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                 Volume 10 |Issue 34 | September 09, 2011 |


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Those Two Victims of Salish

Shah Husain Imam

In the middle and third week of August, Ferdausi Begum, 32, wife of an expatriate Bangladeshi worker and Shirin Akhter, a teenage madrasah student fell foul with a self-appointed bunch of rural arbitrators in Habiganj and Madaripur respectively.

Ferdausi haunted by an edict of ostracisation and the whipping she literally had taken, jumped along with her four children before a running train. She and her two children died instantaneously, leaving the other two critically injured.

To conjure up the trauma that went through her mind and drove her to commit suicide in such a gruesome manner is itself a mental nightmare, let alone the ghastliness of the incident.

What was her fault? Her husband Jilon Mia, an expatriate worker in Saudi Arabia while leaving the country had asked Aziz to help his wife with grocery shopping once in a while. That was to prove to be her nemesis. Just think of it, the man had gone to earn money for his own survival and family's upkeep and in the process contribute his penny to the forex coffer. And, there he is losing much of his family to the sheer insanity of a group of self-entitled guardians of society. This is a typical narrative of much of Bangladesh today.

Where is the support structure for such economically-induced divided families? In the main, this concerns emotional and security support to those having been left behind. Such backup support can come from four sources: first, the extended family; second, the local community; third, the NGOs and, last but not least, the state itself. The expectations are roundly belied.

This is more of a wish-list than a reality recital – in an overwhelming number of cases. The community rather than protecting women and children tend to exploit their vulnerabilities. There have been instances of robbery, felony, cheating and even sexual exploitation suffered by those left in the country without any evident male care. To add to litany, is the dark, lengthening hand of salish.

Within a week of the Ferdausi carnage, Shirin Akhter took her life by hanging from a ceiling fan in Madaripur. It originated in a small tiff centering on an allegation of a goat chewing up grass into the so-called complainant's land. The public indignity she suffered on being caned and forced to touch the feet of the complainant was simply too much for the teenager to put up with.

Of course, their tragedies do create a stir, but only temporarily. They fade into memory through the maelstrom of one perversity overtaking the earlier version in an endless chain of mind-boggling incidents.

Ferdausi's fatal end hogged news headlines, and barring the attention of Odhikar and Drishtipat not much of civil society reaction was forthcoming. This is no less of a tragedy than those for which human chains had been formed. There is more than just a feeble suggestion of a helpline that never gets set up.

Significantly though, the High Court in the week following the incident had asked nine people including the officer in-charge of Madhabpur police station and a local UP chairman in Habiganj district to explain their position as for the Ferdausi episode. At the court's instance, all the nine were arrested indicating the seriousness of the criminal offence by self-initiated arbitration. This is virtually salish taking lives. When you don't give lives, how dare you take lives? Why don't the religious persons utter a single word against such inhuman acts in the name of salish which is but an extreme perversion of alternative dispute resolution (ADR)?

The abuse is endemic despite the High Court, the human rights organisations and the media repeatedly condemning it is a mockery of governance and rule of law. Since the High Court's last ruling on July 31 over a village arbitration case in Rangpur district to the effect that this 'arbitration business' must stop, Ferdausi and Shirin have fallen victim to it. It seems wrong traditions have a way of being entrenched, playing with gullible minds susceptible to exploitation of religious sentiments in tandem with localised coteries of power-play.

The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.



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