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July 27, 2003 

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Marriage with rapist!

Farhana Akhter

Babul Khan should have been in prison for raping a 14-year-old girl, his neighbour in southern Bangladesh. Instead, the 26-year-old man became the husband of his victim. Village elders forced the girl to marry his attacker. The elders considered the settlement the best they could to punish the attacker and reward the victim. For Babul the marriage was a gift and way out of jail.
Babul wanted to marry the girl, who was considered the prettiest at her village in Patuakhali district. In spite of being poor, the girl and her family resisted the marriage proposal from Babul. The man took the rejection as an insult. He vowed to take revenge. The revenge came in the form of a sexual assault on the girl. Babul fled his village after the incident in August last year. Police investigated the rape allegation filed by the girl's family and charged Babul with rape violence while he was still in hiding.
Month's later Babul was arrested during the Operation Clean Heart by the joint forces. But as the army prepared to send Babul to jail elders from his village intervened. The village elders promised to punish Babul. The army agreed to let him go. The girl's family was too poor and weak to reject the elders. He gave in to their pressure and persuaded her daughter to accept her rapist as the husband.
"What an irony! How can I live a happy life? Thundered the girl. She spoke for many such Bangladeshi girls and women who are forced to marry their tormentors. Some of those who control the society are responsible for such odd marriage. Another northern village girl suffered a similar attack in 2001. She was also forced to marry her rapist and the arbitrators thought they saved the girl from humiliation and even death.
The country's law has provided for trial and punishment for such violence against women. Rape offenders face up to life term in jail in Bangladesh. But kangaroo courts set up by village elders often help the offenders escape trial by a court of law and evade punishment.
In most cases, the victims and their families are forced to accept such marriage. Considering the social stigma, the victims also agree to marry the men who raped them. The women and their families lack social standing to oppose the elders. They also lack the ability to go to court. Such unequal marriages may appear to be bizarre. But the practice has become common in Bangladesh. In most cases the attackers are far higher in social and financial standings than their victims.
Predictably this type of marriage does not last long. Most such marriages are terminated within months. After the focus on the crime peters out, the rapists-turned-husbands usually ditch their victims-turned-wives. Men in Bangladesh have hundreds of reasons to abandon their wives. No one really cares about the abused women.
Nazma Begum (not her real name) of Chhit Gangua village in Ranishankail upazila under Thakurgaon district is a glaring example of this odd phenomenon. She was married to her rapist Mosharul Haq, 29, following arbitration. After marriage, she was subjected to torture by her in-laws.
The husband not only tortured Nazma; he also divorced her abruptly without showing any reason. Nazma was in troubles. She had difficulties in rearing her one-year-old baby. She could not claim any compensation, as the marriage was unregistered. She had no document to prove that the marriage was legal.
Another 14-year-old girl from Dharmahata village in Paba upazila of Rajshahi district was violated by two people - Shafiuddin and her brother-in-law Nayan. Then arbitration was arranged and the village 'matbors' ordered Shafiuddin to marry Ruma without considering the consequence.
Lawyers said forceful marriage has no legal basis even if the marriage is registered. If the bride is forced to marry by any quarter she may agree and say 'kabul' which is considered as her consent to the marriage. But unless and until the bride gives her consent willingly and independently, without any pressure, the marriage cannot be completed.
Advocate Salma Ali, executive director of Bangladesh National Women Lawyers' Association, said if a rape victim is forced to marry the rapist and the marriage is broken thereafter, it becomes very difficult to bring about remedy. "In that case, the rape victim and divorced woman cannot file a rape case and the rapists go unpunished. In fact, they take the marriage as a strategy to avoid court case and punishment," she pointed out.
A general public sentiment in Bangladesh society is when a woman is raped, she lost her dignity; and when she is married, she regained her dignity.
Advocate of the Supreme Court Zahirul Islam said a new law should be enacted so that the rapist cannot divorce his wife soon after the marriage with rape victim. "And that divorce should be treated as proof of the rape so that the culprit can be punished as per law," he said.
Dr Mahbubuddin, a professor of Sociology Department of Dhaka University, said the government as well as society should ensure stern punishment to the rapists. "Then it will be possible to check the trend of the arbitration trial," he added. "If civic norms are properly followed and law is enforced without any lapses, the tendency of rape will reduce automatically."


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