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     Volume 4 Issue 77 | December 30, 2005 |

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Pushed Further Against the Wall

Hana Shams Ahmed

Yet another year is coming to a close and we are left wondering what good things, if any at all, have happened in the last 365 days. The spotlight has shifted from those 'accidental' crossfires by RAB to the very deliberate fireworks by self-righteous mullahs who would rather spend their time worrying about who is spending an 'unislamic' lifestyle rather than spending their own lives in an Islamic way. What selfless people!

Of course we have to thank former Presidents H.M. Ershad and Ziaur Rahman for paving the way for religion-based politics and the current Prime Minister Khaleda Zia party to further enhance their position in our country. At least the PM has recently changed her stance and admitted that Islamic militants do indeed exist in the country. Since the creation of an excellent breeding ground for the fundamentalists to thrive in, it comes as no surprise that the religious militants have started feasting their eyes on their favourite targets - women. Leaflets were distributed around the country where bombs were detonated demanding that all women should cover their heads when they go out and they must not be spotted outside unchaperoned after dusk.

So maybe they will not be quite possible to implement their 'wishes' on the women of this country but will it go completely ignored? So far the JMB has made very few empty threats and if it's child's play for the militants to drop bombs in 62 districts of the country with all those men in black keeping watch, how difficult will it be for them to throw one at an unsuspecting woman on the street? Tania, a 22-year-old studying under the National University says that she is furious at the declarations regarding women. "My mother always lets me go out without asking me too many questions but because of these fundamentalists' activities she doesn't feel very secure about letting me go out too often. This is hampering my everyday routine", she says.

Even now it's bad enough for a woman to go outside on her own. The lewd comments that men make on the streets when a girl's clothing don't conform to their norms is bad enough without getting an official directive to walk around in a cocoon of clothes. Nineteen-year-old Munni had the shock of her life when she was going to her friend's house one day in a rickshaw. "I was wearing jeans and suddenly noticed three mullahs passing me by in another rickshaw. One of them suddenly shouted at the top of his lungs, 'tauba tauba, matha dheke cholo (cover your head!)'".

The recent threat from JMB comes as no surprise because it is wedged in the culture of the country to condemn women who don't conform to the 'rules' of the patriarchal society. This is especially true for women in the rural society. Anything that is considered out of the societal norms is treated with the worst forms of human rights violation - by declaring a fatwa on the woman and carrying out the 'punishment' in public, to further emphasise the abuse. Many religious leaders were delighted when Taslima Nasreen was forced to flee the country in 1994 after receiving death threats from Islamic radicals for allegedly making disparaging comments about Islam. In the same year the Khaleda Zia government also charged Nasreen with blasphemy.

The extremists find it irresistible to interfere in all aspects of people's lives. The bomb that exploded at the Pahela Baishakh function shocked the nation and put people's security in complete jeopardy. It is now with extreme caution that people attend the most colourful cultural event of the country. Security has taken the fun out of all get-togethers. The militants also decided that it was against Islam for women to take part in sports. A women's swimming event was cancelled in Chandpur last year after a fatwa was announced by fundamentalists against women competing in swimsuits.

Coming back to the leaflets one can't help but wonder why the present government even after admitting the existence of the JMB. The PM speaks quite boldly on BTV about women's emancipation and how far we have come since independence. These are barren words. Leaflets like these give us a painful reminder that women in this country are extremely vulnerable and the militants are winning the game of terror.

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