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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