This means that some employers discriminate against women when hiring in higher-paying jobs, leaving the women no choice but to seek lower-paying jobs.

The glass ceiling is broken by a very few women and some when they get there are not very appreciative of feminism. ‘Far from “smashing the glass ceiling“, she was the aberration, the one who got through and then pulled the ladder up right after her, noted the reporter correctly in the Guardian on 9 April 2013.

So women have been given access to enter into a man’s work world only to stretch and fit, and as a result there is no qualitative change. The numerical pointers are not necessarily the indicators of success, while substantive changes are.

A woman now has to juggle working all day in overarching sexist structures and environments and tackle the bulk of housework and childcare after, doubling the stresses she previously had. Here’s another reality: Inequality is glaring when one sees that with most well off couples, the woman having the worse car while the husband flashes the better one. These indicators are evidence that attitudes and mentality have not changed around women although the benefits of their income have been realized by many.

Another achievement globally is where more girls are entering education and even higher education. However appalling safety levels and poor resources of the schools and incidents against women in developing countries do not allow for a real difference for girls.

The Independent in January 2017 has reported that ‘Russian lawmakers are being urged to reject a “dangerous” law that could decriminalise all acts of domestic violence, with the exception of rape and serious bodily harm.’  Let’s not forget that a large percentage of the world refuses to recognise rape within marriage as a criminal offence. In Turkey , for example, a draft law stipulates that men who sexually abuse girls under 18 without “force, threat or any restriction on consent”, and who marry their victim could go free.

Bdnews24 in Bangladesh reported on 27 February this year that ‘Bangladesh Parliament passes law allowing child marriage in “special circumstances”. Prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, has defended the law by saying the critics “know nothing about Bangladesh’s social system” and that her government was “making the law considering the ‘realities’ of society”. In Explaining the “special circumstances, the prime minister in Bangladesh who is a woman herself, said:

We’ve fixed the minimum age for girls to marry at 18. But what if any of them becomes pregnant at 12-13 or 14-15 and abortion can’t be done? What will happen to the baby? Will society accept it?

She added then, the girl could go for marriage with her parents’ consent in such circumstances in order to give the baby a “legal status” in society.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) have responded correctly, “Accidental or unlawful pregnancy suggests the law could lead to a situation where girls who have been raped are forced to marry their rapists.”

The same Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, promised in the 2014 Girl summit that child marriage will be eradicated by 2024. Bangladesh reports the highest case of child marriage at 66% on girls under the age of 18 getting married and over one third getting married before the age of 15. The recent law has just given for child marriages to rise and also the unintended consent to abuse of children.

Here in the UK, the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) estimates that 8.2% of women and 4.0% of men reported experiencing any type of domestic abuse in the last year and 2.7% of women and 0.7% of men had experienced some form of sexual assault (including attempts) in the last year.  (2017). Two women are killed every week in England and Wales by a current or former partner (Office of National Statistics, 2015)

The Guardian on 5 January, 2016, reported that Women outnumber men in 112 of 180 degree subjects, with females from poorer backgrounds 50% more likely to go to university than their male counterparts.

Papworth Trust in 2016 found that ‘one study shows there is evidence that Indian Asian people are significantly more likely to experience higher rates of disability than Europeans’., quoting Emily D Williams study Ethnic Differences in Disability Prevalence and Their Determinants Studied over a 20-Year Period: A Cohort Study.

This rather depressing state of affairs shows that issues of poverty, race, disability, sexual orientation and gender, amongst many other things, often combine to create a reality of extreme disadvantage for certain groups. Most of the time, these groups are female’, according to the New Statesmen 2013.

The status quo, the place where it is accepted that the poor, the physically weaker and people who are different get it rough, is tough and is so outdated and simply cruel. With regards to women, this is not helped by the large proportion of male banter concerning women around how they look and what they would like to do with them – usually violently when they have an issue with them.

Society-made, insurmountable obstacles hinder the progress of gender equality. With one step forward and leaps back the ugly mountain blocks our future unless some real changes are made worldwide.

UN Women have suggested the strategy for states to come together in working in their economies so that it works for women and equality by making macroeconomic and political changes with women’s development at the centre of it. They say that ‘they would have equal access to opportunities and resources – a good job with equal pay, or access to land – and social protection, which together would provide enough income to support a decent standard of living, from birth to older age. Their life choices would be unconstrained by gender stereotypes, stigma and violence; the paid and unpaid work that women do would be respected and valued; and women would be able to live their lives free from violence and sexual harassment. They would have an equal say in economic decision-making: from having a voice in how time and money are spent in their households; to the ways in which resources are raised and allocated in their national economies; to the broader economic policies set by global institutions.’  In their progress report in 2015 of the world women – 16 ‘Transforming Economics, Realising Rights’, they urge member states:

 To support substantive equality, economic and social policies need to work in tandem. Typically, the role of economic policies is seen primarily in terms of promoting economic growth, while social policies are supposed to address its ‘casualties’ by redressing poverty and disadvantage and reducing inequality. But macroeconomic policies can pursue a broader set of goals, including gender equality and social justice. Conversely, well-designed social policies can enhance macroeconomic growth and post crisis recovery through redistributive measures that increase employment, productivity and aggregate demand.

Let us call for a more equal world this International Women’s Day with the UN Women’s proposals listened to in order to help forge a better working world, a more inclusive, gender equal world. We can only keep trying and urge governments to enact and enforce these policies that would also change attitudes towards women and we can gradually get to see the qualitative change as and when the insurmountable obstacles are removed.


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Garment-workers unrest and state coercion to impede democratic protests on the month of victory

Rumana Hashem

An urgent update from Bangladesh on the latest development in labour movement and struggles for fair wage reached our inbox in the morning on Thursday the 22nd December, when I was catching up with last minute tasks to do before a go to winter vacation. A senior journalist and feminist from Bangladesh wrote:

 

Dear Comrades and Colleagues,

 For the past few days, garment workers from Ashulia Industrial Area, Dhaka , are engaged in all forms of protest to demand an increase in the minimum wage. 

 This morning around 11.30am Comrade Moshrefa Mishu of Garments Workers Unity forum was arrested from Topkhana Road in Dhaka. She was on her way to attend a press briefing on the current movement. Another labor leader Shoumitra Kumar Das was also arrested from Ashulia along with 5 other members of his organization, Garments Sromik Front. 

 What is worrying is that police has not confirmed either of the arrest. When asked about Mishu’s arrest, the Detective Branch police said, “she is neither arrested nor detained. She was invited to have a cup of tea.” So far, no words from the officials on Shoumitra and others arrests. 

 Meanwhile two police cases are filed against 219 workers, accusing of vandalism and assaulting factory officials. Two workers named in these cases are also arrested. http://www.newagebd.net/article/5292/121-workers-fired-200-sued  

 Please do what you think is needed for the immediate release of the arrested/detained workers and labor leaders.

in solidarity  [..]

 

Mosherfa Mishu is a grassroots feminist and a gifted organiser in the labour movement whose power of mobilisation has been proven for decades now. She was detained in late 2010 and was held for months in 2011 but she never gave in.  Mishu dedicated three decades for the workers’ rights and garments movement in Bangladesh. This time Mishu was kidnapped and held by police on an important day so as to isolate her from the workers who needed her most for their fight for fair wage.  Mishu was fortunately released afterwards as the purpose was already served and 26 key organisers were detained under special act – under the Industrial Law the government in Bangladesh could take any brutal action against any worker, without reasons, if she/he disobeys imposed rules in the industrial sector. Our friend from Bangladesh wrote on Thursday evening:

Around 5.30pm, the DB police has taken Comrade Mishu to her residence. With that ends the day long drama of inviting labor leaders to drink tea in police custody.

She is in good spirit, and thanked everyone for their concern and support. However, the following labor leaders are still in custody:

1)   Shoumitro Kumar Das, President of Garment Sramik Front Savar-Ashulia-Dhamrai Regional Committee. 

2) Rafiqul Islam, President, Garment and Industry Sramik Federation.

3) Al Kamran, President of Shwadhin Bangla Garment Sramik Federation Savar-Ashulia-Dhamrai Regional Committee.  

4) Shakil Khan, General Secretary of Shwadhin Bangla Garment Sramik Federation Savar-Ashulia-Dhamrai Regional Committee.

5) Shamim Khan, President of Bangladesh Trinomul Garment Sramik-Kormochari Federation.

6) Md Ibrahim, Bangladesh Centre for Workers Solidarity Coordinator (Ashulia)

7) Md. Mizan, convener of Textile Workers Federation. 

What we see in this update is that the garment workers who are key to Bangladesh’s growing economy, and on whose labour and dedication the Bangladesh nation lives as an independent nation-state today are the ones that are being brutally subjugated and silenced. This silencing is happening in the month of victory in Bangladesh. Indeed, the month of victory seems brutal itself this year. Earlier this month, we have seen how brutally religious minorities and indigenous people have been prosecuted and oppressed by law enforcement squads in Bangladesh. Now it is the garment workers who are faced with the adversity of neo-liberal progress in a state that struggles to uphold democracy to say the least.

 

Garment workers are the driving force of Bangladesh’s national development and economic growth, they should be in the heart of the nation . Last week, on 12 December 2016, tens of thousands of garment workers in the capital city of Bangladesh, Dhaka, came out in a week-long strike. They were demanding a minimum monthly wage of 15,000 taka (£158) – a 300% increase on the current minimum wage. The strike is thought to have begun at the Windy Apparels factory, which had seen the gruesome death at work of an employee in October.

According to the Guardian (UK), the strike was provoked when 121 workers were sacked.  Their protests were declared illegal and 10 demonstrators were injured by rubber bullets. The strike then spread to other factories in the Ashulia area and by the 20th December, 59 factories were closed. Many were shut down by factory owners, who locked out the workers rather than face strike action.

The government has mobilised the notorious Rapid Action Battalion police force. Three officers from this same unit have just been sentenced to death after they were involved in politically motivated murders in 2014, in a trial which concluded 17 January this year. One of the three officers, Tarek Sayeed, is the son-in-law of a government minister, the BBC reports.

Fearing the garment workers’ strike would spread across the country, on this 21 December the government began to round up union leaders. This was despite the clearly spontaneous nature of the strike. In fact, the Clean Clothes Campaign, an NGO, reported that “none of the major trade union federations have endorsed the strike. At a number of press conferences, trade union leaders have instead urged workers to return to work.” Prosecutions swiftly followed and other union leaders went into hiding.

According to CWI report by Peter Mason, Around 5 million textile workers produce 80% of Bangladesh’s exports, and if successfully unionised they would have huge power. The continual attempts at unionisation made by the heroic textile workers constantly meet with police action and sackings. When the names of workers who wish to form a union are submitted to the government, as required by law, the government, with its many ties to the garment industry, simply turns the names over to the bosses, who then intimidate or sack them.

There are campaigns by the Clean Clothes Campaign and other NGOs which focuses on and appeals to the government, the employers and the many high street brands that profit hugely from the poverty pay and long hours of the workers. While these are important campaigns, “it is nevertheless the independent class organisation of the workers that is the essential first step”, correctly notes Peter Mason, a Socilaist Party Activist.

This militant section of workers face a brutal regime of exploitation. The Guardian reported that up to 3,500 workers were sacked in what was the first widespread action since the Rana Plaza collapse fatally buried more than 1,138 garment workers beneath piles of rubble and injured 2500 more. At that time, the government declared a day of mourning but incredibly, some bosses kept their factories open. Protesting workers burned two of them down, such was their rage. The government was forced to introduce the present minimum wage but it is totally inadequate.

Windy Apparels, where the December strike started, was supplying a number of well known high street outlets such as H&M, Tesco, Arcadia and Debenhams. Employees routinely work a 14 hour day. 8 hours are paid at the normal rate, two hours overtime, and the rest is unpaid labour. Despite a legal entitlement to sick leave, workers are routinely verbally abused, publicly humiliated, or docked pay.

The treatment of a female employee, Taslima Aktar, caused a scandal. Management repeatedly refused permission for sick leave to her when she was ill and she continued working. She then died at her sewing machine of cardiac failure following “severe respiratory distress”. The employers took her to hospital but later, her co-workers,  leaving the factory, found her body stowed away by management near the factory gates. “This is how little they value our lives … We know the same thing can happen any day, to any of us.” (The Grind, 15 December 2016.)

We urge everyone to show solidarity and raise voices against fascism of government and subjugation of garment workers in Bangladesh. We call upon all community women’s blog readers – please stand up and raise your voices to free all detained leaders of garment workers. Feel free to reproduce any part of this blog. Please write to the government asking to end arbitrary cases against garment workers and labour leaders in Bangladesh.

For further news read:

Mishu briefly detained

http://www.newagebd.net/article/5374/mishu-briefly-detained

Negotiation, not coercion to ease labor unrest

http://www.newagebd.net/article/5451/negotiation-not-coercion-to-ease-labour-unrest

Police pick up 26 people, 157 more workers terminated

http://www.newagebd.net/article/5410/police-pick-up-26-people-157-more-workers-terminated


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Women’s rights campaigners echoed the voices of 300+ BAME victims & survivors of abusive religious related practices & codes: ‘Who will listen to our voices?’

End of Year Update on Campaign to Dismantle Parallel Legal Systems

By Rumana Hashem

Over 300 women of Black and Minority communities, abused by religious bodies such as Sharia Councils in the UK, have signed a statement opposing Sharia courts and religious bodies, warning of the mounting threats to their rights and to their collective struggles for security and independence. The letter published on 14 December 2016 on Open Democracy 50.50 reads as below:

We are women who have experienced abuse and violence in our personal lives. Most of us come from Muslim backgrounds, but some of us come from other minority faiths.

We are compelled to voice our alarm about the growing power of religious bodies such as Sharia Councils and their bid for control over our lives. We oppose any religious body – whether presided over by men or women – that seeks to rule over us: because they do not have any authority to speak or make decisions on our behalf and because they are not committed to women’s rights and social justice. Whether we are women of Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or Christian faiths or of no faith, we have much in common with each other in the face of cruelty, tyranny and discrimination in our families, in our communities, and in the wider society. Many of us are deeply religious, but for us religion is in our hearts: a private matter between us and our God. Religion is not – and must not be – something that can be used to deny us our freedom or the little pieces of happiness that we find by mixing and borrowing from many different traditions and cultures which give meaning to our otherwise difficult existence.

We know from personal experiences that many religious bodies such as Sharia Councils are presided over by hard line or fundamentalist clerics who are intolerant of the very idea that women should be in control of their own bodies and minds. These clerics claim to be acting according to the word of God: but they are often corrupt, primarily interested in making money and abuse their positions of power by shaming and slandering those of us who reject those aspects of our religions and cultures that we find oppressive. We pay a huge price for not submitting to domestic violence, rape, polygamy and child abuse and other kinds of harm. For this reason alone, we are fearful of religious laws and rulings from such bodies. Our experience in our countries of origin and in our communities tells us that they are deeply discriminatory and divisive. They will weaken our collective struggles for security and independence.

We struggle to fit into this country and to educate our children, especially our daughters, and to protect them and give them a better life. We struggle to have our experiences of violence and abuse addressed properly in accordance with the principles of equality and justice for all. We do not wish to be judged by reference to fundamentalist codes that go against our core values of compassion, tolerance and humanity. We do not want to go backwards or to be delivered back into the hands of our abusers and those who shield them.

Many of us have not made public comments on this issue, because we are afraid of the consequences of doing so openly. All of us have faced abuse and we are desperately trying to rebuild our lives in the face of constant and continuing threats and trauma. Some of us have used only our first names to support this statement, but we feel strongly enough about this matter to do so.

We do not want Sharia Councils or other religious bodies to rule our lives. We demand the right to be valued as human beings and as equals before one law for all. We demand the right to follow our own desires and aspirations.

 

To view the names of the signatories and the nature of human rights violation and abuse experienced by individual signatories, please check out the article: The Sharia debate in the UK: who will listen to our voices?

 

In the meantime the coalition of women’s rights campaigners against parallel legal systems and Sharia Councils in the UK has launched a fresh campaign on social media for One Law for ALL which went viral two days before the closure of final evidence submission to Home Affairs Select Committee. The online campaign appeared on the same day as the letter from 300+ abused women opposing Sharia courts in the UK was published on Open Democracy.  The campaign by secular women’s rights campaigners on twitter and Facebook preceded by a hash sign “One Law for ALL”, ending with a hash sign “Struggle Not Submission” – a slogan used by the ex-WAF  members  , echoed the voices of 300 BAME victims and survivors of abusive practices and codes of religious bodies. The power of the campaign is in the slogans and the placards written and made by the women’s rights campaigners who experienced various forms of oppressions by Sharia and religious codes and practices.

 

They said: “injustice is injustice even when it comes from people of colour”, “our community women do not want to be re-victimised by Sharia judges”, “minority women are not extensions of the ‘community’, regressive imams & Sharia judges – they are citizens with rights”, “it is racist to fob off minority women to kangaroo courts”, “polygamy is abuse and violation of women’s Rights”, “Sharia law legitimises under-age marriage & honour-based violence against women”, “the impunity that Sharia courts enjoy must be ended”, “listen to women who know: don’t allow them to be silenced by anyone” . “By accommodating Sharia courts and Betei Din, the UK government is itself in breach of its obligations to gender equality”.

 

Besides, Maryam Namazie of One Law for All lodged supplementary written submission of evidence to Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) Inquiry into Sharia Councils. And, on the final day of evidence supplementary evidence submission, Prgana Patel of Southall Black Sisters has submitted further evidence and long testimonies of victims and survivors of parallel legal systems to HASC on 16 December 2016.  These latest submission by One Law for All and Southall Black Sister are undeniable. The final submissions of devastating evidence made a luminous end of the year 2016.  We shall hope that these last minute yet detailed and powerful evidences will enlighten the blind government and the allegedly bias Home Affairs Select Committee. We can hope for a bright, enlightened, equal, free, fair and tolerant new year.

Hope, Peace and Happy wishes to all Community Women’s Blog readers for 2017!

Read more:

Sharia courts have no place in UK family law. Listen to women who know

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/14/sharia-courts-family-law-women

Supplementary written evidence submitted by One Law for All http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/home-affairs-committee/sharia-councils/written/44036.html

#OneLawforAllBecause  #StruggleNotSubmission


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What you can do about the recent atrocities against the Hindu & Santal community in Bangladesh

 

The situation of religious minorities, violence against Hindus  and atrocities on Santal indigenous people has not changed or improved in Bangladesh. Since late October, government has hardly acted against the identifiable  criminals and to prevent atrocities against Santals and Hindu minorities – let alone rehabilitation of the people who were faced with genocide in their ancestors’ land.  We stand with the victims and survivors in Santal villages. We echo the voices of Hindu victims and support the Santal resilence. We call upon everyone to take action by following the advice of our friends at Secular Bangladesh Movement and Swadhinota Trust. Below is a call out for action that we reproduced from Swadhinota Trust listserve, issued on 10 Dec 2016 World Human Rights Day by the Swadhinata Trust, Nirmul Committee with the support of the Network of Social Change.

 

Hunger Strike outside Bangladesh High Commission in London, 23 November 2016. Photocredict: Atish D Saha

 

We are extremely concerned at the recent atrocities against Hindu community in Brahmanbaria in October and against Santals in Gaibandha in November. These attacks have provoked new fears amongst minority religious communities in Bangladesh.

It is beyond the capacity of the small groups of individuals or communities under sustained attack to assert their rights against very powerful political movements and land grabbers. We therefore need political, moral and, most importantly, immediate financial support from people from across the world who are concerned about this terrifying situation. We hope the vision of a common humanity will prevail over this terrible situation and that help reaches the beleaguered victims as soon as possible.

Things you can do to support

 

Speak out about the plight of religious minorities of Bangladesh with friends, families, neighbours and colleagues to increase awareness

Write to

 

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina

Prime Minister’s Office

Old Sangsad Bhaban

Tejgaon, Dhaka-1215

Bangladesh

Via facsimile: +880 2 8113244; +880 2 8111015

your local MP, urging the UK govt to take the issue up with Bangladesh government http://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/contact-your-mp/

 

 

Contact lobbying organisations

Amnesty International

1 Easton Street, London, WC1X 0DW

Email: contactus@amnesty.org

Telephone: +44-20-74135500

Fax number: +44-20-79561157

Twitter: @Amnestyonline

 

Human Rights Watch

Audrey House
16 -20 Ely Place
London
EC1N 6SN
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7618 4700
https://www.hrw.org/contact-our-office-london

 

Support organisations working in Bangladesh

Secular Bangladesh Movement UK
Unit 1, Ground Floor Retail Unit, Fondant Court, Payne Road , London E3 2SP United Kingdom
Mobile:0044 7737828922
Nirmul Committee

International Forum for Secular Bangladesh, UK

iforum.secularbd@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/groups/173829836415586/

Swadhinata Trust

International Centre for Community Development

Faculty of Social Sciences & Humanities

London Metropolitan University

166/220 Holloway Road, London N7 8DB

admin@swadhinata.org.uk www.swadhinata.org.uk

Issued on 10 Dec 2016 World Human Rights Day by the Swadhinata Trust, Nirmul Committee with the support of the Network of Social Change

 


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Denounce Those Playing Political Games with Women’s Lives over Sharia and Islamophobia

Rumana Hashem

This is probably an overdue update for community women’s blog readers on our campaign against Sharia Councils in Britain. We are aware that our blog has largely been dominated by stories of Bangladeshi community for a while. Due to the ongoing political situation and violence against women and minorities in Bangladesh, we needed to prioritise stories of Bangladeshi-British women and news from Bangladesh. However, this is a critical juncture when we must return to an ongoing issue of Islamophobia and the status of our campaign against parallel legal systems in Britain.

 

Muslim women and secular activists in East London joined Nari Digantas's panelists and representatives of eight Muslim women's organsiations, to abolish Sharia In Britain. Monteforio Centrre on 15 Oct 2014 by Golam Rabbani of Diamond Studio

Muslim women and secular activists in East London joined Nari Diganta’s panelists and representatives of eight Muslim women’s organsiations to abolish Sharia in Britain. Monteforio Centrre on 15 Oct 2014 by Golam Rabbani of Diamond Studio

Following the commitment to dismantle abusive practices of Sharia Councils, religious arbitration in family matters and parallel legal system in the UK, minority women’s rights campaigners have been urging the government to fully and impartially investigate Sharia bodies.  Although the UK government is conducting an inquiry into the operation of Sharia Councils which was launched in spring 2016, this is being boycotted by secular and minority women’s organisations, including East London based women’s rights organisation Nari Diganta and the core coalition against parallel legal systems, for reasons explained in this article . In short, the remit of government’s inquiry is too narrow, and the panel of judges are not ‘independent’ enough to undertake an impartial investigation.

On July 4, a letter, signed by an unprecedented number of women’s rights campaigners and organisations from Britain and internationally, was submitted to the Home Secretary raising serious concerns about the government’s ‘independent review’ into Sharia councils in Britain. Our letter stated that the limited scope of inquiry and its inappropriate theological approach will do nothing to address the discriminatory effect and intent of the courts on private and family matters – areas where, arguably, the greatest human rights violations of minority women in the UK take place. Rather than taking a human rights approach, the government has constituted a panel and terms of reference more suited to a discussion in theology than one which serves the needs of victims whose human rights are violated.  By making religious appointments, the government has lost a vital opportunity to examine the discriminatory nature of not only Sharia bodies but all forms of religious arbitration.

Despite grave concerns, Theresa May’s government is moving ahead with its controversial Sharia review.  At the same time the UK’s Home Affairs Select Committee has launched an inquiry into the compatibility of Sharia with British law. Some frontline organisations and women’s rights activists including Southall Black Sisters, the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, Centre for Secular Space, One Law for All, British Muslims for Secular Democracy and the Culture Project, and Yasmin Rehman have submitted written evidence to Home Affairs Select Committee. A few of these campaigners were invited to attend oral Evidence Session held on 1 November and they gave robust evidence under hostile environment by Islamist MPs.

 

Women's' rights campaigners challenged the unbalanced inquiry on Sharia Councils at the public meeting on "Sharia Law, religious arbitration and access to Justice" at the Parliament on 7 November 2016. Photo credit: Southall Black Sisters

Women’s’ rights campaigners challenged the unbalanced inquiry into Sharia Councils at the public meeting on “Sharia Law, religious arbitration and access to Justice” at the Parliament on 7 November 2016. Photo credit: Southall Black Sisters

 

There are currently two parallel enquiries running, one by the government and one by Home Affairs Select Committee, both of which appeared to have imbalances.  Earlier this month, certain committee members in the UK’s Home Affairs Select Committee launched personal attack against a secular women’s rights campaigner, Maryam Namazie of One Law for All, who was invited to provide oral evidence following a call for evidence submission  against abusive practices of Britains’ Sharia Councils. Muslim women’s rights campaigners such as Yasmin Rehman, who expressed wish to attend oral evidence session by all means, was left out of the committee room as uninvited, while Maryamn Namazie an Iranian born secular feminist who worked closely with victims of Muslim origin and who provided powerful oral evidence on Sharia abuse at oral evidence session was faced with a personal attack as unrepresentative of Muslim women.

A committee member Naz Shah MP asserted that she wants to have a choice for Sharia divorce. The Pakistani origin -‘British-Muslim’ committee member Shah insisted that she is aware of many Muslim women who may use Sharia Councils. For Shah, a closure of Sharia Councils in Britain would mean that the option for a Sharia divorce of many Muslim women in the UK would be taken away. She asserted: ‘My choice would have been taken away’.  We don’t know if Shah will ever go to a Sharia council for divorce though, she wants to have the choice to have a Sharia divorce!

Using her parliamentary privilege, Naz Shah MP accused Namazie that her suggestion for closing down Sharia Councils would have discriminated against all religious believers. Without any proof, she said: ‘the people I have been talking to in the last 24 hours have told me that there is an air of Islamophobia and racism about this whole debate’. It would be interesting to know who are those people that Naz Shah MP had spoken for 24 hours to defend Sharia councils.

The antagonist comments by the MP in question was criticised by concerned secular groups and women’s rights campaigners. Yet she has not apologised for her misconduct and disgraceful attack against a women’s rights campaigner, while the oral evidence session was supposed to focus on Sharia Councils and its adverse effect on women’s lives.

 

The shocking part for me was the latest news that the Home Affairs Select Committee has asked victims of Sharia abuse to attend a physical event in Whitechapel in East London to be testified by committee members.  As an activist-academic – having completed a doctoral research in gendered violence, being engaged in teaching and research in feminist methodology and ethics in social work, and having invested nearly two decades in working with Muslim women and survivors of religious arbitration in Bangladesh and Britain – I found it hard to believe that the Committee intended to meet with survivors and victims’ in this manner. Whatever it is- insensibility or insanity – this raises many questions in connection with the ethics of the Home Affairs Select Committee appointed to investigate a delicate matter like abuse of women by Sharia in private life, and abuse in the name of religion. Whilst wondering about the motive, opportunity and objective of the Home Affairs Select Committee, I am leaving this blog by keeping my doubts to be explained in a later article at a wider platform, beyond the community women.

 

To end this report, I would like to call upon all community women’s blog readers to name and shame these politicians who fail to see how their policy could violate women’s fundamental human rights. Both the government and the Home Affairs Select Committee seem playing with Muslim women over Sharia and Islamophobia. In the name of choice of Muslim women and religious freedom, the Home Affairs Select Committee is directly acting on behalf of Islamists whose votes matter to the MPs more than women’s lives. The Committee members seem blind enough to not able to see how this ask for testifying victims and survivors of Sharia Councils could cause secondary trauma and further safety issues to many women who are in need of legal protection and access to justice.  Instead of protecting the women who gave witnesses in anonymous forms to their nominated women’s rights advocates, the committee has embarked on a project to promote violation of human rights of those survivors who are already faced with violence and abuse.

 

This update for community women’s blog readers includes a new Written evidence submitted to Home Affairs Select Committee by Southall Black Sisters, the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, Centre for Secular Space, One Law for All, British Muslims for Secular Democracy and the Culture Project, including Evidence Session held on 1 November. The new written evidence that was submitted to the Home Affairs Select Committee by the core coalition of women’s rights organisations against Sharia Councils in the UK is as follows:

We refer to recent emails from the Home Affairs Select Committee to Southall Black Sisters and the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation requesting us to help find Muslim women who have ‘used’ Sharia Councils, to attend an event in Whitechapel, East London, on 24 November 2016 in connection with your inquiry.

We are a coalition of organisations who have an immense track record in providing front line services and in campaigning for the human rights of black and minority women. Our coalition includes Southall Black Sisters, the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, Centre for Secular Space, One Law for All, British Muslims for Secular Democracy and the Culture Project: we represent some of the most marginalised groups in our society. Between us, we have over 100 years of combined experience of working with women from all faith backgrounds, the majority of whom come from a Muslim background.

Many of us have supported minority women, adults and children of all religious backgrounds to resist powerful cultural and religious constraints that prevent them from exiting from violence and abuse and impede their ability to assert their rights as citizens of this country. It has taken long and often painful struggles to give minority women a voice and to facilitate their access to the formal legal system that many see as their ultimate safety net. We have seen that, without proper and informed access to the civil and criminal justice system and to the welfare state, women are left to the vagaries of arbitrary and discriminatory systems of community arbitration, including Sharia Councils – the subject of the current inquiry by the Home Affairs Select Committee. The experiences of women in these circumstances suggest that such parallel legal systems create a lethal space for the resurrection and perpetuation of patriarchal control over and harm to women, vulnerable adults, and children. It is precisely because of these experiences that, in many parts of the Muslim world, women are resisting Sharia laws and religious impositions.

It is against this background, that we are compelled to raise three specific areas of concern that have arisen in relation to your inquiry:

  1. First, we have to say that we are puzzled by your request for women who have personally used Sharia Councils to participate in the event in East London, and we are compelled to decline it for a number of significant reasons:

(a) Why is the Select Committee only interested in hearing from Muslim women who have ‘personally used’ Sharia Councils? There are an equal if not greater number of Muslim women who, for very valid reasons, do not wish to use these Councils out of fear and distrust arising from their own negative experiences of religious control in their communities. Many women confronting honour based abuse, for instance, will not use Sharia Councils because they feel angry and let down by their communities and religious authorities. Many recount the ways in which they have been subject to religious abuse of power, including sexual abuse, and for these reasons they are fearful of being subject to further abuse and humiliation in Sharia Councils. Their experiences and reasons for rejecting Sharia Councils are as valid as those who ‘use’ Sharia Councils. When will these women’s voices be heard?

(b) Many women that we see are deeply traumatised and still in crisis situations. They are often unwilling or fearful of taking part in events that involve revealing intimate details of their lives, especially of a sexual nature, in front of other people (even women) not known to them. Most fear making any kind of disclosure or of raising any criticism of religious authority in unfamiliar and unsafe environments. Our experience of providing counselling, group therapy and support for the extremely vulnerable women with whom we work is that they need to feel confident in safe spaces with which they are familiar before they will disclose their experiences. They have to develop a strong affinity with other women based on shared experiences and mutual respect before they open up to others, even if they are from the same community.

(c) It is impractical for some women who live in North and West London or even outside London to travel to East London. Many are extremely vulnerable or destitute, or have work or child care responsibilities that make it difficult for them to travel long distances. We therefore propose that the Select Committee gives serious consideration to our request to meet women who have used Sharia Councils as well as those who have not, in safe venues across London and the UK, with the support of their advocates and to also consult and take evidence from their advocates who can speak to their experiences. SBS and IKWRO for example, are willing to facilitate access to women who use their services by organising a closed session at the premises of SBS, in West London, where advocates and counsellors will also be on hand to provide evidence and additional support to the women who attend.

  1. We are concerned that the inquiry sessions on Tuesday 1 November 2016, at which witnesses were invited to present their evidence, were highly unbalanced and weighted in favour of those who support Sharia Councils in some form or other.

(a) The sessions consisted of 3 panels of witnesses. Out of a total of ten witnesses who appeared, seven spoke in favour of Sharia Councils (four of whom actually ran Sharia Councils), one remained neutral and only two witnesses – Dr Elham Manea and Ms Maryam Namazie – were called to present their counter arguments. We note that some of those who gave evidence were invited to do so even though they had not made any written submissions to the inquiry.

(b) Whilst we accept that witnesses who speak in favour of the role of Sharia Councils have every right to be heard, we question whether the inquiry can be said to be fair or impartial when the evidence sessions were so clearly slanted in favour of those who have a vested interest in maintaining the role of Sharia Councils over family matters.

(c) In our view, the inquiry needs to hear evidence from expert witnesses who can provide specific examples of how abused women have been re-traumatised and placed at risk following their engagement with Sharia Councils. Most of the abused women that use our services seek a divorce only after they have left abusive relationships, but they are almost always compelled to return to the abuse by Sharia Councils and other religious arbitration bodies, even if this breaches civil and criminal laws and good practice and policies in respect of mediation and reconciliation in gender-based violence cases. In other words, they are forced back underground.

(d) It must be a matter of concern that the Select Committee appears to have chosen not to hear from witnesses experienced in front line advocacy work with BME women – work which has necessarily involved the invocation of human rights and equalities legislation to challenge Sharia laws. The Public Sector Equality Duty for example has been successfully invoked to address the ways in which fundamentalist interpretations of Sharia laws have been utilised by advocates of parallel legal systems to demand gender segregation in public spaces and Sharia compliant wills in inheritance matters. These very same fundamentalist interpretations of Sharia laws are invoked in Sharia Councils and the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal. We are also worried about the focus of the inquiry on divorce when these ‘courts’ address everything from polygamy, child custody, domestic violence, marital rape, marital captivity, forced marriages and more.

  1. Finally we wish to place on record our concern about the line of questioning of Maryam Namazie at the evidence session referred to above.

(a) In particular, the tone and manner in which she was allowed to be questioned by Naz Shah MP brought discredit to the Select Committee and its approach to the issues under scrutiny. In particular, the specific suggestion that Maryam Namazie was ‘anti-faith’ appeared to provide a pretext to discount Maryam’s evidence: such tactics can and do contribute to a culture that incites religious hatred and violence towards those, especially from Muslim backgrounds, who are perceived to be apostates, atheists and non-conformists.

(b) As you will be aware, we have already seen a rise in religiously motivated hate crimes towards so called apostates that has even led to murder in the UK. (See the case of Asad Shah who was killed in Glasgow in March 2016.) Given her own background, we would have expected Ms Shah to understand the dangers of portraying those who do not conform to their faith in such negative terms.

(c) We trust you will agree that, as an MP and member of the Select Committee, Ms Shah has a duty to exercise due care and to behave fairly to all the witnesses at all times, whether or not she agrees with them. In our view, she breached that duty in this instance, and we shall be interested to know what you have to say in that regard.

We hope that you will give serious attention to the concerns we have raised. Please treat this letter as a submission to the inquiry. We are also attaching an open letter by us regarding the government’s review of Sharia Councils setting out our concerns which are relevant to this inquiry too.

We look forward to your response.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you need any clarification or have queries arising from the contents of this letter.

Signed by:

Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters
Gita Sahgal, Director of Centre for Secular Space
Maryam Namazie and Gina Khan, Spokespersons for One Law for All
Diana Nammi, Executive Director of Iranian and Kurdish Women’s organisation
Nasreen Rehman, Co-Founder and Chair of British Muslims for Secular Democracy.
Yasmin Rehman, Muslim Women’s Rights Activist and Trustee of Centre for Secular Space
Houzan Mahmoud, Spokesperson for Culture Project

 

Further related information:

Elham Manea (2016), “Women and Sharia Law: The Impact of Legal Pluralism in the UK” (documentation of the harmful and even life threatening consequences of privatised justice and legal pluralism for minority women who are denied the right to equality before the law), UK: I. B. Tauris. 

Video of oral evidence given by women’s rights campaigners of our coalition against Sharia Councils can be accessed here :

Video Footage of never before seen testimonies from women, and the public meetings in London and Manchester, organised by Southall Black Sisters with BME women’s groups: http://tinyurl.com/zk5q697

Written testimonies gathered with partner organisations can be accessed here: http://tinyurl.com/gqk83ms

Written evidence submitted by the Iranian & Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO)

Written evidence submitted by Southall Black Sisters

Written evidence submitted to Home Affairs Select Committee by One Law for All

Written evidence submitted by the British Muslims for Secular Democracy

Report on Sharia Council and evidence submitted by freelance consultant Yasmin Rehman

May’s inquiry into sharia is not fit for purpose, The Times, 11 July 2016

Inside Sharia Councils, Victoria Derbyshire Programme, 11 July 2016

Refusing to recognise polygamy in the West: a solution or a soundbite?, Open Democracy, 11 July 2016

More than 200 women’s rights campaigners have sent a letter to the Home Secretary raising serious concerns about the government-appointed independent review into Sharia councils in Britain. Maryam Namazie and Mona Siddiqui discuss, BBC Radio 4, 10 July 2016

Polygamy is not a cultural conceit. It is an affront to women, Guardian CiF, 10 July 2016

Sharia courts review branded a ‘whitewash’ over appointment ‘bias’ concerns, Independent, 10 July 2016

Nehru’s niece Nayantara Sahgal joins UK women to protest “discriminatory” review of Sharia courts in Britain, Counterview, 4 July 2016

Whitewashing Sharia councils in the UK? Open Democracy, 4 July 2016

Critics say a UK probe into Sharia courts is a sham, Freethinker, 3 July 2016

Britain probes Sharia courts treatment of women, UPI, 28 June 2016

Britain’s Sharia Courts Under Scrutiny, News Deeply, 24 June 2016

Calls to Dismantle Parallel Legal Systems by women’s rights campaigners on International Human Rights Day, 10 December 2015

 

 


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Memorandum of Hunger Strike for the Prevention of Violence against Minorities in Bangladesh

A symbolic one-day hunger strike held outside Bangladesh High Commission-in London on 23 Nov 2016. Photo credit: Atish D Saha

A symbolic one-day hunger strike held outside Bangladesh High Commission-in London on 23 Nov 2016. Photo credit: Atish D Saha

 

 

A spontaneous and well-participated hunger strike against atrocities on and destruction of Santal villages and minority people in Bangladesh, led by Secular Bangladesh Movement UK, was successfully held in front of Bangladesh High Commission in London. The Below statement was handed over to Bangladesh High Commissioner in London on Wednesday, 23rd November 2016 by the hunger strikers for the prevention of violence against minorities and justice for Santal indigenous people in Bangladesh.

 

A delegation of hunger strikers led by Pushpita Gupta of Secular Bangladesh Movement, UK, handed over a copy of the manifesto to Bangladesh High Commissioner in London on 23 Nov 2016. Photo credit: Atish D Saha

A delegation of hunger strikers led by Pushpita Gupta of Secular Bangladesh Movement, UK, handed over a copy of the  memorandum to Bangladesh High Commissioner in London on 23 Nov 2016. Photo credit: Atish D Saha

 

 

We, concerned community members and cultural activists from Bangladeshi-British origin, along with representatives of human rights and indigenous rights organisations and other UK-based civil society members and supporters of peace and humanity, are outraged by the ongoing atrocities against religious minorities and indigenous people in Bangladesh that have been committed by identifiable perpetrators. We strongly condemn the widespread and systematic attacks on Santal and religious minorities in Bangladesh.

 

Over the past few years news of Hindus and Buddhists and their temples and shrines being attacked in Bangladesh has dominated Bangladeshi and international media. This year the news of atrocities in Santal villages, and attacks on temples and idolatries in Bangladesh started since the onset of Diwaali, an annual religious festival of Hindu communities. Following an allegedly defamatory Facebook post by a Hindu community member who removed the post and apologised rightaway, systematic attacks on Hindu people and Santal villages by hardliner-Muslim protesters, demanding the death of the concerned young man, took a form of ethnic cleansing.

 

The young man denied sharing the post and was arrested by Bangladeshi police.  Nevertheless, the atrocities on Hindu and Santal people continued while authorities appeared as ineffective as silent in relation to prevention of atrocities and prosecution of those responsible for the organised violence against religious minorities in a supposedly secular state.

 

Hindu people have been persecuted and Santal citizens including Hindu priests in Bangladesh are being attacked, by sharp weapons, over and over. Their homes were burned down, temples and idolatries were broken down, and they were brutally persecuted across countryside of Bangladesh – from Nasirnagar to Chattak.  The organised atrocities are similar to 2012 when 2,5000 Muslim rioters burnt Buddhist temples. It has been reported that ongoing attacks on Hindu homes and Hindu temples have seen over 17 temples while hundreds of homes burned across the country. Some claim that over 300 homes were destroyed. Words cannot describe the brutality of organised violence against innocent women and men belonging to Santal and Hindu communities.

 

Today we stand in solidarity with the victims of the ongoing atrocities in Santal villages. We join this one day ‘hunger strike’ outside Bangladesh High Commission in London because we wish to express our profound concerns about religious violence.  We are here because we wish to be heard by the Bangladeshi authorities that this widespread violence cannot be tolerated.  We demand the concerned authorities to take immediate action to prevent violence and prosecute those responsible for atrocities. We call upon the Bangladesh High Commissioner to join us in asking the government to take immediate action to prevent violence against religious minorities in Bangladesh.

 

Bangladesh had been one of the largest democracies in the world, which has a secular (non-religious and non-communal) constitution. Although it has a large Muslim population, it is not only a Muslim country. Along with Muslims, Bangladesh had large number of Hindus, Ahmedias, Buddhists, some Christian population and 45 other indigenous communities who were there when the nation-state was born in 1971. The country is one of the fastest growing economies in South East Asia. It’s fight to be an independent nation-state based on democratic principles of freedom and justice was hard won 45 years ago.  We believe Bangladesh will not give this fight up to any religious hardliners.

 

Religious extremists hate Bangladesh’s secular position and have been trying to destroy the nation’s secular values and space long since. For a country that prides in its secular democratic vision, in practice very little is done to bring about unity and cohesion and tolerance in Bangladesh. A successful secular nation is one where people of different practices should be able to stay safe and in harmony. Every evil in the Human world seems to stem from the intolerance of difference which often renders injustice to the minorities. Bangladesh should be able to overcome intolerance and malevolence. As progressive nations work toward harmony, Bangladeshi administration should work harder to ensure everyone including religious minorities to live in harmony, with their own beliefs and with equal dignity. All perpetrators of religious atrocities in Hindu and Santal villages must be brought under the rule of Law with immediate effect.

 

We stand with victims of ongoing violence against religious minorities in Bangladesh. This Hunger Strike and Solidarity Vigil has been joined by Bangladeshi community organisations of all cultural, religious and ethnic background. It is time for us to stand united against religious violence. It is time to forget all of our differences. It is time for the concerned authorities to act with honesty and with courage to ensure safety of people and social cohesion. Bangladesh must not fail to confront religious violence. We demand the authorities to act audaciously.  The fight for secular values, equality of all, and social cohesion in Bangladesh is necessary to regain our diversity and democracy.

 

Secular Bangladesh Movement UK and Alliances

#HungerStirkeforthePreventionofViolenceAgainstMinorities #JusticeForIndigenousPeople

 

Pushpita Gupta – a community women’s blog member and representative of minority rights hunger strikers stood with a placard for Santal people outside Bangladesh High Commission in London on Wednesday 23 November 2016. Photo credit: Atish D Saha

The last hunger strikers outside Bangladesh High Commission in London in black masks light candles for victims of violence against minority Santal people in Bangladesh in the evening of 23 November 2016. Photo credit: Atish D Saha

The last hunger strikers outside Bangladesh High Commission in London in black masks light candles for victims of violence against minority Santal people in Bangladesh in the evening of 23 November 2016. Photo credit: Atish D Saha

Media contact:

Ansar Ahemed Ullah: +44 7956 890689, philipchand@hotmail.com

Ms Pushpita Gupta, Convenor of Secular Bangladesh Movement, UK:pushpitagupta@gmail.com

Dr Rumana Hashem , Spokesperson of Community Women’s Blog: +44 7936 047597, rowshonrumana@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hunger Strike outside Bangladesh High Commission in London, 23 November 2016. Photocredict: Atish D Saha

Hunger Strike outside Bangladesh High Commission in London, 23 November 2016. Photo credict: Atish D Saha


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Minorities, Why can’t you be like us?

By Piya Mayenin 

 

Extreme views have seen deaths of  freethinkers in Bangladesh since 2013. Over the last few years news of Hindus and Buddhists and their temples and shrines being attacked in Bangladesh has also dominated Bangladeshi and even international newspapers. Earlier this year a shocking atrocity where foreigners and foreign born children of Bangladeshi citizens were hacked to death in a café in ISIS fashion killings is perhaps the most chilling and terrifying of its sort to ever happen in Bangladesh.  From the onset of Hindu Diwaali  this year news of temples and idolatries destroyed dominated newspapers once again. Then, last week  was the news of a young man  that has allegedly shared a face book post that some believe has denigrated the Masjid- Al-Haram, the great mosque of Makka, a holy site for Muslims.

 

Islamic group protesters gathered in Nasirnagar in protest and demanded the death of this young man who was hurting religious sentiments.  The young man denied sharing this post and the police arrested him.  However, this did not quell the angry mobs who were given permission to gather repeatedly. They gathered and used mosque loudspeakers to gather more and more people. They attacked Hindu people with sharp weapons including Hindu priests, burned down Hindu homes in the Brahmanbaria district of Eastern Bangladesh temples and idolatries were broken down throughout many parts of Bangladesh from Nasirnagar to Chattak.  It is reminiscent of 2012 when 25000 Muslim rioters burned Buddhist temples. It has been reported that the current and ongoing attacks in Hindu homes and Hindu temples has seen over 17 temples and 100 homes burned across Bangladesh. Some claim it is as much as 300 homes.

 

The shocking part for me was the news that a Minister allegedly reacted to this young man by publicly saying something equivalent to ‘get those Malauns‘. I have not read that report however I have read many media defending the Minister  stating that members of the Awami League ( Ruling party in Bangladesh) had stated that it is perhaps a word he used in private not in public. I have also read reports of the Minister stating ‘I will resign if anyone can prove I have said Malaun‘.  I believed this Minister has said this and in protest of this ongoing attacks on Hindu population in Bangladesh I changed my profile ID to a slogan ‘Ami Malaun‘, meaning I am a malaun in support of friends, brothers sisters of Bangladeshi origin who have been subject to these atrocious and this slur word throughout their lifetime.  Since then another thing that has happened is that I have had unsolicited approach from unknown people (who were on my face book list but not known to me personally) telling me to ‘Take it off’ and that I ‘should be mature about it’. On seeing the same message on my ID, I replied there that it was in protest of what the Minister allegedly said and even if he didn’t it was in support of this ongoing hatred against the decreasing Hindu population of Bangladesh since 1975. However I continued to get private in-box messages that were ‘educating me’ from the same individual and others who were asking me if I knew what Malaun meant and that I should take it down without asking my reasons for putting it up in the first place.

religious-persecution-following-minister-of-animal-well-being-called-hindus-name-malaun-4-nov-2016-jpg-3-source-ajanta-deb-roy

Religious persecution following the comments of Minister of animal well-being, who called Hindus as 'malaun'. Source Ajanta Deb Roy

Religious persecution following the comments of Minister of animal well-being, who called Hindus as ‘malaun’. Source Ajanta Deb Roy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a human being,  I felt it was utterly disrespectful the tone and manner of ‘educating’ me. As a mother of three, two that are teenagers and as an educated individual, I found it alarming, surprising and patronising. As a woman I knew that a large male population feel that they are entitled to educate the woman,  the lesser being,  in this patronising manner.

 

If I was approached respectfully I would have had the mindset to communicate the following:

The word Malaun is a term derived from Arabic which means ‘accursed’  or ‘deprived of God’s mercy’.  It is commonly used by Bangladeshi Muslims and Muslims of Bengal to ethnically slur a Hindu.  If this is said by a Minister of a Country, be it in a slip of tongue or to incite violence then it must be protested.

 

There are some who suggest that this is a manipulation by the current government in order to create tensions and communal violence, while it flies over my head why any government would do that we should remember that attacks on minorities in South Asian countries are not unknown and religious sentiments are incensed to provoke atrocities on minorities. In Bangladesh Hindus are the second largest religion although only 8% of the population. Further please recall the communal violence that has a history of thousands of years in these countries.

 

Initially the invaders brought trade and the spread of Islam to Hindu and Buddhist region, not to mention the other tribal religions that existed and still exist in those regions.  Then invasion in a  the temples of Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh when Mahmud of Ghazni came down the Indus plains from Afghanistan and plundered Hindu temples of  gold jewellery and money. By 1024 he  returned and went all the way to somnaath, now known as Gujrat and plundered more with feeble resistance from Hindus who thought that the lord Shiva had punished them. According to historians 50,000 Hindus were killed and temples were destroyed to the ground.  Then came the Muizzu’Din of Turkey in 12th century and the Delhi sultanate in the 13th century and Tughluqs in the 14th, and Timur in 1398 who is said to have seen 5 million deaths. Other names not to forget in Bengal is Alauddin Khilji the early 13th century and Hazrat Shahjalal from Delhi who arrived in Sylhet in 1303 with 360 disciples. A dispute with Gaur Gabindh created a fight which he won. The tensions continued in the Mughal era being the descendants of Timur and Genghis Khan. It was the 16th century Akber the Great who brought a long and ushered Golden Age. He married a Hindu princess and appointed Hindu ministers and this golden era was somewhat undone by Aurangazeb 1658- 1707.  However, even during these times Hindus and the growing Muslim population managed to live, on the whole, harmoniously. It is reported by Indian psychoanalyst and author Sudhir Kakur that ‘It was a multicultural co-existence rather than any merger into a single, composite culture.’  I explain that as Hindus and Muslims and Buddhists and other religions were getting along with each other and accepting each others ethnic similarities and their religious differences.

 

The modern violence and it must be said that no other violence that flared up was the one that did during the British rule in India.  Despite of Mahatma Ghandi’s attempt to unite, the demand to split up Pakistan and India on the basis of religion from Mohammed Ali Jinnah giving it a two state solution was never a solution as communal violence continued between India and Pakistan. What more West Pakistan  which was over a 10000 miles away from East Pakistan and very intolerant and non accepting of Bengali people who were culturally linguistically different. Bengali’s had a history and language of thousands of years and thus were not ‘Muslim’ enough and not clean enough for the rulers of Pakistan based on religion. This was the backdrop of the independence of East Pakistan which is now Bangladesh.

 

The point of this extremely brief history is that this attitude has not changed. Generation after generation an inherent ignorance and hatred of each others’ religion has continued. The same loot and attacks over religious rhetoric. It is astonishing that large groups are given permission to gather in this way in full knowledge of communal violence of south Asia and which is increasingly happening in Bangladesh. A Hindu person commented that even in 1971 Nasirnagar was a safe place for Hindus.

 

It is the responsibility of the leaders of a nation to change this rhetoric and to change this scene and to change it now. It does not happen overnight but the permission to gather over communal rows must be stopped. It is despicable that a Minister is implicated in all this and that is why whether he said it or not he should resign. The use of slurring word such as ‘malaun’  must be banned and a fine imposed so that eventually people learn to live within the law.

 

History of other developed nations has demonstrated that within time peoples attitudes and vision change. Allowing communal tensions to fester and giving in to violence is an easy and an extremely dangerous option which is hovering over the head of every Bangladeshi person especially Hindus.

 

For a country that prides in its secular democratic vision, in practice very little is done to bring about unity and cohesion and tolerance in Bangladesh. A successful nation is one where it is fine to be different. Every evil in the Human world seems to stem from the intolerance of difference which often renders injustice to the minorities. When it is truly learned in Bangladesh that progressive nations work toward harmony though allowing everyone to live under the rule of Law with their own beliefs and with equal dignity.

 

Ends.

 

The author is a solicitor, a women’s rights activists and a member of community women’s blog who speak for the rights of all community women and men.


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Protest and Charity Event for Victims of Violence against Religious Minorities

Secular Bangladesh Movement, UK will hold a protest and signature campaign against recent attacks on Hindus and systematic violence against religious minorities in Bangladesh. The protest and petitioning will be followed by a cultural event and fundraiser, which Secular Bangladesh Movement, UK will host in partnership with RadhaRaman Society.  Both events will be held on Sunday 13 November in London, and will be joined by prominent Bengali and Bangladeshi-British cultural activists, music artists and singers.  You are invited to join us and help us to raise awareness against persecution of religious minorities in Bangladesh.
Venue: The Ripple Centre, Ripple Road, BARKING IG11 7FN.
Show starts at: 6pm, ends at 8.30pm on Sunday 13th November.
Tickets will be available on door £10.
Light snacks and refreshments will be provided.
All funds raised will go directly to help victims of violence and rape against minority women who deserve justice.
Under the political unrest and increasing extremism in Bangladesh,  women and men of religious minority have been facing unending religious persecution, which is often launched by Islamists and Muslim hardliners.  About a week ago, on Sunday the 30th October, a horrific attack on Hindus was launched in which at least 15 temples and at least 12 pavilions holding Kali Puja were destroyed. In the afternoon of Sunday, several hundred Muslim hardliners carried out the attack after an announcement was made in front of Rail Mosque in Montola area by some local supporters of Jamaat and its radical student unit Islami Chhatra Shibir.  The brutal attack by some 3,000 radical Muslims destroyed at least 12 temples and 100 houses in Nasirnagar area leaving over 100 Hindus injured. Media reports suggest that the local leaders and activists of Jamaat-e-Islami played a key role behind the planned attacks on Hindu houses and temples at Madhabpur in Habiganj on Sunday as a result of the communal attacks in Nasirnagar area of Brahmanbaria over a fake blasphemous post on Facebook.

religious-persecution-following-minister-of-animal-well-being-called-hindus-name-malaun-4-nov-2016-source-ajanta-deb-roy-jpg-2

Religious persecution following the comments of Minister of animal well-being, who called Hindus as 'malaun'. Source Ajanta Deb Roy

Religious persecution following the comments of Minister of animal well-being, who called Hindus as ‘malaun’. Source: Ajanta Deb Roy

The failing of government to prevent systematic religious persecution is apparent. It has been reported by local media that instead of protecting the people who deserved security, a minister of Bangladesh called Hindus names, as Malaun, which means ‘cursed’. This alleged derogatory comment on Hindus  provoked further violence and followed further attacks on the minority Hindus by extremist Muslims. Although there is no published evidence on whether or not any minister has made such comment, the violence has increased and the many lives of minority people belonging to Hindu religion are at risk.
On Sunday evening cultural activists and Bangladeshi musicians of all religious backgrounds will stand together in one stage to say no to violence and persecution of religious minorities. The protest will be followed by a charity evening of Bengali Music, Poetry and Dance performance to support and raise funding for the victims of ongoing violence in Bangladesh. The event will be performed by prominent musicians, dance-performers, singers including poets and singers Imtiaz Ahmed, Gouri Chowdhury, Sanjoy Dey, Amith Dey, Farzhana Sifat, Laboni Barua, Anushua Paul, Manash Chowdury; musicians Ustad Yusuf Ali Khan and London DC; dancers Sharmishtha Pandit and Shreya Dey; musical groups; Robika, Soyttsen School of Perfoming Arts and Udichi.
secular-bangladesh-flyer-for-minority-rights

The entertainment will be seasoned with short presentations and speeches by community activists such as Mihir Sarkar, Ansar Ahmed Ullah and Sushanta Das Gupta.  Our aim is to support campaign and raising awareness against persecution of religious minorities in Bangladesh.

Please join us. Stand with the cause this Sunday.
For further information please contact:
Pushpita Gupta, Secular Bangladesh Movement, UK: secularbangladeshmovement@gmail.com, 07737 828922
TM Ahmed Kaysher, Radha Rahman Society:ahmed.kaysher@gmail.com
For news coverage on religious persecution in Bangladesh visit:
Jamaat men fuelled Madhabpur rampage : Dhaka Tribune 03 November, 2016
Video of destruction and attacks in Santal villages  by Muslim-hardliners http://youtu.be/0HFJzFXP7cQ


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Report on My Bangladesh visit in March 2016

Pushpita Gupta

I am the Co-founder and President of the pressure group called the Secular Bangladesh Movement UK(SBMUK). In December 2015, I was also elected President of the Campaign for the Protection of Religious Minorities in Bangladesh (CPRMB).

In March 2016, I visited Bangladesh on a fact finding trip to see for myself the victims of the atrocities committed against Hindu minority community. During my tour of the country, I visited a number of places to better understand the recent situation of Hindu minorities and victims tortured in the name of religion. This report provides a detailed description of my tour and will give an insight about the current difficult situation faced by the Hindu community.

My trip was jointly supported by the SBMUK and CPRMB who covered the expenses of all travel and modes of transport.

 

Background, political context

Bangladesh is a country where the majority 90% of the population follow the Muslim faith. After the partition of India in 1947,the Hindu population became an endangered community in their motherland, Bangladesh. Through time and changing political situations, pressure on this community has accelerated at an increasing rate.

During the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971, Hindus were one of the main targets of the killing and rape by the Pakistani military and their local militias, simply because of being a Hindu. After independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the percentage continued to dwindle with time through persecution and oppression on a mass scale. Only for the reason of religion, the community has faced large scale brutal attacks by Islamist fanatics in 1991-1992, 2001-2002. Atrocities include murder, rape of women and children, forcefully acquiring Hindu property, destruction of religious idol and temple.

Current context

In recent years, with the rise of Islamism, atrocities against Hindu minority community has increased to an ever more alarming rate. In the last 12 months alone, people have been murdered, raped and forced to leave their property and leave the country becoming refugees in neighbouring countries.

It should be mentioned with the secular government led by Awami League that came to power in 2008 and the formation of International War Crimes Tribunal in 2010 the attacks on Hindu minority has increased. Amnesty International in its 2013 report said, ‘The attacks come in the context of large scale violent protests that have been raging across Bangladesh for weeks over the country’s ongoing war crimes tribunal, the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT).’

Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International’s Bangladesh Researcher at the time said, “The Hindu community in Bangladesh is at extreme risk, in particular at such a tense time in the country. It is shocking that they appear to be targeted simply for their religion. The authorities must ensure that they receive the protection they need. (Amnesty International:2013)

Human Rights Watch in its World Report 2015: Bangladesh stated, Supporters of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami party threw petrol bombs to enforce strikes and economic blockades. Before and after the election (referring to 2014 election), attackers also vandalized homes and shops owned by members of Bangladesh’s Hindu and Christian communities. (HRW:2015)

This trend seems to be continuing as Bob Blackman MP, Chair of All Party Parliamentary Group on British Hindus observed in a debate at the House of Commons on 8 Sept 2016. He said the widespread and persistent violations of human rights and the persecution of minority religious groups—Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and other tribal communities in Bangladesh—by the extremist armed groups are deeply worrying to all concerned within the country and in this country.

In late September and early October 2015 two foreign nationals were shot and killed. Since then and as recently as July 2016, attacks against religious minority groups including the Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Shia and Ahmadiyya communities, have killed several people and injured many more. Previous methods of attack have included crude explosives, grenades, shootings and knife attacks.

 

The trip

I went to Bangladesh on 28thMarch, 2016 for a three week visit, returning to the UK on 19th April 2016. In this period, I had visited different places of Bangladesh with a high ratio of minority attacks and families, who had faced atrocity.

Whilst in Bangladesh, SBMUK and the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC) provided support for me to visit different places and they made arrangement for various local facilities.
 

Places Visited

 

The following table chronicles the tour:

Place Date of visit Incident
Feni  is a district located in the South-Eastern part of Bangladesh 3rd April,2016 A Rabindra Das and his family was asked to give money by the neighbouring Muslim family for permission to celebrate the Hindu festival of Lakshmi Puja. When Mr Das refused to give money, the Muslim family attacked on 29th October 2015, the day of Lakshmi Puja. At one point Mr Das’s wife Tulsi Rani Das, who was 5 months pregnant came to protect her husband and was beaten up badly. As a result she lost her unborn baby. Doctors said she might not be able to have a baby in future. After the incident Tulsi has become mentally traumatised.
Jhinaidha, a southern district of Bangladesh 4th April,2016 This is an incident of property grabbing.  One Hindu community’s fishing area has been forcefully grabbed by a powerful local Muslim family. Mr Nikhil Dutt is one of the Malos (fishermen) who is losing his traditional profession of farming and catching fish in the local water bodies of Maheshpur Kathgora Baor. The Hindu family went to court and got the verdict in their favour, but are still being restricted from fishing there. At least 30 to 40 families depend on this piece of land for their livelihood. They live under threat of losing their land and property, and even their lives are in the hands of the powerful locals who have told them to look for alternative means for surviving. Corrupt people in the local administration are also against the fisherman.
Khulna, Khulna Division  is one of the seven divisions of Bangladesh and is in the south-west of the country. 5th April, 2016 In March 2016,during the local government elections in Bangladesh, Hindu families have been widely tortured for voting their own choice of party by the opponent party. Suvash Das and his family was attacked for voting in favour of the ruling party whose candidate lost. For being in the minority they could not protect themselves. After election violence took place all over the country in 2016, and the Hindu minority community faced extensive damage to homes and businesses.
Habiganj District is in the north-eastern part of Bangladesh 12th April, 2016 On 14th January 2016, Dipali was getting ready to join the religious festival in the nearby temple. Her family members left the house earlier and she was alone at home. By taking this opportunity one of the Muslim neighbours took advantage of the opportunity and came in to the house and raped her. Dipali reported the incident to the police to file a general diary against that person. When that rapist came to know that, he came again on 16th January with few of his friends and was repeatedly raped by the gang, in front of her husband and children who were threatened with weapons.

The main culprit is the younger brother of a local Awami League (ruling party) leader. After the first incident, therapist was caught by the villagers, but his brother came and rescued him. When Dipali went to the police, the rapist came back and raped her again and threatened her family.

District: Sylhet   is  in northeastern Bangladesh 12th April, 2016 A renowned blogger and online activist, Ananta Bijoy Das was hacked to death on his way to office by some Islamist extremists. The incident happened in the middle of the road 12thMay 2015.

I went to their house to see his family and show condolence to them. Ananta’s father is still in shock and unable to come to terms with the family’s loss.

District: Sylhet 12th April, 2016 A 14 year old school girl Poly was teased daily by a local furniture shop worker on her way to school. One day, the man forced himself on her, but fortunately she escaped. She let her family and school know about the incident as she stopped going to school. Her uncle, Biplop confronted the man and requested him to stop harassing his niece. After couple of days, the owner of the furniture shop called her uncle Biplop to see him. Biplop went to talk but the shop owner and the furniture shop worker stabbed him. Polly’s uncle Biplop later died in hospital. He was newly married.

After the death of Biplop, Poly and her family started getting threats constantly and had to flee from their home and are in hiding in a rural area.

Pabnais a district in north-western Bangladesh 15th April, 2016 In Pabna, Papri was locking up to go next door where the rest of the family where attending a religious musical programme. Papri was the last to leave and whilst she was locking up, she was attacked by three men and dragged to the nearby jungle where she was gang raped. Student of Edward’s College in Pabna, Papri has not attended class since the incident.
Bograis a northern district of Bangladesh 15th April, 2016 Suchi, a 20 year old newly married lady went to a religious festival with her husband. They were taunted by a few local Muslim men. When her husband protested and asked the men to stop, he was stabbed and killed on the spot.

With the main source of income for the family taken away, Suchi has to now support her elderly mother-in-law and her blind father-in-law.

Suchi was only married for 18 days after only knowing her husband for the past 4 years.

 

Conclusion

In all cases, the perpetrators were known and their crimes were reported to the police, yet no charges have been filed.

Community leaders and local police officers are handling the cases of rape, but assailants generally buy their way out of the charges.

As a result, the entire community has been terrorised and feels very insecure. The minority community is not seeing any active role by the political parties or the government to find solutions to these problems that the religious minority of Bangladesh are facing.

In addition, with the rise of Islamist radicalisation in Bangladeshit has caused a mass migration of Bangladeshi minority communities, including Hindus, Christians and Buddhists, who believe their lives are in danger as non-Muslims.

The global community has a stake in engaging with Bangladesh to combat religious extremism, which is a serious threat to Bangladesh as well as others in the age of globalisation.


Recommendations

I would like to remind Bangladesh Awami League of their 2014 election manifesto which stated that the religious rights of every people would be ensured and the state would treat equally with every citizen irrespective of their religion, culture, gender and social status.

With that in mind I would like suggest perpetrators of minority atrocities are brought to justice, specific laws are enacted for the protection of minorities, such as minority protection act, and for the protection of places of worship. A minority rights commission should be created to safeguard the rights of minorities.

I would also like to appeal to the UK Government to give careful consideration to minorities who are already in United Kingdom and have applied for asylum on the basis that they are seeking refugee status for their protection.

 

Sources

Blackman, B (2016) Bangladesh Religious Minorities, London, House of Commons

Faiz, A (2013) Bangladesh: Wave of violent attack against Hindu minority, London, Amnesty International

Human Rights Watch (2015) World Report 2015: Bangladesh, New York, HRW


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Memorandum of the Solidarity Vigil for the Victims of Dhaka Attack

Hand-paint flags and the names death has handcuffed at Traflagar Square . Photo by Araje Tomso. Copy right @Gonojagoron Mancho

Copy right @Gonojagoron Moncho, UK.

At Trafalgar Square Solidarity Vigil for Victims on 3 July 2016

Trafalgar Square Solidarity Vigil for Victims

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, 3rd July, 2016, Trafalgar Square, London

We, concerned community members and activists from Bangladesh and internationally, along with representatives of human rights organisations and other civil society organisations and supporters of peace and humanity, are horrified and outraged by the terrorist attack that was perpetuated by extremists in the name of Islam on Friday, the 1st of July, in the capital city of Bangladesh, Dhaka. We strongly condemn the terrorist attack in Dhaka for which ISIS has taken responsibility.

Following the ongoing and systematic murders of bloggers and academics – variously identifying as humanist, rationalist, atheist, secularist, and variously writing about science, humanist values, against Islamist extremism, or in favour of human rights and justice – for the last three years, the religious extremists perpetuated a horrific attack on peaceful and unarmed Bangladeshi and international citizens in the Holly Artisan, a cafeteria previously known as a harmonious and progressive space at a (known as) pleasant town called Gulshan.  While the exact numbers of victims are not yet known, there were at least 22 people killed on Friday’s attack.

No word is sufficient to express the brutality of the slaughtering of innocent and unarmed women and men. The murderers and their ideological supporters are of course to be condemned and must be brought to justice without delay.

Poster at Solidarity vigil on Sunday 3 July 2016. Copy right @Gonojagoron Mancho

Poster at Solidarity vigil on Sunday 3 July 2016. Copy right @Gonojagoron Mancho

Today we stand in solidarity with the victims of the brutal attack in Gulshan. We are joining with the Gonojagoron Moncho in a rally against religious violence and terrorism at Trafalgar Square, London, in solidarity with the victims of Gulshan Attack. We call upon all concerned humans and well-wishers to Bangladesh to join us in the protest against terrorism and extremism.

Bangladesh is one of the largest democracies in the world and has a secular (non-religious) constitution. It has a largely Muslim population, along with a large number of Hindus, Ahmedia, Buddhist ,and some Christian population who were there since the birth of the nation. The country is one of the fastest growing economies in South East Asia. It’s fight to be an independent nation based on democratic principles of freedom and justice was hard won 45 years ago.  Bangladesh will not give this fight up to any terrorist group. But religious extremists hate this position of Bangladesh and have been trying to destroy the nation’s secular space.

Community Women's Blog's Founder, Dr Rumana Hashem, at Sunday Solidarity Vigil for Dhaka at Trafalgar Square on 3 July 2016. Copy right@ Gonojagoron Mancho

Community Women’s Blog’s Founder, Dr Rumana Hashem, at Sunday’s Solidarity Vigil for Dhaka at Trafalgar Square on 3 July 2016. Copy right@ Gonojagoron Moncho, UK

We will not tolerate this. Bangladeshis everywhere will fight against fascism and religious violence and terrorism in the name of religion. It is time for us to stand united against terrorism in the name of religion. It is time to forget all of our differences. It is time to condemn unreservedly the brutal murders and violence in the name of Islam.

This protest and solidarity vigil has been joined by Bangladeshi community organisations and many human rights organisation concerned to the ongoing killings of humans in the name of Islam. Unconditional solidarity has been extended by the British Humanist Asscoiaiton, the Centre for Secualr Space, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, International Humanitarian Ethical Union, Council for Ex-Muslims. Among the community organisations, Community Women’s Blog, Jubo Union, Nari Digatna, Udichi Shilpi Goshti and many cultural and civic rights organisations have expressed unreserved solidarity with the Gonojagorn Moncho and Bangladeshi people protesting the heinous attack in Dhaka.

 

We stand with humanity and victims of inhuman killings in the name of religion. Bangladesh must not fail to confront and fight ISIS, will mark the beginning of the end of Bangladesh as a free and democratic country.

Gonojagoron Moncho UK activist, Ajanta Deb Roy, stood with a poster questioning the brutality of religious persecution

Gonojagoron Moncho UK activist, Ajanta Deb Roy, stood with a poster questioning the brutality of religious persecution

#WeAreDhaka #StandForDhaka

Gonojagoron Moncho and Alliances, United Kingdom

Here is a short video of the Sunday’s Solidarity Vigil at Trafalgar Square:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QPqcx38gic&feature=youtu.be

Further published news:

গুলশান হত্যাকাণ্ড নিহতদের প্রতি শ্রদ্ধা জানিয়ে যুক্তরাজ্যে গণসংহতি প্রকাশ: Bangla Tribune

‘আমরা বাংলাদেশের পাশে দাঁড়িয়েছি’: পরিবর্তন ডেস্ক

 


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Solidarity Vigil for the victims of Dhaka Attack

Community Women’s Blog is horrified and outraged by the terrorist attack that was perpetuated by ISIS in the name of Islam on Friday, the 1st of July, in the capital city of Bangladesh, Dhaka. Words failed us as no word is sufficient to express the brutality of the slaughtering of many innocent and unarmed women and men in Holly Artisan, previously known as a harmonious cafeteria at a (previously) pleasant town Gulshan, Dhaka. We strongly condemn the terrorist attack in the name of religion.

Poster for Sunday's Solidarity Vigil at Trafalgar Square, London. Courtesy Gonojagoron Moncho, UK

Poster for Sunday’s Solidarity Vigil at Trafalgar Square, London. Courtesy Gonojagoron Moncho, UK

We stand in solidarity with the victims of the brutal attack in Gulshan.  Today we will be joining with the UK branch of Gonojagoron Moncho in a rally against religious violence and terrorism at Trafalgar Square, London, in solidarity with the victims of #GulshanAttack.

Time: 6 PM to 7PM
Venue: Trafalgar Square, London
Date: Sunday 3rd July 2016

 

We call upon our readers and well-wishers to join the Solidarity Vigil for Victims in #DhakaAttack. We hope that all conscious humans will join us today.  Please confirm your participation by clicking here https://www.facebook.com/events/246359569082543/

It is time for us to stand united against terrorism that happened across world in the name of religion. It is time to forget all of our faith-based differences. It is time to condemn unreservedly the brutal murders and violence in the name of Islam. No religion is above humanity and human lives.

Let’s stand in solidarity with humanity and victims of inhuman killings that happened in the name of religion.

#StandForDhaka #StandForPeaceandHumanity

Note: All attendees are encouraged to BRING ALONG ELECTRIC CANDLES or A CANDLE WITH A LID. Flowers and placards with your chosen slogans are most welcome.

See you there. #WeAreDhaka


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Feminist Library Summer Benefit

 

When: Saturday, 2 July 2016 from 14:00 to 22:00 (BST)

Where: Feminist Library – 5 Westminster Bridge Rd, London, SE1 7XW – View Map

The Feminist Library is fighting back against its recent eviction threat by organising a Summer Benefit on Saturday 2 July to help raise funds for new premises.

Experience the Feminist Library anew as artists, writers and musicians perform new and old works in spaces, nooks and crannies of the library, including a choral installation, one-to-one performances in a lift, the spectacular launch of the Feminist Library Survival Song and award winning novelist Ali Smith In Conversation. Playing us out will be Ana da Silva and Gina Birch of the legendary Raincoats!

Plus stalls, zines, signed copies of books, food, drink, dancing and a photobooth performance. Book now to avoid disappointment!

Tickets are available on eventbrite https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/feminist-library-summer-benefit-tickets-25693652406  at different price as it suits you (£5/£12/£20).

We have a limited number of free tickets, for those who cannot afford the low waged ticket price. Please email admin@feministlibrary.co.uk for more details.

Please contact us to enquire about access details for this event.

Save the Library Campaign-Info & Donate: http://feministlibrary.co.uk/support/emergencyfund/


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Out in School: Gender, Sexuality and Fundamentalism

A Feminist Dissent Event

 

When: Friday, 1 July 2016 from 12:00 to 16:00 (BST) 

Where: Institute of Advanced Study, Milburn House, University of Warwick – View Map

This Workshop brings together researchers, teachers, community members, activists and policy practitioners to provoke an in-depth discussion on the question of sexuality (including sexual orientation) and fundamentalist religious beliefs and practices within schools. What kinds of conflicts arise in the interface of individual and communal religious beliefs and sexual and reproductive choice? What kinds of specific challenges do children who identify themselves as bisexual, gay, lesbian or trans come up against in terms of dealing with religious orthodoxies within schools, communities and families? How can educators, policy practitioners and feminists create space for such discussions to be “out”, and what kinds of practices and policies are best suited to ensure the well-being of children and the values of secularism, liberty and human rights? These are some of the questions that the Workshop will seek to explore. We hope you will join us for this important discussion.

The event is FREE  to attend. Further details about speakers and panelists are available on eventbrite https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/out-in-school-gender-sexuality-and-fundamentalism-tickets-25932194893

Places are limited, so please reserve a free place via eventbrite

Lunch will be provided for all those registered.

 

We are offering 5 travel bursaries to school teachers from any part of the UK, on a first come first served basis. To request one, please email Rashmi.Varma@warwick.ac.uk

Feminist Dissent is supported by: the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies, the Warwick Impact Fund and the GRP in International Development.


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Commemoration Meeting on 22nd Anniversary of Shahid Janani Jahanara Imam

By Ansar Ahmed Ullah

Today is the 22nd death anniversary of Jahanara Imam, a legendary Bengali feminist and the mother and a wife of founder martyrs, who fought and died for the independence of Bangladesh nation-state in 1971.  On the occasion of her anniversary, the Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee in London has organised a discussion at Iftar time to be held at Shaad restaurant, 13 Brick Lane. London E1 6PU.

 Jahanara Imam courtesy: Nirmul Committee. UK, 20 June 2016

Jahanara Imam courtesy: Nirmul Committee. UK, 20 June 2016

 

The committee invites everybody to the Discussion and Iftar in memory of our founder Martyrs Mother Shahid Janani Jahanara Imam to be held at 8.00pm today. The cost of iftar will be covered by attendees’ donation. We would like to request everyone to contribute ((ideally £10 per person) towards the cost of Iftar . We hope that you will join us to make the discussion useful and successful.

Please RSVP as soon as possible as we need to inform the restaurant of the number of Iftars.

Please RSVP to Jamal Khan, Asst Secretary Tel 07961 374627 j.a.khan@hotmail.co.uk


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The missing lines in Bangladesh profile

A TRIBUTE TO INDIGENOUS FEMINIST KALPANA CHAKMA ON 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF HER DISAPPEARANCE

By Rumana Hashem

 

THE keyword of my search was ‘national election in Bangladesh’. The top line of Google results, in response to my search, appeared as “Bangladeshi general election, June 1996. The Seventh National Parliamentary Elections 1996 (Bengali: সপ্তম জাতীয় সংসদ নির্বাচন ১৯৯৬) were held in Bangladesh on 12 June 1996. The result was a victory for the Bangladesh Awami League, which won 146 of the 300 seats. Voter turnout was 75.6%, the highest to date.”

 

Information and description of the success of general election held on June 12, 1996 continued in the following pages. What is striking is that the line that I was searching for, a missing woman who was abducted by state security force on the night of the general election, has been totally missing from the page of General Election 1996. Confused I went to search again with a keyword ‘Bangladesh profile’, but found nothing on the very incident of a missing woman whose outrageous abduction and disappearance, on the night of a historical general election, has turned me into an academic from an activist. Stubborn I continued the search on the profile of my homeland, for hours, and realised, at the end of the day, that the lines about uncompromising Chakma feminist does not ‘virtually’ exist. The crucial lines about Kalpana Chakma are meant to be missing from the profile of the whole of Bangladesh.

 

Kalpana Chakma

Kalpana Chakma, an indigenous women’s rights activist of Bangladesh who held the position of General Secretary of the Hill Women’s Federation. Kalpana Chakma is reported to have been forcibly detained by security personnel from her home in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh on 12 June 1996 and her whereabouts remain unknown. Courtesy: Amnesty International.

This is not a shocking or new fixation. It is a reality, instead. In the context of a world secured by various peace-forces after the armed conflicts, this is the commonly accepted reality across the world. Iraqi peace activist and feminist-sociologist at SOAS, Professor Nadje Al-Ali, would call it a ‘truth’ to be abolished in order to reinstate democracy and gender equality. But doubtful I sit and try to rethink would it be ever possible to regain democracy in a state that began its journey with a constitution which disregards the rights of the ethnic minority populations? Many more questions arise. How was it made possible to remove the whole tragic phenomenon so harshly from the general profile of Bangladesh? Who was behind a stretched dark event on a landmark night in the history of the nation? How could the nation accept this brutal reality when an election was held to strengthen democracy?

 

Despite the significance of the General Election 1996 as a historical momentum, to those who thought that democracy was necessary and democracy in Bangladesh would be possible, June 12 has marked important to the whole heart of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. As an undergraduate student and a feminist activist at that time, I was personally committed to help the Election Commission in counting votes, delivering a prompt service and neutral result of the election to which the whole nation awaited. That night I was serving the nation of Bangladesh as a loyal volunteer of Dhaka University Scouts. After a sleepless and hard-working long evening when I returned home at nine o’clock in the morning, the daily newspapers have already reached out to the nationals, across the nation, that were eager to read news of election. The incident of the notorious abduction of an uncompromising female activist with her two living bothers from her own home was, as it appeared, less important to the majority of the nation. Only a small segment of progressive activists expressed willingness to discuss the matter. Others remained silent and did not want to know more — let alone speak.

 

Two decades have passed since. So many stories have gone around the gendered phenomenon over the past years which cruelly ruled out the topic of a crucial investigation as relevant. Instead of conducting investigation more lives were taken away as they protested at the outrageous disappearance of a fearless Hill woman activist. The problem is not merely military. It is actually that of the misogynist approach of the civic nation that cannot see how Kalpana’s disappearance can be a national shame.

As I write this piece, the phrase that June 12 marks the 20th anniversary of Kalpana Chakma’s abduction sounds ostracised to a nation that fought against the culture of impunity before my birth in 1971. Unfortunately, since the day of the independence all we have seen is an ongoing process of reinstating the same culture of impunity that the nation was meant to fight. The process has been strengthened over the course of democratic fights as misogyny of a civic nation was juxtaposed, heinously, with impunity.

 

Instead of undertaking investigation into the gendered phenomenon, the continuum of gendered violence in the region, under peace-force, has been aggravated through gang rapes and sexual abuse of women at daylight. During my fieldwork of a completed doctoral research on ‘gender and armed conflict’ in the CHT, I was told by the additional district commissioner in Khagrachari that there have been some ‘isolated incidents on militarised violence against women’. He would not comment on these or Kalpana Chakma’s disappearance because, in his words, ‘these are matters to be dealt by peace-force’. Nevertheless, he ruled out the chances for Kalpana’s return.

 
What he implied is that he was out of power as he was made up to chair an administrative body who would sit and listen to how brutal the sounds of militarised violence are. I was even prohibited to speak to Kalpana’s family and was forced to return from Khagrachari with incomplete data. The research is still open to add more data and further research on gender and armed conflict in Bangladesh.

 

Whilst some may find it obsessive of a researcher to bring back unpleasant stories in national life, the story needs to be told and revisited as long as the misogyny of the nation exists. We may not be able to bring back Kalpana but we ought to continue the discussion that is so crucial for minority rights, for women’s rights, for democracy and justice within the nation. The nation ought to revisit the failing and chauvinism that stood as a national shame and that prohibits social justice in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and elsewhere. It is time to both reveal and overcome the misogyny of the so-called civic nation that submits to, instead of recognising, the culture of impunity.

 

Note: A slightly edited version of the article was published on the New Age BD on 12 June 2016. This article has been reproduced from the previously published article on New Age.


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Invitation to a Fundraising Party for the film Rising Silence

By Pushpita Gupta
You are cordially invited to a Fundraising Iftar Party on Saturday the 25th of June at our house for an urgent film to be made following the lives of 7 Birangona women.  The party is to be held at:
2 BEECH GROVE, HAINAULT , IG6 3 AR
All welcome!
RS Artwork (2)
Birangona means ‘Brave Woman’ and this was the honorific granted to the hundreds of thousands of survivors of the campaign of rape carried out by the Pakistani Army and their local collaborators during the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971. Please help us make Rising Silence that aspires to give a voice to the survivors of mass rape of Bangladesh in 1971, but it is not about rape – it is about the strength of women who have picked themselves up after facing brutal physical and emotional abuse. It is about their will to survive; honouring their insurmountable courage, and bringing to the forefront a crucial part of a nation’s history that has been for too long ignored, made taboo, and silenced.
The establishment of rape camps during the Liberation War of Bangladesh by the Pakistani army is a hugely sensitive issue, and unfortunately one that the world seems collectively willing to dismiss / overlook – despite the fact that over 200,000 women were systematically raped within a nine-month period. Our film is a testimonial documentary bringing to life the true stories of some of the survivors of these vile rapes and what they have had to endure since.
To know more about the making of the film please go to the link HERE.
So far we have received enormous support and well wishes from people from all walks of life. This film is truly becoming a people’s film, our film. We are the strength to bring this film into light. Please join us and lets raise some funds.
 We sincerely hope that you can come.
Warmest regards,
Pushpita Gupta

cropped-blog-image.jpg


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Bangladeshi maids refuse to work in Saudi Arabia: 40,000 deported

Press Insight

Fifty percent of the Bangladeshi housemaids who had gone to the Kingdom Saudi Aribia since the beginning of the recruitment process were sent back home for various reasons, including refusal to work. There were as many as 80,000 Bangladeshi maid servants.

Hussein Al-Harthi, proprietor of a recruitment office, told Saudi media as many as 40,000 domestic helps, which is 50 percent of the total recruited to work in the Kingdom, have been deported.  Reports Arab News7216267858292231
“The reasons for their return were refusal to work, lack of training in Bangladesh, language barrier, lack of adaptability to the Kingdom’s culture,” he said.
A number of recruitment office owners said the customer is given a period of three months to try the maid. If she is found inefficient during this period, the sponsor informs the office, returns the maid along with a notice received by the embassy that includes the reasons for disqualification. Then…

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Name will not be changed, Jamaat electing new leadership! — Harun Ur Rashid

After the hanging of Jamaat-e-Islami Ameer (party chairman) Motiur Rahman Nizami, the discussion is mounting up all around Bangladesh what Jamaat will do. Are they going to alter party name? Who will take over the next party leadership? Top four leaders of Jamaat including Ameer and secretary general had been hanged on charge of […]

via Name will not be changed, Jamaat electing new leadership! — Harun Ur Rashid


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Honouring women anti-mining campaigners and environmental-activists on #IWD2016

Tribute to two ‘true fighters of the Planet’ – Berta Cáceres and Janine Roberts

By Rumana Hashem

On International Women’s day we should celebrate both- our community women and international feminists, women’s and workers advocates’ struggles and achievements, especially women activists who devoted lives for working class and grassroots people. On this IWD 2016, when UN has chosen a theme called, Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it Up for Gender Equality, we should think of the saviours of the Planet – the climate and anti-mining campaigners who tried to help those suffering from pollution of the planet by the miners and the corporations that serve none but the bourgeois and aims to destroy our planet. On this occasion we mourn the death, and celebrate the lives of Berta Cáceres and Janine Roberts, two hugely influential and inspiring personalities in the history of resistance to the injustices perpetrated by corporations and the mining industry.

 

Berta Cáceres, a great community organiser, Honduran indigenous and the founder of COPINH was assassinated by armed individuals who forcibly entered her home in La Esperanza, department of Intibucá in southwestern Honduras, Mexico.  Berta Cáceres was a leader who had inspired many of us for many years as an indigenous woman-leader and environmental-activist, raising her voice in the defense of women’s bodies and community, land, water and the commons. Through her actions, she has strengthened the role of women in resisting destructive corporations and macro-level repressions.  Berta was successful in constructing alternatives based on aboriginal knowledge and collective practices. In recent interviews, she encouraged many to rise up in collective solidarity in the global South and North against the predatory capitalist and patriarchal society in order to save women’s lives, human lives and the planet.

 

On International Women’s Day 2016, anti-mining activists and environmentalists at Friends of the Earth (FoEI) have paid homage to and raised voices in indignation at the brutal murder of Berta Cáceres. So did we. Berta was an indigenous Lenca leader, a grassroots feminist and an environmental-justice activist. She was murdered in early morning of 3rd March in her very own home at the side of Mexican activist Gustavo Castro Soto from Otros Mundos / FOE Mexico, who was badly hurt by the same gunmen. Anti-mining activists and environmentalists have initiated an urgent action alert and signed a letter to protect Gustavo Castro who witnessed the assassination of Berta Cáceres in Honduras and was injured himself. Everybody is encouraged to sign the letter here

 

Janine Roberts (1942 -2016) was another great woman who, for more than forty years, devoted herself fearlessly to exposing the covert practices of global miners. She knew what it means to counter the lies and myths perpetrated by the mining industry. Janine Roberts, known to many as just “Jan” or Jani”, had put herself in direct physical danger on many occasions. But she is sadly no longer with us on the earth.

Jan has passed away peacefully on 26 February 2016 – six years since the very day when she had suffered a massive stroke, following several days locked-in by ice on a boat in Bristol’s city basin. Bristol served her as both a home and a cherished centre of some remarkably effective and diverse electronic campaigns.

Latin American women at Peru denounced violence by the mining company. File photo 2011 (Source: https://www.salvalaselva.org/peticion/1044/mujeres-denuncian-que-proyectos-extractivos-generan-violencia?mtu=140662608&t=1771

Latin American women at Peru denounced violence by the mining company. File photo 2011 (Source: https://www.salvalaselva.org/peticion/1044/mujeres-denuncian-que-proyectos-extractivos-generan-violencia?mtu=140662608&t=1771

Today, 8th March, is the right day to pay our tribute to Janine Roberts who initiated many strategies, now familiar to organisations critical of the extractive industries. One of the most noteworthy of these strategies were the launch of People against RTZ and its Subsidiaries, known as PaRTiZanS, in 1980. We should not forget how this strategy and this global network became the vehicle for many so-called “victims” of the-then world’s largest corporate miner in the following few years. This network, PaRTiZanS, has acted as a way of survival for those who dramatically threw-off the dubious mantle of “victimhood”, by attending and speaking out as minority shareholders at Rio Tinto’s AGMs.

Jan’s close friend and a colleague working to hold Rio Tinto to account, Roger Moody, has written a beautiful tribute to Janine Roberts. I thought that it was worth reclogging on community women’s blog for our readers.

 

Jan Roberts: commemorating a true warrior

Published by MAC on 2016-03-02
Source: Statement (2016-02-29)

1942-2016

The tribute below comes from Roger Moody, currently Research Editor of the MAC website, and a close friend and colleague of Jan Roberts over many years.

“Our” Jan

There’s one woman, among all those I’ve been privileged to know,  to whom I owe more than any one else what it means to counter the lies and myths perpetrated by the mining industry.

For more than forty years, she devoted herself fearlessly to exposing the covert practices of global miners – often putting herself in direct physical danger.

However,  Janine Roberts – known to many colleagues and friends as simply “Jan” or Jani” – is sadly no longer with us in mortal form.
She slipped away peacefully on 26 February 2016; six years to the very day when she had suffered a massive stroke, following several days locked-in by ice on a boat in Bristol’s city basin, which served as both a home for her and her cherished canine, Storm, and the focus of some remarkably effective and diverse electronic campaigning.

Many strategies, now  familiar to organisations critical of the extractive industries, were ones she either initiated or materially assisted in bringing to birth. Perhaps the most noteworthy of these was the  launch of  PaRTiZanS (People against RTZ and its Subsidiaries) in 1980.

In a few  years, this global network became the vehicle for many so-called “victims” of the-then  world’s largest corporate miner, to dramatically throw-off the dubious mantle of victim hood, by attending and speaking out as minority” shareholders at Rio Tinto’s AGMs. In fact,  around one hundred Indigenous spokespeople and workers  have intervened as “dissident” shareholders at Rio Tinto AGMs over succeeding years, and one or more will surely be present again at this years event.

The CIMRA years

Having spent a formative period of her earlier life camping out in the bauxite-ravaged lands of Weipa, north Queensland, Jan arrived in Britain in the late 70’s, pledged to stand four-square with the region’s Aboriginal communities, as they battled to overturn the fraudulent colonial trope of their land as being  “terra nullius” – thus unoccupied and open to flagrant exploitation.

She swiftly set up a militant Aboriginal solidarity group in the UK – Colonialism and Indigenous Minorities Research and Action, or CIMRA

Her 1978 book, “From Massacres to Mining”, inscribed the first full account of the atrocities which accompanied that invasion to  the late 1970’s; an Australian edition appeared in 1980, and a second was published ten years later (1).

In 1980, Jan organised the first visit to the UK capital by three mining-afflicted Queensland Aboriginal leaders – Joyce Hall, Mick Miller and Jacob Wolmby – who publicly indicted Rio Tinto (then RTZ-CRA) for “racism” in the columns of the Financial Times.

Although the trio didn’t themselves get to attend that year’s AGM, another Aboriginal Australian, Boolidt Boolitha from Victoria, flew in to confront the company in person at its 1981 Annual General Meeting.

Following this, and in quick succession, Jan poured out a tremendous corpus of work, including several books and numerous articles. She gave many radio and television interviews, and was indispensable to the production of several films, including one shown on Granada TV in the UK – and just once by ABC in Australia, before CRA stepped in to prevent its further dissemination down-under [ Australia: why we must still weep for Weipa .

A second mining giant, Anglo-De Beers, also wanted to stop her bringing to fruition perhaps her most treasured authorial project – an exposé of how the world’s biggest diamond trader viciously exploited workers and communities across the globe.

Begun in 1987, and multinationally funded, this mission took her across five continents, and produced some very disturbing images (for example of  young children labouring in the company’s diamond cutting shops.)

Only there for (or rather against) De Beers

In this case, Anglo American didn’t need to resort to legal action to prevent the truth being told of what she’d uncovered about these “conflict diamonds” (which in a real sense they were, some years before Global Witness and Leonardo di Caprio made the term fashionable.)

The company asked to meet the film’s prime sponsor, the BBC, to discuss the series’ content. Here’s Jan’s own account (in third person) of what happened after “Aunty” at Broadcasting House then decided to sack her:

“Researching why the BBC were so insistent on her removal and why it refused to give reasons, she learns that the Oppenheimer family attacked her in meetings with BBC, complaining that she was “obsessed” with investigating the diamond trade .(That is, she will not go away.) The film is completed by the BBC in her absence. It is then first shown in the US – and despite her having produced many of the scenes in the film, her credits have practically vanished. When she asks why, she is told the BBC gave instructions to remove her producer and journalist credits.

“At her request the General Secretary of the Broadcasting and Entertainment Industry Trade Union, the powerful BECTU, contacts high officers of the BBC asking that she be given the proper credit for her work. On the Friday before her film is shown, a senior officer of the BBC phones her to tell her that while the BBC did not deny that she produced part of the film, and was the senior journalist, it refuses to give her any credit for this work on the film… She is extremely perplexed by this..”

“[T]he BBC (who do not own the film – it is owned by the Australian government investors – the BBC only bought UK transmission rights) then make a deal with De Beers Tthat they will not sell her film to any other country…”

Despite this: “[S]he does all she can to get the film out to more viewers – and to complete her book on De Beers. When De Beers tries to ban the American version of her film from being shown in the diamond rush area of Arctic Canada, their heavy handed action leads to the Federation of Trade Unions, the local environmental organisation, Ecology North and the Dene Indians inviting her to speak to her film. She is flown to Yellowknife. Her film is put on in the largest hall in town and it is standing room only. Later she is the guest of Dene Indians, goes out with dog teams, falls in love with a beautiful frozen land and sky.

That’s not all: “When she goes to South Africa and Namibia to research her diamond book, she shows her film on De Beers property to the mine workers. De Beers tries unsuccessfully to ban her from several mines. The Union says she is the first person banned by De Beers since the Emergence of 1988!” [See: http://www.witch.plus.com/jancv-1.html%5D.

I’ve quoted this extract from one of her many blogs at some length, because it strikes me as emblematic of the sheer courage and fortitude – we may also say “bloody mindedness” – Jan exhibited towards the highly powerful and insidious forces she chose to tackle head-on throughout her life.

Speaking truth to power

It was this resilience and passion for the “right way” of doing things which inspired every facet of her extraordinary life.

On her hospitalisation in early 2010, the consultant treating her doubted she would survive more than a few days. Jan not only proved him wrong; she went on to publish several further books, though not specifically on mining, from her bedside over the following six years.

Even though it’s increasingly rare to meet – let alone work alongside – such a multi-faceted human being in today’s mono-cultured and rapidly acculturating societies, Janine Roberts was truly a “Renaissance Woman” in many senses of the term.

I doubt we’ll ever encounter her like again.


(1) My own recollection is that first English edition of “From Massacres to Mining” was co-published by War on Want and CIMRA in London in 1978. However, pressure on the British development agency and threats to suet for libel, caused War on Want to withdraw this version from distribution, although a second, re-edited, version was soon put back into circulation (RM).

 


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A woman must not forget that she is an International Woman until Equality is achieved

Piya Mayenin profile photo

By Piya Mayenin

International Women’s day (IWD), Mothering Sunday, Mothers Day are celebrated on 6th and 8th March respectively which are the official dates and time to remember Women and their contributions.

However we do not remember women in the same way on those days. Whilst Mothering Sunday, Mothers day and even Valentine’s day we think of women in a warm, fond way in their roles as mothers, grandmothers, stepmothers, mother in laws, wives and lovers, IWD bears a very different history and significance which must never be forgotten. Political and Human rights issues are at the core of it and have been marked initially by struggles of working women, economic fairness, social justice, suffrage rights and leading to overall gender parity.

IWD has been celebrated now for over a hundred years with the first one in 8 March 1909 in New York and then 19th March 19 11 in Denmark, Germany , Austria and other European countries. It has since become the inspiration of all women and the pledge for parity (gender equality) in addition to celebrating of women’s political economic and cultural success. IWD has been given international official recognition during International Women’s Year in 1975, by the United Nations and was taken up by many governments who had not previously known of its existence.

Whilst the shape of women’s struggles is different depending which part of the globe they are in, their struggle at the end of the day is the same one. While developed countries battle with the objectification of women in media outlets, under-representation in positions of power and unequal pay rates, developing countries struggle with  ‘…dowry related violence; rape; acid throwing; domestic violence; illegal fatwa; sexual harassment; wage and social discrimination’ (Odhikaar, 2016). Not to mention forced marriages, Honor killings, in addition to Diasporas of the developing nations.

The writer presents a radio program on Betar Bangla radio based in the UK on Violence against Women and states that one of the top most reason for violence against women is perpetuated by attitudes of historical the male dominated society; an attitude that is imbibed also by the female population resulting in the parroting of words to give effect that stigmatises other females and fitting into the male thinking misogynistic atmosphere. There is an old adage, ‘Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t’ and this in the writer’s opinion describes why whilst the male misogynist is tolerable as one can fight it, the female misogynist is far more dangerous, damaging and difficult to fight.

An example of this is the Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who did everything that the worst male misogynist would want to do. Only one other single female soul was in her entire cabinet, namely, Baroness Young. Even in Prime Minster David’s Cameron’s cabinet there are far more women which should embarrass the Lady Thatcher. However it has been evident that it doesn’t. Her atrocious comments on single mothers have been attacked fiercely by single parent support groups and William Hague simply distanced himself from her comments. Many women applaud in loyalty to Donald Trump exist comments, who is not only a xenophobic but also a misogynist not to mention a fascist. In a magazine several years ago, the writer was stunned to read an article where a man was stating that he saw all women as cows. In his picture with the article, his loving devoted wife was holding him tight as if he were a cuddly toy pleased with her designation (that she was a cow).

A cat ought to behave like a cat, not a snake as this confuses the world. In May 2015, The Lib Dems were annihilated from 57 seats to only 8 while the Conservatives rose despite of their non social non liberal policies. The reason should be obvious, practice what you preach or be the cat who acts like a cat and not a snake. Likewise a woman should remember she not only a woman but an international woman. As she is representative of other women, she must go beyond of being a single personal with single aims and goals and see them though the eyes of women everywhere and in every situation. She must not support the misogynist.

A name comes to mind, the late Rosalind Elsie Franklin, an English chemist and X-ray crystallographer whose works on coal and viruses were appreciated in her lifetime, but her contributions to the discovery of DNA were largely recognized posthumously. In fact it was men who had taken the name for her works. James WatsonFrancis Crick and Maurice Wilkins shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962. Watson suggested that Franklin would have ideally been awarded a Nobel Prize in Chemistry, along with Wilkins, but the Nobel Committee does not make a posthumous nomination which is a great tragedy and injustice in the writer’s opinion.

In London one has to stroll about the city to see all the high financial and other positions held by men in suits whilst their secretaries are women. Waitresses are women. Which begs the question whose city is London? A man’s or a woman’s

On the international level it is welcome sight that for the first time ever two women are official candidates in the 2016 UN elections. Irina Bokova who is currently the UNESCO Director General and Vesna Pusic Deputy Speaker of the Croatian Parliament.

In the sub continental mindset misogynistic views are often perpetuated by the movies and literature that constantly depict and describe ‘good’ women as being virgin, loyal and obedient and sacrificing wife who endures all torture because she should resemble a ‘Sati Savitri’ naari as opposed to the ‘bad’ disobedient wife who is to be shunned. ‘Naari haath is used as a term to describe womanly tantrums.

Of course if one studied the Hindu scripture from Gita, the Vedas, Upanishads even the Puranas and epics like Mahabharata, would find that apart from Brahma ‘the God’ most of the other major deities in Hindu religion are female including Durga Kaali and Saraswaathi to name but a few. This simply goes to show there is no ceiling that women cannot go beyond. Yet misogynists continue to use Hindu scriptures to subjugate women!

Likewise, Islam was the first religion that recognized women as ‘being’ in her own right. A woman not to be shunned buried alive or tied up and kept for carnal needs of men. Islamic jurisprudence although complicated was applied to render justice and equality. The modern misogynists apply laws with a mixed misogynistic touch and interpretation that do not reflect the true intentions of the religion passed to Muslims by the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) which was simply to battle inequality. A prime example of this misogynistic application of Islam is Saudi Arabia where women virtually have no rights at all.

In Bangladesh women are made to endure abusive situations as the economic alternative and shunning by misogynistic society would be unbearable. Widows are still stripped of assets, given a rough deal through Islamic intestacy rules which are applied by misogynistic men, yet again. That is if they are not or are not also victims of violence from the deceased husband’s family and wider community.

Similarly in Afghanistan, perhaps one of the most illiterate and misogynistic states under the Taliban stopped women from accessing education through violent killings and forced them to wear the niqab and jilbab so nothing but the eyes are seen and even then one wrong move and they were shot.

Across the Bangladeshi Diaspora these misogynistic views continue. Without naming names, disturbing comments regarding single mothers can be heard on community TV. Wholly offensive and incorrect statements are frequently made. Surprisingly women present on a particular program did not rebut a statement that was equally puzzling and disappointing.

In the duration of my practice as a lawyer in the UK, I have dealt with many cases of domestic violence, separation, divorce and children matters. I have never seen a case where the separation or divorce was not absolutely necessary in the circumstances of the matter. The usual scenario even where there is no physical violence there is nonetheless an abusive nature of the husband with extreme unfairness on the woman and quite frequently on children alongside that. Moreover, no sensible person could claim that a widow has done that to herself (made herself a widow) and is thus of less value as a human being because her husband has died.

The vast majority of single mothers in Bangladesh and across the globe are mothers raise children (the children of the nation, of the globe) whilst their husband’s work abroad or in other parts of the country to earn a living.

In the Western world, single mothers are forced to take on the role of breadwinner, carer, housekeeper, cook, teacher and not to mention counselor! They are known to stretch themselves beyond limits and any limit what most couples would as parents, even if they do not quarrell over their respective burdens and responsibilities. A single mother does not even have that privilege.

A typical day starts often early in the morning with taking children to school (if they are of school age). On return from dropping the child or children if she hasn’t dashed off to work, it is the task to clean toilets, bathrooms, and kitchen and leaves preparation for cooking and then run off to work. When the day’s work is done they return (Many do part time shifts or part time work so they can pick up their children) The rest of the evening is again never ending cleaning, cooking, overlooking homework, washing the children, feeding, and teaching . The mother sleeps when everything is done and after the children are done she often catches up on work duties. The added onus of bearing the responsibility of a mother and the missing father engages a single mother around the clock and includes breadwinning, paying bills, housekeeping, Garden keeping, washing family clothes, ironing and constantly finds herself learning about how to best raise her children, provide stability and a loving and secure environment for the child’s development. These basic things are quite frequently overlooked by a two parent family as the social focus is on the single mother. On a national level state help to a single mother is minimal especially if not working. Many single mothers find ways of supporting their children at universities and do not expect help from Adult children merely because of the passion that their child should not lose out and should do well. A single mother usually sacrifices social activities and ‘fun’ for the wellbeing of their children and as they are forever catching up on their tasks at hand. For a civilized modern society not to note that is really a shame.

There are countless examples of extraordinary and great personalities who have been inspired and nurtured by single mother; Why don’t’ we start off with the current most important leader in the world? Barack Obama, 44th President of the US, Aged 54 who credits his single mother Ann with encouraging him and nurturing his ambitions:

‘I grew up without a father in my life. I had a heroic mom and wonderful grandparents who helped raise me and my sister, and it is because of them that I am able to stand here today.’ (Mail Online 10 Oct 2012)

What about Gymnast Louis Antoine Smith, the 26 year old British gymnast who received a bronze medal and a silver medal on the pommel horse at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2012 London Olympics. In 2015 he became the European champion on Pommel Horse. Louis credits all his success to the sacrifices made by his mum Elaine Petch from Peterborough.

I could go on and fill up pages but one could simply Google it to stumble on an extensive list as I have found.

The stigma surrounding single mothers is decreasing in the Western countries and it must do so in the sub continental originated communities too. If blame is to be apportioned then it must be to the right person which is usually the father, whether you want to blame them for being irresponsible, abusive, violent, drunk, gone abroad for work, or even having died on their widow!

Being a single mother is better any day than living in an abusive or even borderline abusive environment and in fact, in the UK, it becomes a duty for mothers to leave their abusive partners for the safeguarding of their children as is stipulated in the Children Act 1989.

Finally, stigma must be replaced with the acknowledgement of the true role of a working single mother who usually works 10 times harder as a parent than in a two parent family and are only a single parent as result from unfairness in life. She is usually a person fixed on a strong sense of principles and values and is not on drugs or dating different men as their own success and their children’s success demonstrate.

Whilst having a secure family surrounded with mother and father is everybody’s ideal, the reality is that half of women are probably single and that is even when they are married sometimes as the example of women bringing up children in Bangladesh and other places indicates! These children in fact go on to pull along their families to a better economic situation in later years.

Stigmatising single mothers for personal or political point scoring is reinforcing that it’s okay to victimize the poor. As a poor person who is also a single mother is more likely to be violated. If she is uneducated and unaware of her rights (and a single mother), she is more likely to be violated. She or her children are more likely to be trafficked.

The essence of International day is women’s right. The fact that women must not be sold. A woman is a person of her own, with a mind of her own and has a moral right to agency of her own mind. As single mothers are in a place to have agency of their own minds, they would do everything in their power to raise top -class children of the globe and society must help them as otherwise half the population is dead.

We need to broaden our horizons as shallow people will only raise shallow people – that is the main point here. That is the focus. If one wants to focus on single mothers then here are the two points.

  1. Society that failed women and young people have the highest debt to these single mothers as without them society would have nothing as they are the ones who support the future generation with their utmost being. So society instead of demonizing and shunning them let’s pay a tribute to them. Look at it theoretically, if single mothers abandon their children, would society be able to afford to look after them? The writer answers ‘no’ because the economy will just go bust in trying to achieve what these single mothers have achieved.
  2. A woman must be an International woman in order to represent all women, single mum   or otherwise.

 

Endnote: The Author is a solicitor of England & Wales, an active human rights campaigner and writer with a feminist edge. Piya ‘s work includes generating awareness amongst the community and challenging discrimination, bigotry and hypocrisy that affects Immigrants and all communities’ at large, creating barriers and causing alienation and segregation.


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Save the Feminist Library from Eviction

Sign the Petition & Join us in a Protest Against the Eviction of an Incompatible Collection of Feminist Research and Women’s Studies

 

Southwark Council are threatening to evict the Feminist Library on 1st March (the first day of Women’s History Month) from the building on Westminster Bridge Rd, London, that has been its home for 30 years.

The council have given notice that the rent on the Library’s space in the building, which has housed a variety of community groups alongside the Library for the past 30 years, will be raised from £12,000 to £30,000 a year. Council officers are refusing to negotiate – join us in calling upon them to work with us to save the Library.

On 10th February, Southwark Council Cabinet approved a report that ‘highlights the need for a thriving VCS (Voluntary and Community Sector) that mobilises community action and makes best use of community resources, skills, knowledge and spaces’. We cannot understand how treating our organisation in such a way is consistent with approving this report.

Read more here

Learn more about the Feminist Library and donate to our Emergency fund here

Sign the Petition to Save the Feminist Library from Threat of Eviction

Join the Protest and Deliver the Petition to Southwark Council’s Budget setting meeting

When: Wednesday, 24th February, 7pm

Where: Southwark Council, 160 Tooley St, London SE1 2QH

We urge as many supporters as possible to JOIN US IN A DEMONSTRATION OUTSIDE THE MEETING on Weds 24th from 6.30pm.

Re-blogged by Rumana Hashem from 38 Degrees.org.uk

 


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‘Rising Silence’ – A crucial film on the Birangona

A Documentary Film on the Birangona by Komola Collective Needs Urgent Donation 

Rumana Hashem

Birangona means ‘Brave Woman of War’. This was the honourific granted to the hundreds of thousands of survivors of the campaign of rape carried out by the Pakistani Army and their Bengali collaborators in the war of liberation of Bangladesh in 1971. Their individual stories are largely hidden and forgotten by a society in which rape is considered to be a source of shame for the victims like other rape survivors in conflict situations.

RS Artwork (2)In the aftermath of the war these survivors were not only overlooked by the international community but also were silenced by their very own communities in independent Bangladesh. Having endured brutal rape, torture and enforced pregnancies and abortions many women of war were made to return to their villages, communities, families and husbands, but were never allowed to speak about the brutality that they had had to endure for the nation during the war of liberation.

There are thousands of Birangona living in extreme poverty, being rejected by local people for the religious ‘sin’ (zina) and shame of having been raped by Pakistani military. Their children and grandchildren, as eye-witnesses and as generations of rape-survivors, also experienced endless discrimination in a nation-state that was supposed to be secular and progressive. The Director of Komola Collective, Leesa Gazi, notes correctly: ‘with each day that passes, the Birangona of Bangladesh die out, and with them, their stories: stories that contributed to the making of a nation, and stories which we, as part of an international community striving to end sexual violence in conflict, cannot afford to ignore.’

Komola Collective, a London-based theatre and art group, has therefore taken a timely initiative to document the stories of Birangona. They are producing a film, called ‘Rising Silence’ , in partnership with Openvisor, Making Herstory and Jatrik, that aspires to document and preserve the lived experiences of survivors of rape and the narratives of great survivors of brutal abuse: the Women of War – The Birangona.

Other community women’s rights campaigners, including East London-based organisation such as Nari Diganta, provided unwavering support to the initiative and is trying to raise fund for the important film. A panel of experts and women rights campaigners and Nari Diganta members Pushpita Gupta and I have discussed the significance of the film.  Speakers agreed that this film is about the Birangona‘s will to survive and honouring their insurmountable courage. It is a way of bringing a crucial part of a nation’s history – that has been ignored for too long, made taboo and silenced – to the forefront. Above all, it is about documenting the voices of these women and the national reproducers of a nation-state that has 20,000 populations who rarely talk about Birangona.

If readers of this blog can see the significance of the potential film, please donate whatever you can afford. We deeply appreciate your support to make this film happen. Let’s make a history by making a historical film on rape survivors and the ‘women of war’ in a nation that is so proud of its liberation war.

To watch the ‘Rising Silence’ promo film on Birangona click on   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nlm_saJURKY

 


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Nari Diganta and hundreds of women’s rights campaigners call for a Ban of Sharia Courts

Fresh Campaign Against Religious Law and Parallel Legal Systems in Britain

Women’s rights and secular organisations urge the new government to take concerted measures to stop the development of parallel legal systems and to facilitate full and proper access to justice for all citizens and to one secular law for all.

For decades, successive governments have appeased undemocratic religious power brokers in minority communities who have sought to gain power through multicultural and now multi-faith social policies. These policies have led to the homogenisation of minority communities including the ‘Muslim community’ and have recognised and legitimated ‘non-violent’ Islamists as ‘community representatives’, outsourcing legal justice to what are in effect kangaroo courts that deliver highly discriminatory and second-rate forms of ‘justice.’ Over the years, we have witnessed with increasing alarm the influence of ‘Sharia courts’ over the lives of citizens of Muslim heritage.

Any government inquiry into ‘Sharia courts’ must also examine the impact of the draconian cuts in legal aid that have adversely affected access to justice for the most vulnerable. Many abused women from minority backgrounds, for instance, are increasingly forced to either represent themselves in court in what are often complex family legal proceedings or go to ‘Sharia courts’ that operate entirely outside the rule of law. The loss of legal aid contributes to a context that is conducive to the consolidation of privatised and unaccountable forms of justice and ‘Sharia courts’ are amongst the main beneficiaries.

Though the ‘Sharia courts’ have been touted as people’s right to religion, they are in fact, effective tools of the far-Right Islamist movement whose main aim is to restrict and deny rights, particularly those of women and children. ‘Sharia’ laws are highly contested and challenged in many countries, including in Muslim-majority countries across the globe – from Iran to Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Pakistan. Those of us in Britain who oppose ‘Sharia courts’ and all other religious forms of arbitration over family matters, are part of the same movement that challenge the religious-Right and defend the principle of one law for all underpinned by the notions of universalism, human rights, secularism and equality.

Opposing ‘Sharia courts’ is not racism or ‘Islamophobic’; it is a defence of the rights of all citizens, irrespective of their beliefs and background to be governed by democratic means under the principle of one law for all. What amounts to racism is the idea that minorities can be denied rights enjoyed by others through the endorsement of religious based ‘justice’ systems which operate according to divine law that is by its very nature immune from state scrutiny.

We have seen recent victories against the accommodation of ‘Sharia’ codes within law and policy in the UK. Using equalities and human rights legislation, we have successfully challenged both the Universities UK for issuing guidance that condones gender segregation in universities and the Law Society for endorsing discriminatory ‘Sharia’ codes in the area of inheritance. As well as challenging draconian state measures that criminalise whole communities and aid and abet xenophobia, anti-Muslim bigotry and racism, it is vital that we also push back the Islamist narrative and challenge ‘Sharia courts’ since they clearly represent yet another assault on our civil liberties.

We also urge the government to withdraw from its intention to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998. Such a move will represent a break from what was the most important social contract to have emerged between European States and citizens, following the Second World War. The agreement to sign up to a simple set of standards that uphold human decency and universal values led to the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to standards that protect and uphold the rights of all people in the face of state and non-state abuses of power. Now more than ever, we need the Human Rights Act to challenge the arbitrary and unaccountable power of ‘Sharia courts.’

We, the undersigned, therefore, call on the new Government to:

  1. Reinstate legal aid in all areas of civil and criminal law to ensure equal access to justice for all.
    2. Recognise that ‘Sharia’ and other religious courts deliver arbitrary and unaccountable forms of ‘justice’ that discriminate against women and children in particular. Citizenship and human rights are non-negotiable.
    3. Abolish the use of ‘Sharia courts’ and all other religious arbitration forums, including the Beth Din, in family matters since they undermine the principle of equality, non discrimination and universal human rights that must be enjoyed by all citizens.
    4. Reject calls for state regulation of ‘Sharia’ and other religious courts and tribunals. This will only legitimate parallel legal systems in the governance of family matters.
    5. Re-affirm the principle of the separation of religion and the law. The law is a key component of securing justice for citizens and one law for all.
    6. Desist from repealing the Human Rights Act 1998. This move will strip all vulnerable people of their right to protection and justice.

Signatories

A C Grayling, Philosopher
A Gilani, Spokesperson of Atheist & Agnostic Alliance Pakistan
Afiya S. Zia, Active member of Women’s Action Forum in Pakistan
Afsaneh Vahdat, Spokesperson of Children First Now
Alber Saber, Egyptian Blogger
Albert Beale, Pacifist Journalist
Ali A. Rizvi, Pakistani-Canadian Writer and Physician
Ali al Razi, Ex-Muslims Forum
Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, Egyptian Blogger
Alison Assiter, Professor of Feminist Theory at UWE, Bristol
Aliyah Saleem, Secular Education Campaigner
Alya Marquardt, British-Iraqi Singer and Composer
Amel Grami, Tunisian Professor
American Humanist Association
Andrew Lowdon, Chair, Nottingham Secular Society
Ani Zonneveld, President of Muslims for Progressive Values
Anila Atharhasan, Rationalist Society of Pakistan
Anissa Helie, Professor
Annie Laurie Gaylor, Co-founder and Co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation
Ansar Ahmed Ullah, Nirmul Committee
Anthony McIntyre, Writer
Armin Nabavi, Atheist Republic Founder
Aso Kamal, Founding Board Member of Kurdistan Secular Centre
Ateizm Derneği
Atheist Alliance International
Babak Yazdi, Spokesperson for Kanoon-e Khavaran, Organisation for Defence of Political Prisoners in Iran
Bahram Soroush, Political Analyst
Bariş Çetin, Board of Directors’ Member of Ateizm Dernegi
Ben Kerr, Chair of Plymouth Humanists
Bo Liao, President of LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society
Bob Charlwood, Committee Member of Brighton Secular Humanists
Bread and Roses TV
British Muslims for Secular Democracy
Centre for Secular Space
Chetan Bhatt, Professor of Sociology, LSE Centre for the Study of Human Rights
Children First Now
Chris Moos, Secularist Researcher and Activist
Christine M. Shellska, President of Atheist Alliance International
Clara Connolly, Immigration Lawyer
Clive Aruede, Organiser of London Black Atheists
Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
Darren Johnson AM, Green Party, London Assembly
Dashty Jamal, Secretary of International Federation of Iraqi Refugees
David Silverman, President of American Atheists
Deeyah Khan, Filmmaker and Founder/CEO of Fuuse
Dennis Penaluna, Secular Activist and Organiser
Derek Lennard, Activist
Diana Nammi, Founder and Executive Director, Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation
Dilip Simeon, Labour Historian
Dominic Wirdnam, Secretary of Bristol Secular Society
Elham Manea, Academic and Writer
Ensaf Haidar, Campaigner
Equal Rights Now – Movement for Women’s Liberation in Iran
Faisal Gazi, Writer and Blogger
Faisal Saeed Al-Mutar, Iraqi Activist and Founder of the Global Secular Humanist Movement
Faizun Zackariya, Citizens Voice for Justice and Peace
Fariborz Pooya, Bread and Roses TV Host
Farida Shaheed, Executive Director of Shirkat Gah, Women’s Resource Centre in Pakistan
Farideh Arman, Women’s Rights Campaigner
Fatou Sow, International Director, Women Living Under Muslim Laws
Federation of Iranian Refugees UK
Fitnah
Francis Wheen, Writer
George Broadhead, Secretary of the Pink Triangle Trust
Gina Khan, Women’s Rights Activist and Researcher
Gita Sahgal, Director, Centre for Secular Space
Glen Carrigan, Scientist and Founder of AHSUCLan
Gona Saed, Founding Board Member of Kurdistan Secular Centre
Guy Otten, BHA Trustee and Humanist Celebrant
Habiba Jaan, Founder of Aurat- Supporting Women in the Midlands
Hamid Taqvaee, Leader of the Worker-communist Party of Iran
Haras Rafiq, Managing Director of Quilliam Foundation
Harold Kroto, Nobel Prize Winner
Harsh Kapoor, Founder and Editor of South Asia Citizens Web
Hasan Mahmud, Advisory Board of World Muslim Congress and General Secretary of Muslims Facing Tomorrow
Homa Arjomand, Coordinator of the International Campaign Against Sharia Court in Canada and One Secular School for All
Ibn Warraq, Writer
Ibrahim Abdallah, Muslimish NYC Organizer
Inna Shevchenko, FEMEN Leader
International Front for Secularism
Iram Ramzan, Journalist
Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation
Ishafak Tely, Technology Engineer
James Bloodworth, Journalist and Editor of Left Foot Forward
Jane Donnelly, Human Rights Officer of Atheist Ireland
Javed Anand, General Secretary of Muslims for Secular Democracy in India
Jocelynne A. Scutt, Barrister & Human Rights Lawyer
Johnny Monsarrat, Secular Policy Institute Alliance Director
Jonnie Dean, Peace Activist and Filmmaker
Julie Bindel, Writer
Justice for Women
Kamran Ahmed Khan, Oncologist
Kamyar Dadfar, Secretary of LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society
Karima Bennoune, Professor of Law, University of California, Davis School of Law
Kate Smurthwaite, Comedian and Activist
Kazimierz Lyszczynski, Foundation Poland
Khushi Kabir, nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 for her work at Nijera Kori with Bangladesh’s landless
Kiran Opal, Pakistani-Canadian Writer and Human Rights Activist
Lakshmi Pala, Ateizm Derneği
Laura Guidetti, Rivista Marea
Lawrence Krauss, Foundation Professor of School of Earth and Space Exploration and Physics Dept., Co-director of Cosmology Initiative and Director of Origins initiative, Arizona State University
Leesa Gazi, Cultural worker
Lejla Kuric, Writer
Lila Ghobady, Filmmaker
Lino Veljak, University of Zagreb
Lloyd Newson, Artist
London Black Atheists
Maajid Nawaz, Founding Chairman of Quilliam Foundation
Madhu Mehra, Partners for Law in Development
Magdulien Abaida, Women’s Rights Activist
Maggie Hall, Committee Member of Brighton Secular Humanists
Mahin Alipour, Women’s Rights Activist
Mariam Faruqi, Rapporteur National Commission on Forced Marriage
Mariam Taheri, Human Rights Activist
Marieme Helie Lucas, Founder of Secularism is a Women’s Issue and Women Living Under Muslim Laws
Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, One Law for All and Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
Mehran Mahbobi , Children’s Rights Activist
Michael Nugent, Chairperson of Atheist Ireland
Mina Ahadi, Spokesperson of the International Committee against Stoning and Execution
Mohammed Alkhadra, Human Rights Activist and Founder of the Jordanian Atheists Community Group
Morgan Elizabeth Romano, Vice President of the Board of Directors & Director of International Relations of Ateizm Dernegi
Muhammad Syed, President of Ex-Muslims of North America
Muslims for Progressive Values
Nadia El Fani, Tunisian Filmmaker
Nari Diganta – Women in Movement for Equal Rights, Social Justice and Secularism
Natalia Paszkiewicz, Campaigner for Refugee Women and Migrants Rights
National Secular Society
Nazanin Borumand, Council of Ex-Muslims of Germany
Network of Women in Black Serbia
Nick Cohen, Journalist
Nina Sankari, President of the Europejska Feministyczna Inicjatywa
Nira Yuval-Davis, a founder member of Women Against Fundamentalism and the International Research Network on Women in Militarized Conflict Zone
One Law for All
Ophelia Benson, Columnist of The Freethinker and Free Inquiry
Pervez Hoodbhoy, Pakistani Nuclear Physicist and Social Activist
Peter Tatchell, Peter Tatchell Foundation
Piara Mayenin, Solicitor and Producer of Legal Help with Piya
Pragna Patel, Director, Southall Black Sisters
Protagora
Pushpita Gupta, Women’s Rights Campaigner and Convenor of Secular Bangladesh Movement
Rafai Aadam, Leader of the SOAS Ex-Muslim Society & The Student Room Ex-Muslim Society Organiser
Rahila Gupta, Writer and Journalist
Ramin Forghani, Ex-Muslims of Scotland Founder
Reza Moradi, Director of Bread and Roses
Ritu Mahendru, Director of South Asian Sexual Health
Robert Stovold, Committee Member of Brighton Secular Humanists
Robyn E. Blumner, President & CEO of Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science
Rohini Hensman, Writer and Activist
Roy Speckhardt, Executive Director of American Humanist Association
Roy W Brown, International Representative, International Humanist and Ethical Union
Rumana Hashem, Nari Diganta Organiser and Founder of Phulbari Solidarity Group
Rumy Hassan, Author
Sadaf Ali, Writer and Civil Rights Activist
Salim Mansur, Vice President of Muslims Facing Tomorrow
Sally Armstrong, Journalist and Human Rights Activist
Salma Siddiqui, President of Coalition of Progressive Canadian Muslim Organizations
Sanal Edamaruku, President of Rationalist International
Sara Mohammad, Chairwomen for Never Forget Pela and Fadime Organisation
Sarah Haider, Director of Development of Ex-Muslims of North America
Sarah Peace, Founder of Fireproof Library
Sawsan Salim, Director of Kurdish and Middle Eastern Women’s Organisation
Secular Policy Institute
Secularism is a Women’s Issue
Selma Dabbagh, Author and Lawyer
Shaheen Heshmat, Writer
Shahla Daneshfar, Coordinator of Workers’ Solidarity Network of the Middle East and North Africa
Sheila Crosby, Author
Shelley Segal, Singer and Songwriter
Shirkat Gah
Soad Baba Aissa, Feminist
Sohaila Sharifi, Women’s Rights Campaigner
South Asian Sexual Health
Southall Black Sisters
Stasa Zajovic, WiB Belgrade
Sue Cox, Survivors Voice Europe
Sukhwant Dhaliwal, co-editor of Women Against Fundamentalism: Stories of Dissent and Solidarity
Sultana Kamal, Women’s Rights Defender
Taher Djafarizad, President of Neda Day Association
Tahira Abdullah, Human Rights Defender
Taslima Nasrin, Author
Tehmina Kazi, Director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy
Terence Waites, Head of Teesside Humanists
Terry Sanderson, President, National Secular Society
The Angelou Centre
Tolga Inci, President of Ateizm Dernegi
Tom Holland, Writer and Historian
Valerie Mainstone, Committee Member of Brighton Secular Humanists
Wahid Rahman, President of Queen Mary Atheism, Secularism and Humanism Society
Waleed Al-Husseini, Palestinian blogger and Founder of the Council of Ex-Muslims of France
Women in Black Belgrade
Women Living Under Muslim Laws
Women’s Action Forum Karachi, Hyderabad, Lahore and Peshawar
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Columnist
Yasmin Rehman, Women’s Rights Campaigner
Yasmin Weaver, Trustee of Aurat: Supporting Women in the Midlands
Zahra Asli, Coordinator of Friends of Women in the Middle East Society

Banner of Sharia law consultation meeting 15 October 2014

See Further News below:

Thomson Reuters Foundation: Britain must ban sharia “kangaroo courts”, say activists http://www.trust.org/item/20150615155710-r8kxz/?source=shtw

The Daily Mail report : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/reuters/article-3125047/Britain-ban-sharia-kangaroo-courts–say-activists.html

‘Nearly 200 hundreds signatories call to dismantle parallel legal systems’  http://www.onelawforall.org.uk/sharia-courts/

IKWRO news: ‘Nearly 200 signatories, including IKWRO, call for dismantling of parallel legal systems’ http://ikwro.org.uk/2015/06/signatories-including-dismantling/


1 Comment

Bangladesh Government Must Apprehend the Perpetrators of mass sexual assault on Women

An Open Letter to Bangladesh Prime Minister from International Women’s rights campaigners

We wish to echo the outrage expressed by women’s rights campaigners in Bangladesh against the organised sexual assaults on 20 women in Dhaka by identifiable perpetrators on the evening of 14 April, during the celebration of Bangla New Year 1422. It is appalling that on the auspicious occasion of Bangla Nobo Borsho, women were subjected to such a horrific event in a nation-state which is led by a woman Prime Minister. These organised sexual assaults went on for about two hours within the premise of Dhaka University where women should feel able to be safe.

The University has described the organised violence against women as a ‘normal incident’ and ‘nothing so severe’. It seems incredible that the Proctor of the University has denied having evidence of sexual assaults on women when four surveillance cameras were operating on the premises. Instead of supporting the protesters and detaining the perpetrators who conducted the heinous crime, both police and the proctor have accused the survivors of violence for not having been dressed appropriately in a plural society! It is unacceptable that the police were silent bystanders during the vicious incident.

Attack on a student Ismat Jahan Jo during demo on Sunday 10 May 2015. Courtesy: The Daily Kaler Kontho

Attack on a student Ismat Jahan Jo during demo on Sunday 10 May 2015. Courtesy: The Daily Kaler Kontho

Additionally, Police cracked down and brutally tortured the protesters against sexual assault on women during a demonstration on 10 May 2015. These demonstrate deep-rooted misogyny in Bangladeshi institutions.

Masculinity is pervasive in Bangladesh even in times of relative peace. It is deeply concerning that a secular regime which has vigorously attempted to bring war criminals for rape in the Bangladeshi war of independence in 1971 to justice fails to prevent sexual violence against women.

We stand in solidarity with the survivors of sexual violence and with the protesters in Bangladesh. The following demands should be implemented urgently:

  1. Immediate arrest and punishment of the perpetrators. But we oppose the use of capital punishment for anyone convicted in this instance.
  2. A public apology from the local police and administration of Dhaka University for failing to support the women who were tortured for one and a half hours.
  3. Immediate suspension of Police who tortured and humiliated demonstrators.
  4. Immediate suspension of the Proctor at Dhaka University for his controversial statements and for attempting to hide evidence from CCTV footage.
  5. Emergency support to the survivors of sexual violence including provision of economic, medical and mental health resources to overcome social stigma attached to sexual violence
  6. Ensure immediate support to and security of the protesters.

We, the undersigned:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Bangladesh_Prime_Minister_Apprehend_the_Perpetrators_of_mass_sexual_assault_on_Women/

Readers are encouraged to sign the open letter and share with friends who may support our campaign.

Read published report on the Daily Star : ‘A mothers’ day gift from Police’ http://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/mothers-day-gift-police-81752

Watch how Police van ran over human demo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUxO6QX0bII&feature=youtu.be

Watch how protesters were tortured during a demo: https://www.facebook.com/naridiganta?fref=ts

Further news: ‘Silencing Outcry’  http://www.thedailystar.net/op-ed/politics/silencing-our-outcry-82102


1 Comment

Press Release: Zero Tolerance to Sexual Violence – Protest against Sexual Assualts on Women

On Tuesday, 21 April,  about 70 protesters rallied at the Shaheed Minar at Altabl Ali park at Tower Hamlets to condemn the organised sexual assaults on women which was committed against 20 women by identifiable perpetrators during the celebration of Bangla new year in Dhaka. The powerful protest was co-organised by Nari Diganta and Jubo Union, UK.  Nari Diganta activist, Nilufar Yasmin, writes a Bangla report of the protest as follows.

Rally against sexual assaults on women at Altab Ali park. Courtesy: P V Dudman

Rally against sexual assaults on women at Altab Ali park. Courtesy: P V Dudman

পহেলা বৈশাখে নারীর উপর যৌন হয়রানীর প্রতিবাদে নারী দিগন্ত যুব ইউনিয়নের বিক্ষোভ সমাবেশ

ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের টিএসসি এলাকায় বর্ষবরণ অনুষ্ঠানে নারী নির্যাতন ও নারীর উপর যৌন হয়রানির প্রতিবাদ করে উদ্বেগ ও ক্ষোভ প্রকাশ করেছে যুক্তরাজ্যের নারী দিগন্ত এবং যুব ইউনিয়ন সহ বিভিন্ন পেশাজীবী ও সাংস্কৃতিক সংগঠনের সর্বস্তরের জনগণ। প্রতিবাদ সভায় সকল বক্তাই এই ধরনের পৈশাচিক ন্যাক্কারজনক হামলার সঙ্গে জড়িতদের দ্রুত খুঁজে বের করে দৃষ্টান্তমূলক শাস্তির দাবী জানিয়েছে।

একুশে এপ্রিল মঙ্গলবার বিকালে পূর্ব লন্ডনের আলতাব আলী পার্কে অনুষ্ঠিত প্রতিবাদ ও বিক্ষোভে উপস্থিত সকল বক্তাই প্রায় একই সুরে সেদিন পুলিশের যে সকল সদস্য কর্তব্যে অবহেলা করেছে তাদেরকে উপযুক্ত জবাবদিহিতার আওতায় আনার দাবী জানিয়েছেন। এছাড়া, বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের প্রক্টরের কর্তব্যে অবহেলার যে অভিযোগ উঠেছে সে বিষয়ে জবাবদিহিতার ব্যবস্থা করার জন্য সক্রিয় উদ্যোগ নেয়ার দাবী জানানো হয়।

Nari Diganta's publicity Secretary Nilufa Hasan condemns organised violence against women.

Nari Diganta’s publicity Secretary Nilufa Hasan condemns organised violence against women.

নারীর প্রতি সহিংসতা বন্ধে বিভিন্ন শ্লোগান সম্মিলিত প্ল্যাকার্ড বহন করে সমাবেশে বলা হয়, বার বার ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয় এলাকায় মুক্তমনা মানুষকে হত্যা, নারীর উপর আক্রমন কোনক্রমেই গ্রহণযোগ্য নয় এবং কর্তৃপক্ষের এই ধরনের দায়িত্বহীনতা মুক্তিযুদ্ধে অর্জিত বাংলাদেশের মূল লক্ষ্যকে পিছনে ঠেলে দিচ্ছে বলে বক্তারা উল্লেখ করেন। যুগ যুগ ধরে জাতি ধর্ম বর্ণ নির্বিশেষে বাংলা নববর্ষের উৎসব পারষ্পরিক সৌহার্দ ও সম্প্রীতির সেতুবন্ধন তৈরী করে। পহেলা বৈশাখে ঢাকায় নারীর উপর যে যৌন হামলা হয়েছে তা শুধু নারীর উপর হামলা নয়, এই হামলা অসাম্প্রদায়িক চেতনা ও বাঙালী সংস্কৃতির উপর আঘাত, এই আঘাতকে প্রশ্রয় না দিয়ে পাল্টা আঘাত অর্থাৎ কঠোর হস্তে দমনের পক্ষে সকলেই মত দেন। আইনের মাধ্যমে দোষীদের শাস্তি না দিলে এই প্রবণতা কখনো বন্ধ হবেনা। পহেলা বৈশাখে নারীদের উপর যৌন নিপীড়নকারীদের সাংগঠনিক পরিচয় নিয়ে বিতর্ক না করে অবিলম্বে তাদের প্রেফতার করে কঠোর শাস্তির দাবী জানিয়েছে সবাই।

সকল সময়ে দেশের চিহ্নিত কথিত ধর্মীয় নেতারা নারীদের প্রতি অসম্মানজনক কটূ মন্তব্য করে নিপিড়কদের পরোক্ষভাবে উৎসাহ দিচ্ছে। আইন করে নারী বিদ্বেষী বক্তব্যকারীদের শাস্তির ব্যবস্থা না করলে এই ধরনের ন্যাক্কারজনক ঘটনা বন্ধ করা যাবেনা বলে সকলেই মত দিয়েছেন।

Agitators at the protest at Altab Ali park. Photo credit: Tanvir Ilias

Activists at the protest at Altab Ali park. Courtesy: Tanvir Ilias

যুব ইউনিয়নের যোবায়দা নাসরিনের পরিচালনায় বিক্ষোভ সমাবেশে বক্তব্য রাখেন ডা: রফিকুল হক জিন্নাহ, আবু মুসা হাসান, নারী দিগন্ত নেত্রী নাসিমা কাজল, ডঃ রুমানা হাশেম, নিলুফা ইয়াসমীন, পুষ্পিতা গুপ্ত, পিয়া মায়েনিন, কমুনিস্ট নেতা মসউদ আহমেদ, সত্যব্রত দাশ স্বপন, নারী চেতনার নাজনিন সুলতানা শিখা, অজন্তা দেব রায়, যুব ইউনিয়নের নাসরিন এ মনজুরী এবং শাহরিয়ার বিন আলী। আরো বক্তব্য রাখেন আসীম চক্রবর্তী, সাঈদা সিমি, স্মৃতি আজাদ, গোলাম কবীর, সুশান্ত দাসগুপ্ত,  রীনা মোশাররফ, নূরুল ইসলাম, পলিন মাঝি প্রমুখ।

Agitators at the protest at Altab Ali park. Courtesy: Tanvir Ilias

Agitators at the protest at Altab Ali park. Courtesy: Tanvir Ilias

লাঞ্চিত নারীকে বাঁচাতে গিয়ে বাংলাদেশ ছাত্র ইউনিয়নের ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয় শাখার সভাপতি লিটন নন্দী যে আহত হয়েছেন, তাঁর প্রতি কৃতজ্ঞতা জানিয়ে প্রতিবাদ সভায় এই ধরনের ঘটনায় সম্মিলিতভাবে প্রতিরোধ গড়ে তোলার প্রত্যয় ব্যক্ত করা হয়।

ভিডিওতে অপরাধ শনাক্ত করা গেলেও পুলিশ আজও অপরাধীদের ধরতে পারেনি, যতদিন অপরাধীরা ধরা পড়বেনা, শাস্তি হবেনা ততদিন আন্দোলন প্রতিবাদ চালিয়ে যাবে বলে বিক্ষোভ সমাবেশে উপস্থিত সকলে মতামত ব্যক্ত করেন।

Nari Diganta leaders hold placards against sexual violence against women. Courtesy: P V Dudman

Nari Diganta leaders hold placards against sexual violence against women. Courtesy: P V Dudman

Women agitators at the protest at Altab Ali park. Courtesy: Tanvir Ilias

Women agitators at the protest at Altab Ali park. Courtesy: Tanvir Ilias


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Rumana Hashem Tells the Story of Her Bangladeshi Sisters

Nari Diganta Calls Everybody to Join the Protest against Sexual Violence of Women

To condemn and call for action against the brutal sexual violence which were committed against 20 women in Dhaka during the celebration of Bangla New Year on Pohela Baisakh, a protest meeting has been arranged by Nari Diganta and Bangladesh Youth Union, UK.

When? Tuesday, 21 April, at 5.30pm.

Where? Altab Ali Park Shaheed Minar, Tower Hamlets, London E1 1, United Kingdom.

Please join us in the protest with your friends. Tell Bangladesh government to take action against the rapists. The perpetrators must be apprehended.

Please check out the facebook event page and indicate your joining here https://www.facebook.com/events/357725651099101/


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Nari Diganta denounces the heinous act of sexual harassment of girls and young women in Dhaka

Bangladesh Government Must Take the Responsibility to Apprehend the Perpetrators

Rumana Hashem

In the evening of 14 April, during the celebration of Bangla New Year 1422, called Pohel Boishak, 20 young Bangali girls and women were attacked by a group of rapists who took possessions of women’s bodies by forcing them to be naked and lied down on the ground while rapists played with their bodies at the premise of the country’s largest public University in the capital city of Dhaka. While the act of violence against these women was just less what we call rape in the West, the ferocity of the sexual assault was beyond account. The outrageous act of sexual harassment of young women in public went on for about two hours, near the gate of Teachers and Students’ Centre (TSC) of Dhaka University and the Suhrawardy Udyan (the historical Suhrawardy Garden), known as a premise of the country’s progressive people. During the vicious incidence, a group of progressive students belonging to a left political student’s organisation, called the Bangladesh Students Union (BSU), had protested the incident and tried to stop the rapists. As an end result, they were badly beaten up and threatened to be killed by the rapists. The rapists broke an arm of one protester, Liton Nandi, a leading activist and key organiser of the Bangladesh Student’s Union.This outrageous occurrence is unacceptable.

Bangladeshi police and campus security guards were present in the premise during the atrocities. They have witnessed everything throughout the dramatic sexualised event. Police failed the nation and did not play the role of state security personnel. They played extremely controversial role by keeping silent and by watching the incidence as armless staff of the state. By keeping silence and acting as statues, cop gave shelter to the rapists. Further, the University administration and local government denied their responsibilities to prevent these appalling sexualised violence happen in the premise of Dhaka University. The Proctor of the University has made controversial statements and denied to have evidence of sexual assaults of women within the Dhaka University’s premise whereas CCTV footage shows there is plenty of evidence and it is quite possible to identify the perpetrators.

This is not the first time that Bangladeshis have witnessed such masculinity and brutality of sexualised violence against women in Bangladesh. Masculinity is pervasive in Bangladesh but government plays hopeless roles to prevent such violence, allowing renewed sexualised violence against women. In 2000, a young woman was gang raped and killed at Dhaka University premise during the celebration of a new year in the eve of millennium. The woman was raped in front of her boyfriend. Both her boy friend and the millennium had witnessed the gendering of a young woman’s body right in the eve of a new era. Her fault was that she went to celebrate millennium as many men.

The story repeated on Tuesday, and this time our sisters were assaulted at day light by rapists in a similar fashion that the millennium had witnessed. Bangladeshi women are being destined to pervasive masculinity of some men and cadres of the ruling party. There has been nation-wide outrage to the incidence of Pohel Boishak.

Protest against sexual violence in Dhaka 15 April 2015. Courtesy: Facebook Group of Bikhubdho Nari Samaj  via Thot Kata

Protest against sexual violence in Dhaka 15 April 2015. Courtesy: Facebook Group of Bikhubdho Nari Samaj via thot kata

Yesterday women’s right campaigners have demanded apposite punishment of the perpetrators in a protest under the banner of Bikhubdho Nari Samaj (the society of women agitators). In response to the protest and nation-wide condemnation by women’s rights campaigners, the Bangladesh High Court has ruled the case as a sexualised violence against women. The perpetrators must be apprehended.  Further protest to demand appropriate punishment of the perpetrators and to address the need for an appropriate law to punish the perpetrators, has been organised by Bangladesh Students Union which will be held on Friday, 17 April in Dhaka.

As Bangladeshi-born women’s rights campaigners, we stand in solidarity with the agitating protesters.  We pay respect to our assaulted sisters.  We express full support to the demands of Bikhubdho Nari Samaj and Bangladesh Students Union (BSU) in Dhaka.  #freewomen #respectforwomen #preventsexualisedviolence

Below is a Facebook note by Professor Gitiara Nasreen, a key organiser of yesterday’s protest and a leading left-feminist in Bangladesh. In her note, Nasreen provides some findings which she compiled from the discussion which was being held in the protest by Bikhubdho Nari Samaj on Wednesday, 15 April. We have reproduced the findings for our Bangla-speaking women’s rights campaigners in London.

যৌননিপীড়িত উৎসব।।
গীতিআরা নাসরিন

বাংলা সন ১৪২২ এর প্রথম দিনে, ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের টিএসসি এবং সোহরাওয়ার্দি উদ্যানের গেটের মধ্যবর্তী জায়গায় প্রায় এক-দেড় ঘন্টা জুড়ে যে দলবদ্ধ যৌন-নিপীড়ন চলতে থাকে, সে সম্পর্কে ২রা বৈশাখ বিকেল পাঁচটায় ‘বিক্ষুদ্ধ নারী সমাজ’ ব্যানারে আয়োজিত প্রতিবাদ/প্রতিরোধ সভা থেকে পাওয়া কিছু তথ্য।

১. একজন নয়, বিভিন্ন বয়সের একাধিক নারী যৌন-নিপীড়িত হ’ন।
২. তাদের সঙ্গে যে পুরুষ-সঙ্গীরা ছিলেন, তারাও নিপীড়কদের শারীরিক আক্রমণের শিকার হয়েছেন।
৩. বিশ/পঁচিশজনের কয়েকটি দলে দফায় দফায় বিভিন্ন নারীর ওপর এই নিগ্রহ চালানো হয়।
৪. দাঁড়িয়ে থাকা, হাঁটতে থাকা, রিকশায় বসা কিম্বা ধাক্কাধাক্কির ফলে মাটিতে পড়ে যাওয়া, সকল অবস্থাতেই নারীটিকে (সঙ্গী এবং একটি ক্ষেত্রে ৮ বছরের শিশুসহ) ঘিরে ফেলে নিপীড়ন চালানো হয়।
৫. যৌন-নিপীড়নের পদ্ধতি ছিল গায়ের কাপড় টানা/খোলা/ছিঁড়ে ফেলা এবং শরীরের বিভিন্ন অংশে নানাভাবে হাত ও মুখ দেওয়া অর্থাৎ খামচানো/আঁচড়ানো/কামড়ানো।
৬. রক্ষাকারীরা সংখ্যায় কম ছিলেন, তারাও প্রহৃত হ’ন। ছাত্র ইউনিয়নের লিটন নন্দীর হাত ভেঙ্গে গেছে। উপস্থিতরা অনেকেই (পুলিশসহ) সাহায্যে এগিয়ে আসেন নি এবং ভিডিও বা ফটো তুলে রাখায় ব্যস্ত ছিলেন।
৭. এসময় আক্রমণকারী এবং আরো অনেকেই প্রচন্ড শব্দে ভুভুজেলা বাজাচ্ছিল।
৮. সোহরাওয়ার্দী ফটকের পাশেই ঢাকা মেট্রোপলিটান পুলিশ বুথ, এবং ঘটনাস্থলে কমপক্ষে দু’টি ক্লোজড সার্কিট ক্যামেরা ছিল।
৯. প্রতিরক্ষাকারীরা কয়েকজনকে পুলিশের হাতে ধরিয়ে দিলেও, তাদের সবাইকে পুলিশ ছেড়ে দেয়।
১০. পয়লা বৈশাখে ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয় এলাকার মধ্যে রাত দশটা পর্যন্ত যানবাহন বন্ধ থাকার কথা থাকলেও, দুপুর দুটোর পর থেকেই যান-বাহন চলাচল শুরু হয়।
১১. সোহরাওয়ার্দী উদ্যানের টিএসসি মুখী গেটটি নববর্ষের দিন বন্ধ রাখার কথা, কিন্তু গেটটি সবসময়েই খোলা ছিল।

Another front-line Bangladeshi feminist and our friend, Nasrin Siraj, has written an analysis to the prevalence of sexual violence and masculinty in Bangladesh. The article was being published on ঠোঁটকাটা (Thot Kata -The Sharp Tongue), which has been reproduced below with permission of the editor of Thot Kata and the author of the article. 

“WE NEED RED CHILLI POWEDER TO PREVENT SEXUAL VIOLENCE  AGAINST WOMEN”

By Nasreen Siraj

যৌন নিপীড়নের বিরুদ্ধে মরিচের গুঁড়ো

নাসরিন সিরাজ

“নয়-দশ বছরের মেয়েটির কাপড় ছেঁড়া, শরীরে মানুষের দাঁতের দাগ। কামড়ে মাংস থেতলে গিয়েছে…দৃষ্টিসীমায় ছিল বহু পুলিশ…ভুভুজেলার তিব্র চিৎকারের ফাঁকে শুনতে পেলাম আশপাশের লোকজন বলছে, ‘ভিডিও কর! এইটা ভিডিও কর!” উপরের বাক্যগুলো দিয়ে একজন প্রত্যক্ষদর্শী এবারের পয়লা বৈশাখে রমনায় ঘটে যাওয়া যৌন নিপীড়নের ঘটনা বর্ণনা করেছেন। ফেইসবুকে শেয়ার করেছেন খবরটা এক নাগরিক, সাংবাদিক। শাহবাগে বিক্ষুব্ধ নারী সমাজ প্রতিবাদ সমাবেশ করেছে। যৌন নিপীড়ন বিরোধী তৎপরতা প্রত্যক্ষ করছি আমরা। পাশাপাশি দেখছি কিছু গণমাধ্যমে যৌননিপীড়নের মত গুরুতর অপরাধকে শ্লীলতাহানী আখ্যা দিয়ে অপপ্রচার চলছে। তাদের সাথে যুক্ত হয়েছে পুলিশ প্রশাসনের “সিসিটিভি ক্যামেরা দিয়ে অপরাধী ধরবো” তামাশা।

আমার এক শিক্ষক পরামর্শ দিয়েছেন যৌন নিপীড়কদের বিরুদ্ধে নারীদের পুরোনো রক্ষাকবচ মরিচের গুঁড়ো এস্তেমাল করার জন্য। কথাটা প্রতীকি অর্থেও ব্যবহৃত হয়। যৌন নিপীড়নের মত গুরুতর অপরাধকে বিভ্রান্তিকর নামে ডেকে যারা তামাশা করছেন তাদের চোখের ঠুলি সারাতে আমাদের লেখাই মরিচের গুঁড়ো। তাই ২০১০ এ বুধবার নামক একটি সাপ্তাহিকে প্রকাশিত একটি পুরোনো লেখা ঠোঁটকাটায় আবার প্রকাশিত হল। এবারের ঘটনা ও তাকে ম্যানেজ করার জন্য প্রশাসন ও তার অপশক্তিগুলো যে কান্ডগুলো করছে তার সাথে পুরোনো ঘটনা ও ম্যানেজ প্রক্রিয়ার মিলগুলো ঝালিয়ে নিলে নারীমুক্তির লড়াই শক্তিশালী হবে বলেই আমরা আশা করছি।

যৌন নিপীড়নের পক্ষে/বিপক্ষের তৎপরতা পর্যবেক্ষণ, ২০১০

নাসরিন সিরাজ

২০০৯ সালের মে মাসে যৌন নিপীড়নের বিরুদ্ধে হাইকোর্ট থেকে একটি নির্দেশনা এসেছে। এই অর্জনের পর, ২০১০ এর শেষে এসে যৌন নিপীড়নের ঘটনাগুলো কিভাবে রাষ্ট্র , নীতি নির্ধারকরা ও গণমাধ্যম বিলি বন্টন করেছে সেটা বুঝবার চেষ্টা থেকে এই পর্যবেক্ষণ। জাতীয় পত্র-পত্রিকা, ইন্টারনেট প্রত্রিকা, ব্লগ কিংবা ফেসবুকে এ বছরে প্রকাশিত লেখালেখি থেকে দেখা যায় এ বছরও যৌন নিপীড়ন নিয়ে আলোচনা বেশ সরগরম ছিল। এই উত্তপ্ততা নির্দেশ করে যে ঘরের বাইরের পরিসরে নারীর অস্তীত্ব টিকিয়ে রাখার স্বার্থে যৌন নিপীড়ন বিরোধী এই নির্দেশনাকে আরও সম্প্রসারিত করার দরকার যেটা যৌন নিপীড়ন বিরোধী আন্দোলনকে অব্যাহত রাখতেও সাহায্য করবে।

হাইকোর্টের নির্দেশনামা জারি হবার সাথে সাথে যৌন নিপীড়নের ঘটনা হ্রাস পাবে এরকম আশা যৌন নিপীড়ন বিরোধী আন্দোলনের সাথে যারা দীর্ঘদিন যুক্ত আছেন তারা করেননি। বরং সমাজে বিদ্যমান লিঙ্গীয় বৈষম্য দূর করতে যৌন নিপীড়ন বিরোধী ব্যপক প্রচার প্রচারণা চালিয়ে জনসচেতনতা তৈরীই ছিল সংশ্লিষ্টদের পরবর্তী লক্ষ্য। হাইকোর্টও সেরকম নির্দেশ দিয়েছিল। কিন্তু দেখা গেল এ বছরটা ঠিক বিপরীত কাজটাই হল।

প্রথমত: যে ভয়াবহ কাজটি হল সেটি সরকার নিজেই করেছে আর তা হল “ঈভ টীজিং” শব্দটিকে আস্তাকুঁড়ে থেকে উদ্ধার এবং সমাজের দৈনন্দিন বাতচিতের মধ্যে এই হালকা শব্দটির পুনর্বহাল। নৃবিজ্ঞানী রেহনুমা আহমেদ তার লেখায় (eve teasing: of semantic shifts and criminal cover ups, 15.11.2010. New Age) এ নিয়ে বিস্তারিত আলোচনা করেন। তিনি এ বছরের বিভিন্ন সময়ে ঘটে যাওয়া ঘটনাগুলো উল্লেখ ও বিশ্লেষণ করে যুক্তি দেন যে মূলত: আওয়ামীলীগ ও যুবলীগের কর্মী বা ক্যাডারদের যৌন সন্ত্রাস ঢাকা দিতে এবং তাদের শাস্তির হাত থেকে রক্ষা করতে এটা করা হয়েছে। তিনি আরও যুক্তি দেন যে, ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের উপাচার্য রোভার স্কাউটদের সাথে নিয়ে “ঈভ টীজিংকে না বলুন” প্রচারণা শুরু করে এবং জুনের ১৩ তারিখকে “ঈভ টিজিং প্রতিরোধ দিবস” হিসেবে ঘোষণা দিয়ে যৌন নিপীড়নকে হাল্কাকরণ প্রক্রিয়ায় বাতাস দেন। একই লেখক (Thou spoke with a man’s tongue , Mananiya Prime Minister!, 13.12.2010. New Age) রোকেয়া পদক বিতরণ অনুষ্ঠানে দেয়া প্রধানমন্ত্রীর ভাষণের বিশ্লেষণ করে বলেন যে প্রধানমন্ত্রী নারী হলেও প্রকৃতপক্ষে তিনি পুরুষের ভাষাতেই কথা বলছেন। আপাত: দৃষ্টিতে আওয়ামী লীগের “শত্রু” হিসেবে চিহ্নিত জামায়াত-ই-ইসলামীর প্রধানের নারী বিদ্বেষী অবস্থানকেও প্রধানমন্ত্রী সমর্থন করছেন। উল্লেখ্য “ঈভ টীজিং” এর কারণ প্রসঙ্গে জামায়াত প্রধান মতিউর রহমান নিজামী বলেছেন মেয়েরা রাতে বের হয় বলেই এই ঘটনাগুলো ঘটে। একই প্রসঙ্গে কক্সবাজার জেলা ইসলামী ঐক্যজোটের সাধারণ সম্পাদক মাওলানা ইয়াসীন হাবিব বলেছেন, “ঈভ টীজিং” না থাকলে পৃথিবীর সব পুরুষ হিজড়া হয়ে যাবে। ঈভ টীজিং না থাকলে দেশে অরজাকতা সৃষ্টি হবে। অনেক মহিলা হালকা কাপড় পরে বের হয় পুরুষের দৃষ্টি আকর্ষণ করার জন্য। তারা নিজেদের কারণে “ঈভ টীজিং” এর শিকার হচ্ছেন।” (সূত্র: আমাদের সময়)। প্রধান মন্ত্রী শেখ হাসিনার “মেয়েদেরও শালীন ভাবে চলা উচিত” এই বক্তব্যের সমালোচনা করে রেহনুমা প্রশ্ন করেন- দেশের বড়লোক সমাজের মেয়েরা কি পোশাক পরে না পরে বা যৌন স্বাধীনতার নামে কি ফ্যান্টাসীতে ভোগে না ভোগে সেই প্রসঙ্গ টেনে এনে সাধারণ, কর্মঠ মেয়েদের (প্রকৃতপক্ষে যাদেরকে রাস্তাঘাটে দেখা যায়) প্রাত্যহিক সমস্যাকে কেন তরল করা হচ্ছে, যখন আমরা জানি যে যৌন নিপীড়নের কারণে মৃত্যুর (আত্মহত্যা, খুন) ঘটনা অগুনতি এবং স্কুল ছেড়ে দেয়ার হার উচ্চ?

এ বছরই আমরা দেখতে পেয়েছি সরকারের অপারেশন রোমিও হান্ট নামে র্যা ব প্রকল্প এবং কিশোরদের গলায় “বখাটে” সাইনবোর্ড ঝুলিয়ে ছবি তুলে পত্রিকায় প্রকাশ। এ বছর মোবাইল কোর্ট বসিয়ে “বখাটেদের” “ঈভ টীজিং” করার দোষে শাস্তিও দেয়া হয়েছে। কিন্তু সরকার নিজেই যেহেতু বিভ্রান্ত আর পক্ষপাতদুষ্ট তাই এই উদ্যোগগুলো নিয়ে প্রশ্ন তোলাটা গুরুত্বপূর্ণ। সাংবাদিক শামীমা বিনতে রহমান তার লেখায় (ইভটিজিংয়ের বিস্তার ও মিজানুর রহমানের প্রতিবাদের খেসারত, ২২.১০.২০১০, bdnews24.com) তুলে ধরেন কিভাবে নারীদের পাশাপাশি পুরুষরাও সরকারের এই তরলীকরণ প্রক্রিয়ায় জীবন দিচ্ছেন। তিনি লেখেন যে মিজানুর যৌন নিপীড়নের প্রতিবাদ করতে গিয়ে যখন মৃত্যুর সাথে পাঞ্জা লড়ছিল তখন স্থানীয় মানুষের সংগবদ্ধ উদ্যোগে (পুলিশের নিষ্ক্রিয়তায় তারা ক্ষুব্ধ হয়ে উঠেছিল) একজন আসামীকে স্থানীয় এক আইনজীবির বাসা থেকে পাকড়াও করা হয়। এই ঘটনাগুলো প্রমাণ করে যৌন নিপীড়নের আসামীদের রক্ষার ব্যপারে স্থানীয় রাজনৈতিক ক্ষমতাও কার্যকর ভূমিকা পালন করছে। তিনি বলেন, “ নাটোরের বাগাতিপাড়া উপজেলার লোকমানপুর কলেজের রসায়ন বিভাগের ৩৬ বছর বয়সী শিক্ষক মিজানুর রহমানের ঘটনা কেবল যৌন উৎপীড়ক, পুরুষালী মানসিকতার বিরুদ্ধে প্রতিবাদের দৃষ্টান্তই নয়, ইভটিজিংকে হাল্কাভাবে নেয়ার সরকারী সিদ্ধান্তের অসারতা উন্মোচনেরও দৃষ্টান্ত।”

এবারে আসি যৌন নিপীড়ন বিরোধী তৎপরতায়। যৌন নিপীড়ন বিরোধী নীতিমালা বাস্তবায়নের সমস্যা নিয়ে বরাবরের মত এ বছরও জাহাঙ্গীরনগর বিশ্ববিদ্যালয় সোচ্চার ছিল। জুন মাসে হাইকোর্ট বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়টির উপাচার্য ও রেজিস্টারকে যৌন নিপীড়ন বিরোধী নির্দেশ মালায় নির্দিষ্ট করা গাইডলাইন লংঘন করার কারণে শমন জারি করে। সূত্র : Press Release: High Court Orders Vice Chancellor and Register in Charge of Jahangirnagar University to Show Cause Re Contempt for Disclosing Identity of Complainant. date : 3.6.2010. link : http://solidarityworkshop.wordpress.com/2010/06/03/pr-hc-ju-contempt/) উল্লেখ্য, হাইকোর্টের নির্দেশের অনুচ্ছেদ ৮(ক) এবং ১০ (৩) অনুযায়ী অভিযোগ প্রমাণের আগ পর্যন্ত অভিযোগকারী ও অভিযুক্তের পরিচয় গোপন রাখার কথা বলা আছে। কিন্তু বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়টির কর্তৃপক্ষ সেটি লংঘন করে তদন্ত প্রক্রিয়াধীন একটি যৌন নিপীড়নের ঘটনার অভিযোগকারী শিক্ষিকার নাম বিভিন্ন জাতীয় পত্রিকায় (২৭ এপ্রিল) বিজ্ঞাপনের মাধ্যমে প্রকাশ করে।

২৭ নভেম্বর নিপীড়নের বিরুদ্ধে জাহাঙ্গীরনগর একটি গোলটেবিল আলোচনা করে ঢাকা রিপোর্টার্স ইউনিটিতে। বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়টির সরকার ও রাজনীতি বিভাগের শিক্ষক নাসিম আখতার হোসেইনের আহবানে সেখানে উপস্থিত হন সাংবাদিক এবং যৌন নিপীড়নের বিরুদ্ধে সক্রিয় শিক্ষক, প্রাক্তন ছাত্রী-ছাত্র ও বিভিন্ন নারী সংগঠনের নেতৃবৃন্দ। বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়টির ১৮ বছরের (দেখুন ধর্ষণ বিরোধী ছাত্রী আন্দোলন, জাহাঙ্গীরনগর বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ে ’৯৮ তে সংগঠিত আন্দোলন নিয়ে প্রকাশনা সংকলন, অশুচি, ১৯৯৯) যৌন নিপীড়ন বিরোধী আন্দোলন সংগঠন ও যৌন নিপীড়ন বিরোধী নীতিমালা প্রণয়নে সক্রিয় অংশগ্রহনের অভিজ্ঞতার আলোকে ঐ গোল-টেবিলে আলোচনা করা হয়। যেমন: যৌন নিপীড়কদের শাস্তি প্রদানের সফলতা (বিশ্ববিদ্যালয় থেকে চাকুরিচ্যুত করা গেছে বা পদাবনতি করা গেছে কিন্তু রাষ্ট্রের সাধারণ আইনের কাছে তাদের সোপর্দ করা যায়নি) থেকে দেখা গেছে যে “আইন তাদেরই ধরে যাদের ক্ষমতা নেই। যখন অপরাধীর সাথে ক্ষমতার সাথে, রাজনৈতিক দলের সাথে, শিক্ষকদের ভোটের রাজনীতির সাথে সম্পর্ক থাকে তখন তাকে আর শাস্তি দেয়া হচ্ছে না ( বক্তা: নাসিম আখতার হোসেইন)। তিনি আরও বলেন যে হাইকোর্টের নির্দেশ অনুযায়ী সকল শিক্ষাপ্রতিষ্ঠান এটা নিয়ে সক্রিয় হবার কথা কিন্তু কেবল মাত্র জাহাঙ্গীরনগর বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ে কিছুটা কাজ হচ্ছে। এই সফলতায়ও খুশী হওয়া যাচ্ছে না কারণ আইন সেখানে কার্যকর হচ্ছে না। বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের অর্থনীতি বিভাগের শিক্ষক আনু মুহাম্মদ যৌন নিপীড়ন প্রতিরোধে সরকারের এ বছরের কার্যকলাপকে অস্থায়ী সমাধান হিসেবে আখ্যায়িত করে স্থায়ী সমাধানের জন্য কি করা যেতে পারে সেটা আলোচনা করার জন্য গোলটেবিল বৈঠকটি সঞ্চালন করেন। আলোচনায় উঠে আসে যে হাইকোর্টের নির্দেশ অনুযায়ী জাহাঙ্গীরনগর বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ে অভিযোগ সেল গঠন করা হচ্ছে ঠিকই কিন্তু এই সেলের সদস্য তারাই হচ্ছে যারা প্রশাসনের সাথে যুক্ত বা অনুগত ব্যক্তি। ফলে অভিযুক্ত ব্যক্তির বদলে অভিযোগকারীর দোষ নিয়ে তারা বেশী আগ্রহী। নারীর জন্য সুবিচার নিশ্চিত করতে অভিযোগ সেলে শুধু নারী সদস্যের অন্তর্ভুক্তিই যথেষ্ট নয়। কারণ তারাও এই ব্যবস্থার বাইরে কাজ করে না। যেমন এ বছরে আলোচিত আব্দুল্লাহ হেল কাফী কেইসের তদন্ত রিপোর্টে অভিযোগকারীর সমস্যা হিসেবে উল্লেখ আছে যে তার ব্যক্তিত্বের সমস্যা আছে, সে অস্থির মতি, চঞ্চল প্রকৃতির এবং তার দ্রুত ধৈর্য স্খলন ঘটে। এই “অপরাধগুলো”র কারণে অভিযোগকারী শিক্ষিকারও চাকুরিতে পদাবনতি ঘটে। দেখা গেছে যৌন নিপীড়নকে চিহ্নিত না করে সেটাকে “অসদাচরন” আখ্যা দিয়ে বিষয়টিকে হালকা করা হয়। যেমন একই তদন্ত রিপোর্টে বলা হয়েছে অভিযোগকারী অভিযোগ “বাড়াবাড়ি”। ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের শিক্ষক কাবেরী গায়েন বলেন, “অসৎ চরিত্র ও অদক্ষতা যে যৌন নিপীড়ন থেকে আলাদা বিষয় এটা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের প্রশাসনকে বুঝতে হবে”। “যৌন নিপীড়নের শক্ত প্রমাণ নেই” যুক্তি দিয়ে অনেক মামলা খারিজ করা হয় প্রসঙ্গে বিচারপতি গোলাম রাব্বানী নারী নির্যাতনের স্বাক্ষী নিজেই, অর্থাৎ তাকে ইনজুরড ইউটনেস হিসেবে ধরতে হবে এই সুযোগ আমাদের দেশের আইনেই আছে এবং সেটার চর্চা তিনি নিজেও করেছেন (তিনি আরও দেখতে বলেন BLD 16, Vol 230)

২০০০ দশকের শুরুটা হয়েছিল ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের মিলন চত্বরে মিলেনিয়াম উৎসবে দুই শতাধিক তরুনের দ্বারা একজন নারীকে বিবস্ত্র করার মাধ্যমে। এই বছরের শুরুটা হয়েছে জন সমক্ষে যৌন নিপীড়ন করায় পিংকির আত্মহত্যার খবর দিয়ে। ২০১০ এর পহেলা বৈশাখ উদযাপন হয়েছে ছাত্রলীগের কর্মীদের দ্বারা কনসার্টে মেয়েদের শরীরে সংগবদ্ধ যৌনজ আক্রমন করে। নতুন বছর শুরু করতে যাচ্ছি আমরা। শুরু করতে যাচ্ছি একবিংশ শতাব্দীর দ্বিতীয় দশক। যৌন নিপীড়নের মত জটিল একটি বিষয় সরলীকরণ করার প্রকিয়া বন্ধ হোক সেই আশাই করি। আর নারীদের এগিয়ে যাওয়ার, ঘরের বাইরে বেরিয়ে আসার যে ধারাবাহিক আন্দোলন চলছে সেটা আরও শক্তিশালী হোক সেটা দেখার প্রত্যাশা করি। “পুরুষেরা – যাহারা নানা প্রকার দুষ্টামি করে, বা করিতে সক্ষম, তাহারা দিব্য স্বাধীনতা ভোগ করে, আর নিরীহ কোমলাঙ্গী অবলারা বন্দী থাকে! অশিক্ষিত অমার্জিত-রুচি পুরুষেরা বিনা শৃংখলে থাকিবার উপযুক্ত নহে। আপনারা কিরূপে তাহাদিগকে মুক্তি দিয়া নিশ্চিন্ত থাকেন?” – ১৯০৫ সালে সুলতানার স্বপ্নে বেগম রোকেয়া যে প্রশ্ন করে আমাদের বিব্রত করে রেখেছেন তার অবসান হোক।

ফুটনোট:
যৌন নিপীড়ন বলতে যে বিষয়গুলোকে হাইকোর্টের নির্দেশনামায় অন্তর্ভুক্ত করা হয়েছে সেগুলো হল:
a. Unwelcome sexually determined behaviour (whether directly or by implication) as physical contact and advances;
b. Attempts or efforts to establish physical relation having sexual implication by abuse of administrative, authoritative or professional powers;
c. Sexually coloured verbal representation;
d. Demand or request for sexual favours;
e. Showing pornography;
f. Sexually coloured remark or gesture;
g. Indecent gesture, teasing through abusive language, stalking, joking having sexual implication.
h. Insult through letters, telephone calls, cell phone calls, SMS, pottering, notice, cartoon, writing on bench, chair, table, notice boards, walls of office, factory, classroom, washroom having sexual implication.
i. Taking still or video photographs for the purpose of blackmailing and character assassination;
j. Preventing participation in sports, cultural, organizational and academic activities on the ground of sex and/or for the purpose of sexual harassment;
k. Making love proposal and exerting pressure or posing threats in case of refusal to love proposal;
l. Attempt to establish sexual relation by intimidation, deception or false assurance.
(http://www.dpiap.org/resources/article.php?id=0000194&year=&genreid=05, লিংকটি সর্বশেষ দেখা হয়েছে ২৭/১২/২০১০ তারিখে)


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It is time to be loud and clear

Celebration of International Women’s Day 2015 at Nari Diganta

By Nazratoon Nayem

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Last Sunday, on 8 March 2015, the women in Movement for Equal Rights, Social Justice and Secularism at Nari Diganta have celebrated International Women’s Day 2015 with a diverse group of women and men belonging to 14 different ethnicities and nationalities in Britain. At a packed room of some 150 audience, the members of Nari Diganta have greeted Bengali creative women and renowned BME women’s rights campaigners at the Brady Arts and Community Centre in Tower Hamlets, London. The event was explicitly focused on secular Bengali women who have dedicated their lives to creative work and BME women’s empowerment in Britain and elsewhere.

Sarah Begum takes Nari Diganta to 'Amazon Souls'. Courtesy: Rumana Hashem

Sarah Begum takes audience from Brady Arts Centre to ‘Amazon Souls’ through her slides. Courtesy: Rumana Hashem

The unusual event of progressive Bengali women kicked in with a greetings from the Secretary, Nasima Kajol, and an opening message by the Chairperson of Nari Diganta, Shamima Begum. It followed by a compliment of International Women’s Day from a secularist-sociologist and BME women’s rights activist, Dr Rumana Hashem. Rumana invites Sarah Begum, an award winning young film-maker and a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, to screen her documentary film about Amazonian life. Sarah took the audience to her film through a showreel and slides followed by a biographical speech, demonstrating the difference, passion and courage that a creative woman does posses in terms of freedom and women’s struggle for emancipation.

From right: Chandra Chakraborty,  Sarah Begum and Smrtiy Azad  spoke about their struggles as women in creative fields. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

From right: Chandra Chakraborty, Sarah Begum and Smrity Azad spoke about their struggles as women in creative fields. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

Sarah’s talk was followed by a creative women’s panel and a bilingual discussion by three creative women from three backgrounds including music, film and theater. The panel chaired by Nari Diganta’s legal adviser, Piara Mayenin, was attended by a proclaimed Bengali classical vocalist Chandra Chakraborty, the film-maker and explorer Sarah Begum, and Bengali performer, Smrity Azad. The creative panelists have made a point that Bengali creative women are not just performers who would perform to please men and the society. Rather, they are innovative women who posses transformative power, who made valuable contribution to their respective societies by overcoming hazardous barriers and by choosing creativity and performance as a way forward to emancipation and progress of women.

The discussion by the creative women was followed by a panel of prominent BME women’s rights campaigners and secularists. The panel formed by Gita Sahgal, the producer of War Crime File,and a writer and the Director of Centre for Secular Space, and Maryam Namzie, an Iranian Secularist and the Founder and Spokesperson of One Law for All and Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation, was chaired by Bangladeshi women’s rights campaigner and a core group member at Nari Diganta, Rumana Hashem.

From the left: Gita Sahgal, Maryam Namazie and Rumana Hashem discussed the need for moving forward with a secular agenda for women's emancipation and BME women's empowerment in Britain. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

From the left: Gita Sahgal, Maryam Namazie and Rumana Hashem discussed the need for moving forward with a secular agenda for women’s emancipation and BME women’s empowerment in Britain. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

The event ends with a staggering cultural programme of Bengali dance, music and poetry by women and young girls. Finally the singing sensation Farzana Sifat appeared with her solo music, followed by a choir of the members of Nari Diganta.

Vocalist Farzana Sifat sings for the women at Nari Diganta. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

Vocalist Farzana Sifat sings for the women at Nari Diganta. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

The cultural event, presented by Nasima Kajol and Munjerin Rashid ended with a powerful choir ‘We remain undefeated, we will remain undefeated.’

Sunday’s IWD event at Brady Arts Centre was as unusual as festive, and was filled with lively music and songs of Bengali women. The diverse audience of a wide range of ethnicities, dressed up in their national outfits, have joined from Iran, India, Libya, Norway, Morocco, Poland, Pakistan, Spain, Sweden, Scotland, USA, and of course, Bangladesh and England.

Part of the mixed audience at Brady Arts Centre IWD2015 at Nari Diganta. Courtesy: Golam Rabbani

Part of the mixed audience at Brady Arts Centre IWD2015 at Nari Diganta. Courtesy: Golam Rabbani

Despite the delayed start and some alterations to the programme, audience have expressed their full-solidarity to the organisers and the women at Nari Diganta who have shown passion and ability to create a space for a mixed and secular audience in Tower Hamlets. The jolly composer of the event, Rumana Hashem started the evening by calling upon the audience to engage with the ideas of creative Bengali women who appeared on national dresses and on posh-colourful saris in festive mood. Dr Hashem says, explaining the importance of sari for Bengali women: ‘those who are new to Brady Arts and Community Centre or who joined us for the first time at Nari Diganta may get a culture shock by seeing Muslim Bengali women on fancy sari. Believe me it is our everyday dress and this dress demonstrates our professionalism back home. You got to take it easy. Note that we are Bengali women at work.’ The room broke into laughter and a festive breeze had been felt throughout the evening.

Two daughters of members of Nari Diganta perform for their mothers and sisters. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

Two daughters of members of Nari Diganta perform for their mothers and sisters. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

Inspite of threats of radicalism by the unexpected intruders who sneaked into the venue in the midst of the programme, without permission of the organisers, the festive atmosphere was obvious at the event. Both the audience and speakers remained calm and bold throughout. The support of the wonderful audience became apparent especially in their efforts of networking and friendly comments. The speakers and presenters were articulate in their statements that Bengali women are progressive, secular and not blind to male-dominated social norms and customs.

Young girls of Nari Diganta danced for the creative Bengali women. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

Young girls of Nari Diganta danced for the creative Bengali women. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

Vocalist Chandra Chakraborty declared, in her final comment, ‘indeed, women are the superiors in terms of their ability’. She argued that it is wrong to assume that men are higher than women in relation to ability of creativity and ethics of care. Even though it is mostly men who hold political power, women are the ones who have the real ability to do things innovatively and passionately. We must recognise women’s real power, she said.

Gita Sahgal addresses the mixed audience. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

Gita Sahgal addresses the mixed audience. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

In her remark about Nari Diganta, Gita Sahgal said that she was delighted to hear the powerful statements of the creative women and the secular ideas that they upheld. She thanked the women at Nari Diganta for taking a secular agenda in the question of women’s rights.

Maryam Namazie calls upon the women at Nari Diganta to take a bold step against patriarchy and religious oppression. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

Maryam Namazie calls upon the women at Nari Diganta to take a bold step against patriarchy and religious oppression. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

Maryam Namazie, the Iranian-born women’s rights campaigner and secularist, has similarly expressed her thankfulness to the organisers for their courage to create a space for secular practices and for overcoming religious barriers in Bengali women’s lives.

She said, in her complimentary speech on IWD, ‘It has been great to join you all.  We need to keep moving forward with a secular agenda from here’.

The pledge to women’s emancipation and secularism were apparent throughout the event. In her welcome message, Nari Diganta’s chairperson Shamima Begum Hena said:

‘I hope that you will enjoy the event and will stay with us. We are celebrating International Women’s Day at a juncture when our homeland, Bangladesh is burning, as many other countries. We are facing division and confrontation between the progressive and extremist forces. In such a situation women’s insecurity became most obvious in all of these countries. We remain vigilant and  we try to establish a clear position in the question of women’s rights there and here. We want to celebrate International women’s day by recognising the good work that our Bengali creative women are doing in Britain, overcoming their situation every day. We want also to scrutinise BME women’s situation in Britain.’

Part of the colourful audience at  Brady Arts Centre. Courtesy: Golam Rabbani

Part of the colourful audience at Brady Arts Centre. Courtesy: Golam Rabbani

She added, ‘We need to be critical and be careful to any uncritical solidarity. We need to avoid generalisation of BME women’s rights issues with all women in Britain. We want to be loud and clear about the real situation within which we work, and we want to hear how our creative women may make their voices against bigotry and oppressions heard. In a world of uncertainty, we need to be loud and clear about our mission, vision and achievements. I am very pleased to see that so many of you have come to our event, despite it being a Sunday.’

Following Hena, Dr Hashem invites everybody to join Sarah Begum’s talk. She added:

Sarah Begum attempts to connect her work with women's emancipation.  Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

Sarah Begum attempts to connect her work with women’s emancipation. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

‘Sarah’s film is a politically informed documentary and it bears a highly political message of women’s empowerment and freedom. May I ask everybody please focus on the “theme” of the film rather than the “scene”’. In explaining the significance of the theme and the design of the programme, Rumana Hashem explains also that the programme was designed differently because it bore a political message for women’s empowerment, equal rights and bigotry-free society. She said: ‘We are a young organisation and only four years old. But as you would know, sometimes a four-year child can be more clever, bold, innovative, scrutinising and imaginative than many adults. We believe that today’s event would demonstrate this creativity and boldness of a four years old child. The design of our event is unusual and the theme is important. We hope that you will like it and you will bear with us.’

Nasima Kajol addressing audience during cultural programme. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

Nasima Kajol addressing audience during cultural programme. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

In commenting about IWD2015 at Nari Diganta, Nasima Kajol, the Secretary of the organisation told that: ‘We have tried to do something different, something new and something especial. I do not claim that it was a fully successful event in terms of Western discipline and order. Still I am pleased that we have done it differently than many traditional events in Tower Hamlets. One does not gain success in one day. I think that we are doing well as a young organisation. I am proud of our ability to unite in a secular and progressive political stand at Nari Digatna.’

Nasima Kajol and Munjerin Rashid jointly greeted the pleasant audience. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

Nasima Kajol and Munjerin Rashid jointly greeted the pleasant audience. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

The evening was filled with film, dialogue, music and dance with Creative Bengali Women speaking out against oppression and bigotry. It was partially sponsored by the Tower Hamlets Council, PCO Claims, Amifro Associates, Chambers of MM Hussain, and Hillside Travel. The organisers have greeted the sponsors with bouquet of flowers for the much needed support that the funders have provided to Nari Diganta as faithful friends and well-wishers.

The choir at Nari Diganta on International Women's Day 2015. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

The choir at Nari Diganta on International Women’s Day 2015. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

The daughters of the women at Nari Diganta performed for their mothers and sisters. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

The daughters of the women at Nari Diganta performed for their mothers and sisters. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

The IWD2015 Raffle draw. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

The IWD2015 Raffle draw. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri


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Support Those Fighting Religious-Right and Jihadists in Bangladesh

By Rumana Hashem

Nari Diganta is horrified and outraged by the brutal killing of Bangladeshi-born freethinker and humanist- writer, Avijit Roy. This is not the first time that we are shocked by watching how the fatal stabbing of humanists and freethinkers happens in Bangladesh. There has been a series of such killings for which fundamentalist and Islamic groups are responsible. Just about six weeks ago a freethinker and female teacher, Anjali Devi Roy, at Chittagong Nursing College was stabbed to death by Jamat-e Islami’s cadre for she had spoken out against Hijab and refused to cooperate to impose Hijab on her students in the college. Previously Bangladesh has witnessed the brutal attack on renowned humanist –literary Professor Humayun Azad in 2004, who was forced into exile in Germany and was succumb to death there. In 2013, humanist-bloggers Asif Mohiuddin was stabbed and Ahmed Rajib Haider was killed by religious fanatics in Dhaka.

Avijit hattar Bichar chai Poster

Poster: Avijit hattar Bichar Chai #IamAvijit

As reports demonstrate, Avijit Roy was killed in a similar fashion to all of the above, by Islamic extremists and men hired by identifiable jihadist groups in the capital city of Dhaka on his way back to home from the Bangla Academy Ekushey Book Fair, a place/space that was historically known as secular in Bangladesh. The killing of Avijit by jihadists is neither an isolated incident nor surprising to Bangladeshi secularists and freethinkers. Rather it was expected, and now being accepted by many Muslims in and outside Bangladesh who believe that Avijit was “a talent but a bit insensible and careless! He spoke and wrote things that he shouldn’t have. People belonging to Hijbut Tahrir are extremists, how could we fight them?”

After this killing of this renowned freethinker on Thursday, 26 February 2015, such a statement is outrageous and unacceptable. It is time to recognise that expressing indignation, denunciation and paying tribute, as so many are doing, is not enough. It is time to act and prevent the brutal attack and killing of freethinkers from happening. We need to support our freethinkers openly and without reservation. Everyone will be killed one after another unless we have recognised the importance of freethinking, secularism and humanism – unless we stop being partial to the religious-Right.

A glance at the Bengali-speaking media shows that whilst many Bangladeshis condemned the violence itself, the majority of them are hesitant to accept the fact that the killers were hired men of Islamic groups, and deny the fact it is religious-right that is responsible for Avijit’s brutal killing. Some also expressed a view that freethinkers like Avijit must have insulted Islam and hence this is his ‘fate’. These stories are similar to what we have seen and experienced after the fatal stabbing of Professor Humayun Azad, another humble atheist, a triumphant academic and an unforgotten Bengali literary who was killed in August 2004, following the publication of his last revolutionary book ‘Pak Sar Jamin’ [the Holy Land]. Professor Azad’s narrative is so very like Avijit Roy’s. Both of them were fatally stabbed during the month of February, near the Bangla Academy, in Dhaka University neighbourhood and as returning from the historical Book Fair in February. The Dhaka University’s secularists, humanists and freethinkers have broken into outrage that time too. But as usual, a large number of the population in the country was undecided and hesitant to support us – those who were fighting at the frontier, those who demanded justice for Humayun Azad, just like today.

Many have said that it was ‘sad’ that the Professor ‘had to experience this brutality’, however, it was ‘arrogant and insensible’ of the Professor to attack Allah and the holy Quran in the way that he did in his Pak Sar Jamin. The media and civil society in Bangladesh were divided into two sections, along the above lines. Their attitudes suggest that atheists must ‘be polite or face death’. This trend in the media, government and civil society in Bangladesh demands our grave attention. It is shocking to see that secularists and atheists are the ones who must keep silent and who do not get the kind of respect that the believers do. It is shocking to see that believers and Jihadists could kill people if any individual wants to enjoy free speech to the same degree as the believers do in a state that was created to enjoy secularism and freedom of speech. The separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971 was primarily to establish a secular state which would ensure freedom of speech and would promote freethinking. But today’s Bangladesh and the murder of a renowned freethinker tell us that we belong to a state of extremism and a state of Jihadist/killers.

We believe that the attitude of government, media and civil society in a supposedly secular and democratic state, Bangladesh, has given birth of too many Jihadists, who continue to kill voices and stab freethinkers like Azad, Rajib, Anjali and Avijit Roy. It is indeed the obsessive religious-Right that is being supported and given centre stage in a supposedly secular state. This must stop. It is time for cure and prevention. Those who are on the forefront of countering armed fundamentalists must gain justice instead of being left to their own devices. It is time to recognise importance of those secularists who are at the forefront and who seek to reform society with their courage, critical thinking, political clarity and their great abilities. It is time to stop referring to Allah, Quran and Islam when humans are being killed in the name of religious sensibility. It is time to stop any killing in the name of religion.

We insist prevention, and NOT protest and outrage only. We do not pay tribute or express condemnation only but also stand in solidarity with Avijit’s family who demand justice for Avijit. We join all who fight religious fundamentalism and Islamic extremists in Bangladesh and other states across world. As reports show, clearly it is a Bangladeshi Islamist group who is responsible for Aviji’ts killing, and they can be tracked down if government of Bangladesh would be willing to do so. The group calling itself Ansar Bangla-7, is a fundamentalist group who claimed responsibility for the attack in a series of Twitter postings by saying that Roy “was a target for more than 3/4 years” for his writings that it characterized as being critical of Islam. Although the group’s Twitter account was later disabled, we believe that it is possible to trace the group if government and mainstream media in Bangladesh are willing to help us to ensure justice for Avijit Roy.

We stand in solidarity with the protesters and peace activists who are working to prevent all of those fanatic occurrences around the world from happening. Our struggle is against religious fundamentalism and racism and for universal human rights. State must take the responsibility to safeguard freethinking and humanity. Bangladesh government must ensure justice for Avijit and all other freethinkers who were killed in the name of religion and Islam. Avijit Roy will leave as long as we protest and seek justice for #AvijitRoy .

Protesters paid tribute to murdered #Avijit  at  Trafalgar Squire,  London. Sunday, March 2, 2015. Photo: Paul Dudman

Protesters paid tribute to murdered #Avijit at Trafalgar Squire, London. Sunday, March 2, 2015. Photo: Paul Dudman

Letter from Avijit Roy’s daughter Trisha Ahmed: ‘…everyone could share his story…Use your influence to help bring some sort of justice to the atrocious acts’

Avijit Will live as we speak Poster by Freethinkers

Avijit Will live as we speak Poster by Freethinkers

Avijit Roy’s daughter, Trisha Ahmed, called upon everyone to spread the words of her father who was never submissive and never to be forgotten. In a form of paying a tribute and expressing solidarity with Trisha and her mother, we have reproduced the letter of Trisha Ahmed below, which she has posted on Facebook, which she wanted us all to share as widely as possible. Readers are requested to please read, share and spread the story of Avijit Roy, as written by Trisha, to honour Dr. Roy and to remember an ever-powerful humanist voice.

My dad was a prominent Bengali writer, most famous for his books about science and atheism. He and my mom went to Bangladesh last week to publicize his books at Bangladesh’s national book fair. 15 hours ago, Islamic fundamentalists stabbed my dad to death. My mom was severely wounded from the attack and is still in the hospital. His death is headline news in Bangladesh.

The reason I’m sharing this is less for me and more for my dad. He was a firm believer in voicing your opinion to better the world.

He and my mom started dating when I was six years old. In the twelve years that followed, he became my friend, my hero, my most trusted confidante, my dance partner (even though we’re both terrible dancers), and my father. Not once did he tell me to simmer down or be more polite; he taught me to be informed, bold, and unafraid.

To say that I’m furious or heartbroken would be an understatement. But as fucked up as the world is, there’s never a reason to stop fighting to make it better. I’ll carry the lessons he taught me and the love he gave me forever. I love you so much, Dad. Thank you for every single thing

What would help me the most right now is if everyone (even people I’ve never met) could share his story. His story should be heard in the US because Bangladesh is powerless; it’s corrupt, there is no law and order, and I highly doubt that any justice will come to the murderers. I want his story to be on US headline news, not only Bangladesh’s. If you could just do all you can to spread word of what’s happened, I would appreciate it so so much. Inform your schools, your communities, write all that you can. Please don’t allow my dad to die in vain.

Please use your influence to help bring some sort of justice to the atrocious acts that have been committed against my parents.

‪#‎WordsCannotBeKilled

Read also:

‘I am Avijit’ Vigil in London https://www.facebook.com/events/645691532226458

‘Avijit was an intellectually-fulfilled-atheist who dedicated life to promote science and secularism’- Listen to Rafida Ahmed about Avijit https://m.soundcloud.com/bbc-world-service/rafida-bonya-ahmed-murdered-blogger-avijit-roys-wife-i-will-not-be-quiet

Prominent writer killed by Jihadists in Dhaka http://www.ajc.com/news/news/alpharetta-blogger-hacked-to-death-in-bangladesh/nkKmy/

Blogger hacked to death in Bangladesh capital: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/02/blogger-hacked-death-bangladesh-capital-150227045121388.html

Blogger killed in Bangladesh machete attack: http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/02/27/us-bangladesh-blogger-idUSKBN0LV11G20150227

Bangladeshi-origin U.S. Blogger Critical of Fanatic Muslim and Extremist Stabbed http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-bangladesh-blogger-slain-20150227-story.html

Avvaz petition to Bangladesh Government https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Bangladeshi_Government_Prosecute_Islamists_who_Killed_Avijit_Roy_and_Protect_Freethinkers/?sMXAXib


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Listening to Voices of Creative Bengali Women in London

An evening with Film, Dialogue, Music and Bangla-Feast with Creative Bengali Women speaking out against oppression and bigotry on International Women’s Day 2015

When?            8 March, Sunday, at 5pm – 9pm

Where?          Brady Arts & Community Centre, 192- 196 Hanbury Street, London, E1 5HU

Who?             Nari Diganta – the Women in Movement for Equality, Social Justice and Secularism

Nari Diganta recognises and celebrates Bengali women’s achievements and struggles in a particular field on every International Women’s Day since its foundation. In 2013 we have celebrated the success and struggles of our women in the field of education, and last year we have focused on Bangladeshi-British women’s struggle in public political sphere. This year Nari Diganta organises an evening to recognise the success and voices of creative Bengali women against bigotry and oppression. We will explore our women’s contribution in the creative field to celebrate International Women’s Day 2015 and will scrutinise BME women’s situation in Britain. You are cordially invited to this free event!

Building on their rich cultural heritage, Bengali women in the UK, particularly the new generation are taking on increasingly confident steps into the British creative landscape in the fields of literature, film making, music, dance, theatre, fine arts and other unusual creative works. Many of these outstanding talents are indigenous to Tower Hamlets. Nari Diganta undertakes a ‘talent hunt’ of creative Bengali women in Tower Hamlets and beyond to celebrate and critically examine these women’s achievements by inviting them to present their talents to a diverse audience. Our core group members and experienced women’s rights activists will engage in a dialogue with the creative women to understand how their works address issues of oppression, inequity and bigotry. This exchange of ideas will address the question as to how loud and clear our creative Bengali women’s works are in terms of addressing minority women’s oppression and bigotry in a world of injustice.

The event is Free. Its filled with fun, film, timely exchange, music and entertainment. Its a space for networking with community activists, women’s rights campaigners, and creative and cultural activists. But space is limited, so please reserve your place asap via eventribe https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/listening-to-voices-of-creative-bengali-women-in-london-tickets-15829202571

Programme

5pm: Welcome by Nasima Kajol – ‘Greetings from the Four Years Old Child’

5:05: Opening Speech by Shamima Begum – ‘Its Time to be Loud and Clear’

5:10pm: Screening of Amazon Souls – An award winning film by Sarah Begum, a young woman exploring the Amazon and challenging the environmental destruction through creative work.

5:45pm: Creative Women’s Voices against Oppression – How Loud and Clear Do We Sound?

An Exchange of Ideas between Creative Women and Bengali Women’s Rights Campaigners

Panelists include: Classical Vocalist Chandra Chakraborty, Film-maker and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society Sarah Begum, Novelist and Author of the Golden Age Tahmima Anam, and Performer Smrity Azad.

Bengali women’s rights campaigners at Nari Diganta include Dr Rumana Hashem and Piara Mayenin.

6:40pm: ‘Needs to Move Forward with a Secular Agenda’: Remarks & Greetings by Notable Women’s Rights Campaigners

Commentators include Gita Sahgal, Writer, Film-maker, and Director of Centre for Secular Space; Maryam Namazie, Founder and Spokesperson of One Law for All & Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation

6:50pm: Remarks by Special Guest, H.E. Mr. Md. Abdul Hannan, Honourable High Commissioner of Bangladesh Embassy in London (tbc)

7:00pm: Bangla Dinner with Special Guest, Creative Women and Women’s Rights Campaigners

7:40pm: Nach Gan Kabita O Bajna – Cultural Performance by Bengali Women Artists and Musicians, Presented by Munjerin Rashid & Nasima Kajol

8:40pm: End of Evening Choir – Presentation by Women in Movement for Equality, Social Justice & Secularism

&

Solo Exhibition of Painting by Syeda Nasim Queen, a young Bengali woman and a member of Nari Diganta.

This programme is designed for a diverse audience. The medium of instruction are English and Bengali. All welcome!

Note: The event will be filmed and it is open to public and mainstream media. We are unable to control press and TV crews during the event.

The event is partially sponsored by the Tower Hamlets Council, PCO Claims, Amifro Associates and Chambers of MM Hussain. With thanks to the sponsors for their kind partial sponsorship, the event is dedicated to Bengali women in the UK. Space is limited, so please reserve your place asap via eventribe https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/listening-to-voices-of-creative-bengali-women-in-london-tickets-15829202571.Please check out our blog www.naridiganta.org.uk and FB page www.facebook.com/naridiganta for updates and further information.

Listening to creative Bengali Women’s Voices Flyer


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Women’s Rights Campaigners Meet with the Law Society on BME Women’s Rights and Sharia in UK

Nari Diganta's representative demonstrating at One Law for All demo in April 2014. Courteasy: Counterview, news and views from alternative quarters.

Nari Diganta’s representative, Rumana Hashem, demonstrating at One Law for All demo in April 2014. Courtesy: Counterview, news and views from alternative quarters.

On Tuesday 13th January, women’s rights groups, including Southall Black Sisters, One Law for All, Nari Diganta and the Iranian & Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO), met with Mark Stobbs, the Law Society’s Director of Legal Policy at the SBS office. Our organisations welcomed the Law Society’s decision to withdraw its guidance on ‘Sharia’ compliant wills that endorsed discrimination against women and children. We also thanked the Law Society for making a public apology. The Law Society showed that it had listened to the voices of BME women’s rights campaigners and other secular organisations that had been alarmed by the original decision.

At our meeting, we raised our growing concerns, shared both by ourselves and the Law Society, about the devastating impact of the legal aid cuts on access to justice, which have been particularly detrimental to some of society’s most vulnerable groups, including BME women, many of whom are represented by our organisations. We welcomed the opportunity to work together with the Law Society to address the issue of access to justice. We stressed that any access to justice also means addressing the rise of parallel legal systems and religious-based arbitration and mediation.

We expressed our concern that in the past the Law Society has providing training courses on ‘Sharia’ and family laws and sought assurances that they would not provide further training or guidance in this area. We explained that many of our clients, unable to access the mainstream legal system, due to numerous barriers including legal aid cuts, have found themselves subject to pressure to use community based religious arbitration forums, including Sharia courts and tribunals. These forums seek to establish parallel legal systems, in which women and children are routinely discriminated.

To prevent discrimination and ensure equality before the law, we stressed that religion, which is inherently patriarchal and discriminatory, must be excluded from any mediation and alternative dispute resolution forums in respect of family matters, irrespective of whether they lie within or outside of the formal legal system. We were heartened by the Law Society’s willingness to hold further discussions with us about our concerns on this matter.

We look forward to working with the Law Society in the future to ensure that BME women are not discriminated against in law, mainstream or otherwise and have full and complete access to justice.

For further news about this campaign:

Visit press release on withdrawal of the Law Society’s sharia wills practice note

Watch TV talk-show by Bengali women’s rights campaigners Advocate Sultana Kamal, Rumana Hashem, Piara Mayenin and Doly Islam, discussing the bigotry of Sharia law: http://youtu.be/kWCBiDdVz28

Watch how Sharia law operates in Britain: http://youtu.be/Vnf9EDT-JJs

For further links on meeting with the Law Society visit:

Women’s Rights Campaigners meet with Law Society: http://www.southallblacksisters.org.uk/womens-rights-campaigners-meet-law-society/

IKWRO meet with the Law Society on Sharia: http://ikwro.org.uk/2015/01/ikwro-society-sharia/

On Meeting of Women’s Rights Campaigners with Law Society: http://www.onelawforall.org.uk/on-meeting-of-womens-rights-campaigners-with-law-society/


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বেগম রোকেয়ার নারীমুক্তির মশাল আজও বাতিঘরের মত পথ দেখাচ্ছে

Nari Diganta Celebrates Begum Rokeya Dibosh 2014

যুক্তরাজ্যে নারী দিগন্তের উদ্যোগেরোকেয়া দিবসউদযাপন

By Nilufa Yesmin Hasan

নারীমুক্তি আন্দোলনের পথিকৃত বেগম রোকেয়া স্মরণে নারী দিগন্ত গত ৫ ডিসেম্বর শুক্রবার পূর্ব লন্ডনের মন্টিফিউরি সেন্টারে ‘রোকেয়া দিবস’ পালন করেছে। ৯ ডিসেম্বর নারী শিক্ষার অগ্রদূত মহীয়সী নারী বেগম রোকেয়া সাখাওয়াত হোসেনের জন্ম ও মৃত্যুবার্ষিকী। এই দিনটি দীর্ঘদিন যাবৎ ‘রোকেয়া দিবস’ হিসাবে পালিত হয়ে আসছে।

Key note speech by Nilufa Hasan on 5 December 2014.

Key note speech by Nilufa Hasan on 5 December 2014.

সমাজ সচেতন লেখিকা বেগম রোকেয়া ছিলেন নারীদের মুক্তির অগ্রদূত। শিক্ষাকে তিনি হাতিয়ার হিসাবে দেখেছেন। তিনি বুঝেছিলেন কুসংস্কারাচ্ছন্ন, নিরক্ষর ও ধর্মীয় গোঁড়ামী থেকে নারীকে মুক্ত না করে সমাজের অগ্রগতি যেমন সম্ভব নয়, তেমনি নারী স্বাধীনতাও সম্ভব নয়। নারীমুক্তি আন্দোলনের যেই মশাল তিনি প্রজ্জ্বলিত করেছেন তা আজও বাতিঘরের মত আমাদের পথ দেখাচ্ছে।

নারী দিগন্তের সভাপতি শামীমআরা হেনার সভাপতিত্বে অনুষ্ঠিত সভায় বক্তারা বেগম রোকেয়ার কর্মময় জীবন ও তাঁর লেখনীর উপর আলোকপাত করতে গিয়ে বক্তারা উপরোক্ত মন্তব্য করেন। নারী দিগন্তের সাধারন সম্পাদক নাসিমা কাজলের চমৎকার উপস্থাপনায় পরিচালিত সভায় মূল বক্তব্য প্রদান করেন নারী দিগন্তের প্রচার সম্পাদক নিলুফা ইয়াসমীন। উক্ত সভায় আরও বক্তব্য রাখেন নারী নেত্রী রাজিয়া বেগম, ডঃ রুমানা হাশেম,  সংগ্রাম বিষয়ক সম্পাদক জুবাইদা নাসরিন কণা, এবং বাঙালী সাংস্কতিক কর্মী স্বাগুপ্তা তানিয়া।

Nari Diganta's Co-chair Razia Mannan greeted audience and paid tribute to Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain.

Nari Diganta’s Co-chair Razia Mannan greeted audience and paid tribute to Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain.

বক্তারা বলেন, যে যুগে নারী শিক্ষা ছিল নিষিদ্ধ, সে যুগে পর্দার আড়ালে থেকে বেগম রোকেয়া নিজে শিখেছেন এবং সেই শিক্ষা সবার মাঝে ছড়িয়ে দিয়েছেন। তিনি বুঝতে পেরেছিলেন, শিক্ষা এবং অর্থনৈতিক স্বাধীনতা ছাড়া নারী মুক্তি সম্ভব নয়। তিনি স্কুল প্রতিষ্ঠা করেছিলেন এবং বাড়ী বাড়ী গিয়ে স্কুলের জন্য ছাত্রী যোগাড় করেছেন। আধুনিক মনের মানুষ রোকেয়া নারী শিক্ষার জন্য সারাটা জীবন যে সংগ্রাম করেছেন এবং অবদান রেখেছেন, তা সকল বক্তাই শ্রদ্ধার সাথে স্মরণ করেন।

বেগম রোকেয়ার লেখনী সম্পর্কে আলোকপাত করতে গিয়ে বক্তারা বলেন, তাঁর উপন্যাস পদ্মরাগ এবং অন্যান্য বই- রসনা বিলাস, অবরোধবাসিনী, সুলতানার স্বপ্ন- প্রত্যেকটি লেখাতেই আছে নারী জাগরণ ও অমানবিক বৈষম্যমূলক সমাজ ব্যবস্থার শিকার ভাগ্যবিড়ম্বিতা রমনীদের বেদনাদায়ক কাহিনী। তাঁর উপন্যাসের নায়িকা সিদ্দিকার তেজ্যোদৃপ্ত উক্তি বেগম রোকেয়ার নিজস্ব অনুভূতিরই বহিঃপ্রকাশ। বক্তারা আরো বলেন, একশ ৩৪ বছর আগে বেগম রোকেয়া যে শোষণভিত্তিক ও বৈষম্যমূলক সমাজ ব্যবস্থার বিরুদ্ধে লড়েছেন তা আজও বিদ্যমান। তারা আরও বলেন, সকল চ্যালেঞ্জিং পেশায় এমনকি রাষ্ট্রীয় ক্ষমতায় নারী অধিষ্ঠিত হলেও আজও মেয়েরা তাদের ন্যায্য মুজুরী পাচ্ছেনা, কাজের মূল্যায়ন হচ্ছেনা, নির্যাতনের শিকার হচ্ছে। নারী প্রতিনিয়ত ধর্ষণের শিকার হচ্ছে। এখনো ধর্মের দোহাই দিয়ে নারীকে পিছিয়ে রাখার চেষ্টা চলছে। আমরা আজ কথা বলছি একটি সভ্য দেশে বসে, এই পূর্ব লন্ডনেও এই ধরনের অপচেষ্টা আমরা দেখতে পাই।

বেগম রোকেয়া নারীদের কাজের মূল্যায়নের কথা বলেছেন, বাংলাদেশের স্বাধীনতা যুদ্ধে যে সকল নারীরা অস্ত্র হাতে রণাঙ্গনে যুদ্ধ করেছেন, আজও সেইসব নারী মুক্তিযোদ্ধাদের বীরত্বের কথা গুরুত্বের সাথে উল্লেখ করা হয়না। এটাকে দুঃখজনক বলেও সভায় বক্তারা তুলে ধরেন।

আলোচনা পর্ব শেষে নারী দিগন্তের সদস্য নাজ নাঈমের পরিচালনায় শুরু হয় প্রাণবন্ত কুইজ প্রতিযোগিতা। এতে জাকিয়া তাসনিম ঝুমু প্রথম এবং জুবাইদা নাসরিন কণা ও স্বাগুপ্তা তানিয়া যৌথভাবে দ্বিতীয় স্থান অধিকার করেন। তৃতীয় পর্বে নারী দিগন্তের সদস্যরা সাংস্কৃতিক অনুষ্ঠান করেন। এতে গান পরিবেশন করেন মুনজারিন রশীদ সনি, রাজিয়া রহমান, নাসিমা কাজল, কণা, সাঈদা খানম এবং স্বরচিত কবিতা পড়েছেন মেহের আহমেদ। সভাপতি শামীমআরা হেনার বক্তব্যের মাধ্যমে অনুষ্ঠানের সমাপ্তি হয়।


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Press release – Women’s rights campaigners welcome withdrawal of the Law Society’s sharia wills practice note

24 November 2014

One Law for All, Southall Black Sisters, the Centre for Secular Space, Nari Diganta and the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation have welcomed the Law Society’s withdrawal of their sharia wills practice note.

The practice note advised solicitors on how to draw up ‘Sharia-compliant’ wills, stating that

“… illegitimate and adopted children are not Sharia heirs … The male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir … Non-Muslims may not inherit at all … a divorced spouse is no longer a Sharia heir…” 

The ensuing campaign organised by women’s rights advocates Pragna Patel, Maryam Namazie, Gita Sahgal, Yasmin Rehman, Dianna Nammi, Rumana Hashem and Chris Moos has seen an open letter to Asma Jahangir, the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief; and an open letter to the Law Society included signatories such as scientist Richard Dawkins, writer Taslima Nasrin and founder of Secularism is a Woman’s Issue Marieme Helie Lucas, amongst others.

On April 28, a well-attended protest at the offices of the Law Society featured speakers such as human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, Muslim Institute Fellow Yasmin Rehman, women’s rights activist and founding member of Nari Diganta Dr Rumana Hashem and Diana Nammi, Chief Executive of the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation.

The organisers of the campaign also obtained legal advice from Karon Monaghan QC of Matrix Chambers, which stated that the Practice Note was unlawful as it provided guidance to solicitors that promotes an interpretation of Sharia that is discriminatory on the grounds of gender, religion and ethnicity and thus gave rise to the possibility of direct discrimination by solicitors. This came after the Solicitor’s Regulatory Authority had already withdrawn its endorsement of the Law Society’s Practice Note on July 10, following the threat of legal action from Southall Black Sisters.

In addition, the campaigners also found that the Law Society had used the works of an extremist cleric, who has advocated flogging and stoning for “fornicators”, for their Practice Note. The campaign received extensive press coverage and political support, including from Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, who warned that the Law Society’s Practice Note risks undermining the rule of law.

Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters, said:

“SBS welcomes the Law Society’s decision to withdraw the discriminatory guidance. We also acknowledge that it has publicly apologised for having produced the ill-advised guidance in the first place. Let this episode serve as a warning to other public bodies that may be contemplating instituting ‘Sharia compliant’ measures that flout equality and human rights law and values, which must be regarded as universal and non-negotiable. We now look forward to working with the Law Society to address the devastating impact of the legal aid cuts which also prevent many abused and marginalised women from minority backgrounds from accessing justice.”

Maryam Namazie, founder of One Law for All, commented:

“The Law Society has finally succumbed to our pressure and withdrawn its guidance a week before women’s rights groups were to meet with them to step up our pressure against the discriminatory nature of their Sharia-compliant guidance. This is another huge victory for equality, one law for all and civil rights and yet another loss for the religious far-right. We congratulate all those who took part in this campaign. One law for all is not an empty slogan but must mean something particularly when it comes to the law.”

Gita Sahgal, Director of the Centre for Secular Space, said:

“We are delighted that the Law Society has finally seen sense and made clear that they do not wish to condone discrimination, have withdrawn the note entirely and will not seek to replace it. Their apology is very welcome. This is a victory against the institutionalisation of religious law. Secular values protect the rule of law far better than the regulators do. There are many battles ahead to protect human rights and access to justice. We have a common interest in these struggles.”

Rumana Hashem, Executive Committee Member of Nari Diganta, stated:
“Nari Diganta is pleased that the Law Society has eventually withdrawn their absurd practice note. Despite the delay they have apologised and we welcome the Law Society’s apology for their offence. This is certainly a victory for secularism and anti-racism. Indeed, this shows that fundamentalism, sexism, and racism can be fought when people are united against a malevolent power. The campaign for secularism and a bigotry-free society must continue until we have fully achieved a true humanist and secular society. Nari Diganta is committed to move on with the campaign for ‘one law for all’. We will continue to work with our partner organisations to achieve equal rights for all women and men in Britain.”

Chris Moos, one of the organisers of the campaign, concluded:

“The Law Society has done the only sensible thing – withdraw the guidance for good and apologise for promoting the use of discriminatory practices in the first place. Hopefully, those who have defended the practice note will now realise that the only way public bodies and representative organisations can be sure to meet their equality duties is by adhering to the principle of secular neutrality in matters of belief.”

For more information, contact:

Pragna Patel
Southall Black Sisters
pragna@southallblacksisters.co.uk
020 8571 9595
@SBSisters

Maryam Namazie
One Law for All
maryamnamazie@gmail.com
077 1916 6731
@MaryamNamazie

Gita Sahgal
Centre for Secular Space
gita@centreforsecularspace.org
079 7271 5090
@GitaSahgal

Rumana Hashem, PhD
Nari Diganta – Women in Movement for Equal Rights, Social Justice and Secularism
rowshonrumana@gmail.com
07936047597
@rumanahashem, @naridiganta

 Read Also:

You can defend your precious regime, I will defend revolution

http://freethoughtblogs.com/maryamnamazie/2014/11/24/iran/

Secular women in Britain force Law Society to withdraw controversial sharia compliant succession note

http://www.counterview.net/p/secular-women-in-britain-force-law.html

Onwards to establishing an International Front for Secularism

http://freethoughtblogs.com/maryamnamazie/2014/11/21/onwards-to-establishing-an-international-front-for-secularism/

Watch Youtube videos:

ATN Bangla TV talk-show by Bengali women’s rights campaigners (Advocate Sultana Kamal, Rumana Hashem, Doly Islam and Piya Mayenin ) discussing the bigotry of Sharia law:

Watch how Sharia law operates in Britain and how the UK govt keeps quite on this issue, letting the fundamentalists go


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নারী দিগন্তের বাৎসরিক মেলবন্ধন

Bangla-Style Party at Nari Diganta

By Nilufa Yesmin Hasan

গত ৮ নভেম্বর ২০১৪ তারিখে সৌহার্দ্যপূর্ণভাবে আনন্দ উপভোগ করার প্রয়াসে প্রতি বছরের ন্যায় এবারও নারী দিগন্ত জাঁকজমক ও বর্ণাঢ্য আয়োজনে উদযাপন করলো বর্ষপূর্তি পূনর্মিলনী উৎসব। ‘মানবমুক্তির পূর্বশর্ত নারীমুক্তি‘ এই শ্লোগানকে ধারণ করে দীর্ঘদিন যাবৎ কাজ করে যাচ্ছে যুক্তরাজ্যের উল্লেখযোগ্য সংগঠন ‘নারী দিগন্ত‘। প্রায় অর্ধ শতাধিক সদস্যের মিলন মেলা বসেছিল গত ৮ই নভেম্বর পূর্ব লন্ডনের হেনয়েল্ট-এ নারী দিগন্তের সদস্য শ্রীমতি পুষ্পিতা গুপ্তের বাসভবনে।

Members of Nari Diganta and their families are playing musical pillows and other games. Photo: Nilufa Hasan

Members of Nari Diganta and their families are playing musical pillows and other games. Photo: Nilufa Hasan

সভাপতি শামীম আরা হেনার সার্বিক তত্ত্বাবধানে নারী দিগন্তের সকল সম্মানিত সদস্য ও পরিবারবর্গের অংশগ্রহণে মনোরম সন্ধ্যাটি হয়ে উঠেছিল প্রাণবন্ত। এই অনুষ্ঠান সাফল্যমন্ডিত করতে যারা অগ্রণী ভূমিকা পালন করেছেন তারা হলেন রাজিয়া বেগম, আয়েশা আহমেদ, আঁখি চৌধুরী, নিলুফা ইয়াসমীন, ডালিয়া রহমান, নাসিমা কাজল, মুনজারিন রশীদ, মাহের আহমেদ, নাজ নাঈম, ফাতেমা নার্গিস ও আরো অনেকে।

সন্ধ্যায় শুরু হওয়া অনুষ্ঠান চলে গভীর রাত অবধি। স্বামী সন্তানসহ আংশগ্রহণকারী সকল সদস্য রান্না করে নিয়ে আসেন বাংলাদেশের ঐতিহ্যবাহী সুস্বাদু খাবার। চটপটি, পায়েস, শুটকী, নানা বাহারী ভর্তা, ভাজী কোন কিছুই বাদ যায়নি সেইদিনের আয়োজনে।

অনুষ্ঠানের প্রথমেই পুষ্পিতা গুপ্তের মেয়ে আনিতার পরিবেশিত গান সবাইকে মুগ্ধ করে। তারপর আনন্দঘন পরিবেশে সাধারণ সম্পাদক নাসিমা কাজলের পরিচালনায় শুরু হয় বিভিন্ন প্রতিযোগিতামূলক অনুষ্ঠান। গানের তালে তালে চলে ছোটদের ও পুরুষ এবং মহিলাদের বালিশ ছোঁড়া (পিলো পাসিং) খেলা, পিলো পাসিং প্রতিযোগিতায় ছোটদের মধ্যে প্রথম ও দ্বিতীয় হয় আনিতা ও নয়েল, পুরুষদের মধ্যে শাহারিয়ার বিন আলী প্রথম ও আবু হাসান দ্বিতীয় হন, মহিলাদের মধ্যে যথাক্রমে প্রথম ও দ্বিতীয় হন রাজিয়া বেগম ও রিবা। সবচেয়ে হাস্যরসের প্রতিযোগিতা হলো স্ত্রীর পছন্দ সম্পর্কে স্বামী কতটুকু জানেন সেই পরীক্ষা। এতে প্রথম পুরষ্কার অর্জন করেন পুষ্পিতা-জ্ঞান দম্পতি এবং নিলুফা-হাসান দম্পতি দ্বিতীয় স্থান লাভ করেন। গভীর রাত পর্যন্ত চলে নাচ ও গানের পরিবেশনা। গান পরিবেশন করেন আঁখি চৌধুরী ও নাসিমা কাজল তবে উপস্থিত প্রায় সবাই গানে কন্ঠ মেলান।

উৎসব আয়োজনের মধ্যেই সকল সদস্য তাদের বাৎসরিক চাঁদা পরিশোধ করেন। পরিশেষে নির্ধারিত হয় নারী শিক্ষার অগ্রদূত মহিয়সী নারী বেগম রোকেয়া স্মরণে আলোচনা, ছোটদের রচনা প্রতিযোগীতা ও সাংস্কৃতিক অনুষ্ঠানের আয়োজন করবে নারী দিগন্ত। আগামী ৫ই ডিসেম্বর ২০১৪, বিকাল সাড়ে ৫টায় পূর্বলন্ডনের হ্যানবারী স্ট্রীটস্থ মন্টিফিউরি সেন্টারে ‘বেগম রোকেয়া দিবস‘ সাফল্য মন্ডিত হবে এই আশা নিয়ে উৎসবের ইতি টানা হয়।


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We condemn the execution of Reyhaneh Jabbari

Letter of Condemnation to the Iranian Consulate 

Nari Diganta, Naree Chetona, Eritrean Women’s Network, European Bangladesh Forum, Jubo Union, Communist Party of Bangladesh and Udichi Shilpi Gosthi condemned the execution of Reyhaneh Jabbari, an Iranian woman who was brutally executed by Irani government on 25 October, 2014. Reyhaneh Jabbari was accused of being involved in planning the killing of a man by whom she was sexually harassed. The allegation against Reyhaneh has not been proved and the Iranian court did not accept her statement that she was forced to be involved in a killing that she did not mean to be involved in.

 

On 30 October 2014, in a statement addressed to the Iranian Embassy in London, the above organisations have stated that the execution of Reyhaneh Jabbari was brutal, immoral and politically motivated. The execution of Reyhaneh was so brutal and horrifying that we felt unsafe to come in direct contact with the Iranian Embassy. Therefore, our letter has been sent by post to the Iranian Embassy. Reyhaneh’s execution have shivered many of us and left harmful psychological effect by which many other women in other communities were disturbed.

 

This brutal execution has once again demonstrated how religious law was employed against women and humanity. Reyhaneh’s execution shows how law in Iran has been misused, and how law is used for victimisation of Iranian women. This execution exemplified the brutality of the theocratic government of Iran in which women and their families are oppressed. While law is supposed to ensure security of people, the verdict of Iranian court shows that Muslim law has been used for violence against women and to support or legitimise sexualised violence against women in particular.

 

Our statement conclude by supporting the views of the International Committee against Execution. We condemn the brutal execution of an innocent woman who was forced to get involved in a violent act in order to defend her personal safety. We share the views of International Committee against Execution 25 October, 2014. We express solidarity to Jabbari’s family. Shame on the fatal Islamic regime in Iran. It has been a particularly brutal act of not informing the family before the execution was publicised. We condemn both the act of execution of Reyhaneh Jabbari and the failure of the Iranian government to inform the family.

We request the Iranian Consulate to acknowledge the receipt of our letter of condemnation in due course.

Sincerely,

Rumana Hashem, PhD. Executive Committee Member, Nari Diganta
Khedija Ali, Founder, Eritrean Women’s Network
Ansar Ahmed Ullah, Founder, European Bangladesh Forum, UK.
Ajanta Roy, Founding Member, Extradite Chowdhury Muin-uddin Campaign
Shikha Ahmed, Founder, Naree Chetona
Syed Enam, Member Secretary, Communist Party of Bangladesh, UK Branch
Zobaida Nasreen, President, Jubo Union, UK.

Read also:

Reyhaneh Jabbari was executed

http://freethoughtblogs.com/maryamnamazie/2014/10/27/reyhaneh-jabbari-was-executed/


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Press Release: When a Law Legitimises Violation of Human Rights

• Community and Women’s Rights Organisations Condemned the Law Society’s Practice Note about Sharia Succession wills
• Solidarity to Reyhaneh Jabbari’s Family and Condemnation of Reyhaneh’s Execution

women activists at Nari Diganta, the panelists and representatives of eight women's organsiations expressed solidarity to Reyhaneh Jabbari at Monteforio Centrre on 15 Oct 2014 by Golam Rabbani of Diamon Studio

Women activists at Nari Diganta with the panelists and representatives of eight women’s organsiations at Montefiore Centrre on 15 Oct 2014. Courtesy: Diamond Studios

Seeking to achieve equal rights and a bigotry-free secular society in Britain, the secular Bengali women’s organisation, called the Nari Diganta – Women in Movement for Equal Rights, Social Justice and Secularism, has hosted a timely dialogue between the community activists and experts. The meeting, ‘When a Law Legitimises Violation of Human Rights of My Sister: Screening of Naree and Discussion about the Trouble with and Irrelevance of Sharia Succession Training in the UK’ was held on 15 October, at the Montefiore Centre in East London.

Shamima Hena, the Chairperson of Nari Diganta, thanked everybody on 15 Oct 2014. Courteasy: Golam Rabbani of the Diamond Studio

Shamima Hena, the Chairperson of Nari Diganta, thanked everybody on 15 Oct 2014. Courtesy: Golam Rabbani of the Diamond Studio

In a packed room, with an estimated 60 people of mixed backgrounds and with representatives from 15 organisations, the event kicks in by the screening of the film Naree –The Divine Stone by Hasan Mahmud. The screening was followed by a critical discussion about how religious law legitimises women’s oppression and promotes racism, sexism, patriarchy, and cultural relativism. A panel of three guest speakers and campaigners for secularism and human rights in Britain have discussed how the Law Society’s latest practice note about Sharia Succession wills can go against equality and secularism in Britain. They explored how this practice note of Law Society could violet human rights, and how non-Muslims and adopted children will be discriminated by Sharia Succession wills in UK.

The speakers who formed the panel include Advocate Sultana Kamal, Director of Ain o Salish Kendro, Bangladesh, Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters, and Fariborz Pooya, Founder of Iranian Secular Society and Director of Bread and Roses TV. The event was co-ordinated and facilitated by Dr Rumana Hashem, Co-ordinator of the event and a founding member of Nari Diganta.

Audiences of mixed ethnicities 15 oct 2014 by S Enam

Part of the audience at Montefiore Centre on 15 Oct 2014. Courtesy: S Enam of Bangladesh Communist Party, UK.

The event was endorsed by several community organisations including AWAAZ,  Jubo Union, Jago Naree, Naree Chetona, Network of Eritrean Women, and Udichi Shilpi Gosthi. Speakers and participants at the symposium said that Sharia Law is a bigoted law in which millions of women across the Muslim world have been oppressed, exploited and victimised. This law must not be introduced in the UK.

Advocate Sultana Kamal, the lead panelist has spoken about the situation in Bangladesh. She said, ‘Sharia is a codification of several laws and it discriminates women in particular.’ She said, ‘there is no such law called Sharia Law in today’s Bangladesh’. She said, ‘Bangladesh’s history shows also that there was no such law in ancient Bengal’. She argues that it is some fundamentalist men who introduced the Sharia Succession wills which discriminate women. In providing a historical background of the situation in Bangladesh, Sultana Kamal said, ‘there are too many versions of Sharia law’ and that ‘none of this can be proved as authentic’. She added, ‘While a whole lot of progress has been made by women in Bangladesh generally there are also lots of threats, insecurities and violence against women’. She said, ‘as social fabrics, political atmosphere in Bangladesh has become more conservative the state has become nervous and is unable to take bold steps in favour of women’.

Pragna Patel denounces Law Society's guidance 2014. Courtesy: S Enam

Pragna Patel denounces Law Society’s guidance 2014. Courtesy: S Enam

Pragna Patel, the Director of Southall Black Sisters, explained the practice note of Law Society and identified its racist aspects. She explains that the LS’s guidance does not only discriminate Muslim women but also many men and children of other ethnicity. Patel said that despite its long-disputed and discriminatory aspects, the Law Society in the UK, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, issued a practice note with details of how to draft “Sharia compliant” wills. She argued, ‘if Muslims are allowed to follow Sharia then other groups such as Sikhs and Hindus will also follow this discriminatory law’. She stipulated, ‘state and religion cannot be mixed up. Religion is a private matter. State and religion must be separated’. Pragna Patel denounced that a secular state cannot have two laws in one state. ‘We want one law for all’, she said.

 

Fariborz Pooya, the Founder of Iranian Secular Society, said that he was surprised by seeing the banner of Nari Diganta which declared that there is ‘No Human Liberation Without Women’s Liberation’. He questioned the Law Society, and condemned them for not consulting the women who are to be subjects of discrimination by the Law Society’s practice note. He said that it is illegitimate to recommend any guidance for best practice without prior consultation with relevant people and the groups of women and men to whom this law would have jurisdiction. Pooya added, historical documents show that none of us have interpreted the versions of Sharia law. He questioned, ‘so who did interpret Sharia law’?

Gita Sahgal, the Founding Director of the Centre for Secular Space and a panelist who was unable to make the event physically, has sent a message of solidarity which Pragna Patel read out for the audience. In her message Sahgal noted, ‘the struggle for One Law for All is an important part of the secular struggle. It is essential to ensuring the rights of women. It is particularly important for minority women. In so many countries, where there are religion based personal laws, women are treated as inferior. They are not full citizens with the right to constitutional protection by the law. No-one wants to interfere with the minority. So women are left at the mercy of so called leaders, acting in the name of God.’

Part of the audience on 15 Oct 2014. Courteasy: Golam Rabbani of Diamond Studios

Part of the audience on 15 Oct 2014. Courtesy: Golam Rabbani of Diamond Studios

She notes further, ‘In Britain women from minorities have the same rights in theory but may not in practice. Illegal sharia councils are spreading. They claim to find solutions to women’s problems, and often provide divorces to women, especially those having a nikaah and not a registered marriage. As Pragna will no doubt explain the decisions of these councils are not legal. The pieces of paper they issue are worthless. Men posing as judges should be prosecuted. Yet they survive and are spreading with the tolerance and maybe encouragement of the authorities.’

 

Throughout the meeting speakers and participants explored discriminatory aspects of Sharia Law. Both participants and experts have agreed that the Law Society’s recommendations for cultural relativism and bigotry in Britain cannot be tolerated. One participant, who appeared as confused about the title of the meeting, was accused of being Jamat-e- Spy by the audiences. Participants and community activists have strongly protested her comments, and some have demanded her expulsion from the meeting. But the kind co-ordinator has disapproved this demand of the audience and handled the situation prudently. Dr Hashem said, in warning the participant, ‘I hope that you have got the answer to your comments and questions. Please be seated and do not try to interrupt others’.

Sultana Kamal is responding to the participant who was confused about the title of the meeting on 15 Oct 2014. Courtesy: Diamond Studios

Rumana Hashem and Sultana Kamal responded to the participant who was confused about the title of the meeting on 15 Oct 2014. Courtesy: Diamond Studios

Dr Hashem and the panelists have explained how a religious law does legitimise human rights violation of women. Sultana Kamal said, ‘what Rumana was saying is that Shariah Law has certain aspects which created spheres in which women are often victimised’. She and other panelists called upon the community representatives being present in the meeting to take a stand against such law. Pragna Patel said, ‘we need to understand that law and religion cannot be mixed up. […] Sharia Council is illegal in this country.[…] Sharia law discriminates women’. She called upon the participants to defend their human rights and said, ‘there will be street protests against Law Society’s practice note, please do come and join us’. The forum has accepted Patel’s call for protest and condemned the Law Society’s guidance. The facilitator, Rumana Hahsem, has confirmed that she will be keeping in touch with the campaigners for One Law for All, and will update the forum. She assured the forum that Nari Diganta will organise a follow up meeting in near future.

The meeting ended with a solidarity message to the family of an Iranian woman, Reyhaneh Jabbari, due to be put to death for killing a man she said was trying to sexually abuse her. In response to the call for solidarity by Fariborz Pooya, all participants in the meeting have waived their hands to express solidarity to Reyhaneh’s family. The forum condemned the execution. Rumana Hashem said, ‘we will soon be sending out a letter of condemnation from this forum to the Iranian Embassy’.

The event was opened by Nasima Kajol, the Secretary of Nari Diganta, by a welcoming speech and brought to an end by Shamima Hena, the Chairperson of Nari Diganta, with a vote of thanks. In her vote of thanks, Hena acknowledged that it is not only the women at Nari Diganta, who made this meeting happen but also a significant number of men have extended their support to Nari Diganta to  take place this discussion at the Montefiori Centre. Both Hena and Hashem concluded by noting that this dialogue with community will continue and the campaign for a secular law and a secular state in Britain will be a success. ‘It is just a beginning of the campaign’, says Hena. The women at Nari Diganta are committed to work to resist the problematic practice note of the Law Society in the UK.

 

The organisers have acknowledged that Udichi Shilpi Goshti, the Rainbow Film Society and Diamond Studios have supported the event and provided with logistics and technical supports. Mustafa Kamal of Rainbow Society has expressed wish to assist with Nari Diganta’s future campaign work on secularism through his film society. The management of the Montefiore Centre has waived the fees for the venue for the extended time and have offered to hold future dialogues about this issue at the Montefiore Centre at free of cost. In commenting on this, Rumana Hashem said, ‘this shows that British Bangladeshis are not conservative, nor merely religious. They care for progressive, secular and bigotry-free society’.

Press release: Ansar Ahmed Ullah, Community Activist and Collaborative Partner of Nari Diganta.

Photo credits: Diamond Studios, Syed Enam and Paul Dudman


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When a Law Legitimises Violation of Human Rights of My Sister


Screening of Naree and Discussion about the Trouble with and Irrelevance of Sharia Succession Training in the UK

When?                  15 October, Wednesday, at 6-9pm

Where?                Montefiore Centre, Hanbury Street, London, E1 5HZ

Who?                    Nari Diganta – the Women in Movement for Equality, Social Justice and Secularism

Nari Diganta – the Women in Movement for Equality, Social Justice and Secularism would like to invite you to a symposium, ‘When a Law Legitimises Violation of Human Rights: the Trouble with and Irrelevance of Sharia Succession Training in the UK ’, to be held on Wednesday, the 15th October between 6-9pm at Montefiore Centre, Hanbury Street, E1 5HZ.

Sharia Law is a bigoted law in which millions of women across the Muslim World have been oppressed, exploited and victimised. Despite its long-disputed and discriminatory aspects, the Law Society in the UK, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, issued a practice note with details of how to draft “Sharia compliant” wills. As experts clarify, practice notes are best guidance for solicitors on specific areas of law. Earlier this year, several anti-racist, feminist and human rights groups have called upon the Law Society to withdraw their practice note. Many women and men from across the UK have rallied in front of the Law Society in London and hundreds of people have signed the open petition for One Law for All. But the Law Society is unwilling to review their practice note. At this juncture, Nari Diganta hosts a symposium to critically discuss the associated troubles with and irrelevance of Sharia Succession Training in the UK. Starting with the screening of a film called, Naree –The Devine Stone, the symposium seeks to open up a discussion through engaging in a dialogue between community activists, experts, and women’s rights advocates. Our aim is to explore the discriminatory aspects of Sharia Law and to come across an understanding of how best to resist Law Society’s recommendations for cultural relativism and bigotry in Britain. You are cordially invited to this symposium.

Confirmed speakers:      

Advocate Sultana Kamal, Director, Ain o Salish Kendro, Dhaka

Fariborz Pooya, Founder, Iranian Secular Society

Gita Sahgal, Director, Centre for Secular Space

Pragna Patel, Director, Southall Black Sisters

Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, One Law for All & Founder of Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation

Discussants:

Community Activists, East London’s Councillors, Women at Nari Diganta &

Secular Academics and Researchers in London.

The event is free for all but a RSVP is needed as spaces are limited. Please reserve your place by emailing naridiganta@gmail.com. For further information about the event please feel free to contact our event co-ordinator, Rumana Hashem, at rowshonrumana@gmail.com or naridiganta@gmail.com

Please check out the facebook page of the Nari Diganta www.facebook.com/naridiganta for updates and for further information about who we are.

Come and join us for an interactive discussion between activists and experts. Bring along your friends and families to tell us yours and theirs stories. We look forward to meet you there!

Nari Diganta – the Women in Movement for Equality, Social Justice and Secularism

Please also download our flyer for the event – Download Flyer.


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যুক্তরাজ্যে প্রগতিশীল নারী সংগঠন নারী দিগন্তের সম্মেলন

Report of Nari Diganta’s Conference in Bangla

By Nilufa Yasmin Hasan

conference pic-5 Jan 2014নিলুফা ইয়াসমিন, লন্ডনঃ ‘মানব-মুক্তির পূর্ব শর্ত নারী মুক্তি’ এই শ্লোগানকে অঙ্গীকার হিসেবে প্রতিষ্ঠার প্রত্যয় নিয়ে ব্রিটেনে প্রগতিশীল নারী সংগঠন নারী দিগন্ত’র প্রথম সম্মেলন গত ৪ জানুয়ারি পূর্ব লন্ডনের মাইক্রোবিজনেস সেন্টারে অনুষ্ঠিত হয়।

সম্মেলনে শামীমআরা হেনাকে সভাপতি ও নাসিমা কাজলকে সাধারণ সম্পাদক মনোনীত করে নারী দিগন্তের ২৫ সদস্যের কার্যকরি কমিটি গঠন করা হয়েছে।

নারী নেত্রী শামীমআরা হেনার সভাপতিত্বে ও নাসিমা কাজলের পরিচালনায় সংগঠনের সম্মেলন ও পরে  মুক্ত আলোচনা অনুষ্ঠিত হয়। নারীবাদের নিরিখে বাংলাদেশের নারীদের অবস্থান শীর্ষক আলোচনা সভায় বক্তব্য রাখেন মানবাধিকার নেত্রী নাইমা কায়েস, ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের শিক্ষক জোবাইদা নাসরিন কণা, কবি শামীম আজাদ, লেবার দলীয় নেত্রী শামসিয়া আলী ও সাংস্কৃতিক সংগঠক ডলি ইসলাম।

মানবাধিকার নেত্রী নাইমা কায়েস বক্তব্যে বলেন, বাংলাদেশের নারী সমাজের মূল সমস্যা হলো সমতার অভাব। বাঙালি নারীদের ব্রিটেনেও এই সমস্যার প্রভাব লক্ষণীয়। মুক্তির লড়াইয়ে নারীদের সাহসী ভূমিকা নিতে হবে।

নারি দিগন্তের নব নির্বাচিত কার্যকরী সদস্য এবং ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়য়ের শিক্ষক জোবাইদা নাসরিন কণা বাংলাদেশের নারী প্রগতির আন্দোলন ও মহিয়সী নারী বেগম রোকেয়ার চিন্তা ও চেতনার প্রতিফলন  এবং আর্ন্তজাতিক নারী সনদ সিডওর বাস্তবায়ন সম্পর্কে বাংলাদেশে বিদ্যমান সমস্যা নিয়ে বক্তব্য রাখেন।

কবি শামীম আজাদ ব্যক্তিগত জীবনের সংগ্রামশীলতাকে তার বক্তব্যে তুলে ধরে বলেন, আমার জীবনের প্রতিটি ক্ষণে আমি আমার স্বামী এবং সন্তানের মঙ্গলের জন্য নিজেকে কর্মব্যস্ত রেখেছি। নারী হিশেবে আমি আমার দায়িত্ব পালন করেছি। কিন্তু বাঙালি সমাজে নারীদের অধিকার এখনো পুরুষ শাসিত সমাজে অবহেলিত। তিনি দৃঢ় প্রত্যয় ব্যক্ত করে বলেন, নারীদের অধিকার আদায় ও মুক্তির জন্য নিজেকেই সংগ্রামী ভূমিকা নিতে হবে।

লেবার দলীয় রাজনীতিক শামসিয়া আলী  ব্রিটেনের বহুজাতিক সমাজে  লড়াই করে নিজেকে কীভাবে এগিয়ে নিচেছন, তা অত্যন্ত প্রাঞ্জল ভাষায় সভায় তুলে ধরেন।

সম্মেলনে ২৫ সদস্যের কার্যকরি কমিটির মধ্যে আরও রয়েছেন সহ-সভাপতি রাজিয়া মান্নান, রুবি হক, ও আখি চৌধুরী।যুগ্ম সম্পাদক হিশেবে নির্বাচিত হয়েছেন আয়েশা মির্জা রকিব, কোষাধ্যক্ষ ফাতেমা রহমান, সাংগঠনিক সম্পাদক মাহের আহমদ, সংগ্রাম বিষয়ক সম্পাদক জোবাইদা নাসরিন, প্রশিক্ষণ ও পাঠাগার বিষয়ক সম্পাদক পুষপিতা গুপ্ত, আইনী সহায়তা সম্পাদক পিয়া মায়েনিন, প্রচার ও প্রকাশনা সম্পাদক নিলুফা ইয়াসমিন হাসান, আর্ন্তজাতিক সম্পাদক ডা. শহিদা ইসলাম, ডেভলপমেন্ট সেক্রেটারি রুজিনা রুহুল, শ্বাস্থ ও পরিবেশ সম্পাদক ডা. নিলুফার খান, শিক্ষা ও সংস্কৃতি সম্পাদক মানজারীন রশিদ সনি।

নারী দিগন্তের কার্যকরী সদস্য হিসেবে আরও নির্বাচিত হয়েছেন নারী নেত্রি ডলি ইসলাম, শামিম আজাদ, ডঃ রুমানা রওশন হাশেম, হোসনে আরা মতিন, মেহের নিগার, রাজিয়া রহমান, রওশন ফেরদৌসী লিপি, শাবানা নার্গিস চৌধুরী কেয়া ও সাইদা খানম।উপদেষ্টা হিশেবে রয়েছেন নাইমা কায়েস, সৈয়দ এনামুল ইসলাম, মোহাম্মদ আবদুল হামিদ ।

সম্মেলনের বিভিন্ন পর্যায়ে আলোচনা ছাড়াও মনোজ্ঞ সাংস্কৃতিক অনুষ্ঠানে সঙ্গীত ও নৃত্য পরিবেশন করেন সত্যেন সেন স্কুল অব পারফমিং আটর্সের শিক্ষাথীরা ও বাংলাদেশ উদীচী শিল্পী গোষ্ঠী  ইউকে সংসদের শিল্পীবৃন্দ। অনুষ্ঠানে বিশিষ্ট রবীন্দ্র সঙ্গীত শিল্পী ইমতিয়াজ আহমেদ রবীন্দ্রসঙ্গীত ও ডা. শাহিদা ইসলাম নজরুলসঙ্গীত পরিবেশন করেন।

উল্লেখ্য, নারী দিগন্ত প্রায় দুই বছর যাবত লন্ডনে বাঙালি নারী-উন্নয়নে প্রচার কাজ করছে।সম্মেলনে বিপুল সংখ্যক বাঙালি নারীর উপস্থিতি ছিল লক্ষণীয়। এছাড়া লন্ডনের সংস্কৃতিকর্মী ও বিশিষ্টজনদের মধ্যে উপস্থিতি ছিলেন সাংবাদিক আবু মুসা হাসান, কবি হামিদ মোহাম্মদ, সৈয়দ রকিব আহমদ, সৈয়দ নিয়াজ আহমদ, সৈয়দ এনামুল ইসলাম, নুরুল ইসলাম, গোপাল দাশ, রুহুল আমিন, জামাল আহমদ খান, মোহাম্মদ আব্দুল হামিদ, কবি মুজিবুল হক মনি, হোসনে আরা মতিন।

সম্মেলনে গৃহীত সাতটি প্রস্তাবের মধ্যে রয়েছে নতুন সদস্য সংগ্রহ, ব্রিটেনে দশটি শাখা গঠন, সাংগঠনিক দক্ষতা অর্জন, স্থায়ী অফিসের ব্যবস্থা, ওয়ার্কিং গ্রুপ গঠন, সংগঠনের লগো ও গঠনতন্ত্রকে আইনি সুরক্ষা দেয়া প্রভৃতি।

সাংগঠনিক প্রস্তাব

  • নতুন সদস্য সংগ্রহ, সদস্যপদ নবায়ন, শাখা গঠন প্রভৃতি কার্যক্রমের মাধ্যমে ব্রিটেনের সকল শহরে নারী দিগন্তকে বিস্তৃত করার উদ্যোগ নেয়া হবে।
  • আগামি দুই বছরে ৩০০ নতুন সদস্য এবং ১০টি শাখা গঠন করা হবে।
  • সদস্য ও নেতাদের সাংগঠনিক দক্ষতা বৃদ্ধির জন্য এ বিষয়ে পড়াশোনা, প্রশিক্ষণ আয়োজন করা হবে।
  • সংগঠনের লন্ডনে একটি কেন্দ্রীয় স্থায়ী অফিস এবং বিভিন্ন এলাকা ও শহরে শাখা অফিস স্থাপনের উদ্যোগ নেয়া হবে।
  • প্রতিটি বিভাগীয় সম্পাদক নীজ নীজ বিভাগের জন্য ওয়ার্কিং গ্রুপ গঠনের উদ্যোগ নেবেন।
  • কেন্দ্রীয় নির্বাহী কমিটি ও শাখা কমিটিগুলি প্রতি মাসে একটি করে মিটিং করার উদ্যোগ নেবে।
  • সংগঠনের নাম, লোগো এবং গঠণতন্ত্রকে আইনি সুরক্ষা দেবার উদ্যোগ নেয়া হবে।

ব্রিটেনে বাংলাদেশী নারীদের অবস্থা সম্পর্কে প্রস্তাব

  1. সর্বক্ষেত্রে নারীদের সমান মর্যাদা ও অধিকার প্রতিষ্ঠার লক্ষে সভা সমাবেশ, ও আন্দোলনের উদ্যোগ নেয়া হবে।
  2. যেখানে নারীর প্রতি বৈষম্য, নির্যাতন ঘটবে সেখানেই প্রতিবাদ করা হবে। সদস্যরা নিজেরা কোন ধরনের বৈষম্য ও নির্যাতনে অংশ নেবে না।
  3. নারীদের শিক্ষা, চাকুরী, খেলাধুলা, সংস্কৃতি চর্চায় বাংলাদেশী নারীদের অংশগ্রহণ ও অর্জন বাড়ানো ও বিভিন্ন প্রতিবন্ধকতা দূর করার লক্ষে কার্যক্রম গ্রহণ করবে।
  4. বাংলাদেশী নারীদের অবাধে চলাফেরা, নীজেদের পছন্দমত জীবনাচরনের অধিকার প্রতিষ্ঠার লক্ষে কার্যক্রম গ্রহণ করবে।
  5. বাংলাদেশী নারীদের নানাবিধ সমস্যা সমাধানে আইনি সহায়তা, প্রচার-প্রচারনা, তদবির করা এবং বিভিন্ন সহায়তাকারী সংস্থায় সাইন পোস্টিং করবে।
  6. ব্রিটেনে বাংলাদেশি নারীদের সংগঠন গুলোর মধ্যে একতা ও সংহতি বৃদ্ধি এবং নারী ইস্যুতে একযুগে কাজ করার উদ্যোগ নেয়া হবে।
  7. ব্রিটেনের মূলধারার সমমনা প্রগতিশীল নারী ও অন্যান্য সামাজিক রাজনৈতিক সংগঠণের সাথে যোগাযোগ, সম্পর্ক স্থাপন এবং যৌথ ভাবে কাজ করার উদ্যোগ নেয়া হবে।

সভায় নারী দিগন্তের নবনির্বাচিত কার্যকরী সদস্যরা নারী নেত্রী রাজিয়া মান্নান, সাইয়দা মনিরা আখতার খাতুন এবং ডঃ রুমানা রওশন হাশেমের প্রস্তাবিত সংবিধানটি সংগঠনের প্রথম সংবিধান হিসেবে অনুমোদন করেন।