Reflections on Women Development Policy and IOJ's hartal – PART IV


By, rahnuma ahmed

I had ended last week’s column (Part III, April 9, 2011) with these lines, What I find striking is how few women?s organisations, human rights and cultural activists are willing to publicly condemn the war on terror zealots, as they do the religious zealots. I had raised the question, is it odd to ask, what holds them back?
An unstated reasoning, seemingly, is that any condemnation of the `war on terror’ will further embolden those characterised as religious zealots, but this, to say the least,? is problematic. It is unethical. It makes our silence complicitous in international war crimes, in a context where people of conscience the world over have been demanding the trial?not assassination Abottabad-style?of George Bush Jr., Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, Tony Blair, aka `Bliar,’ for nearly a decade. In present Bangladesh, as various political and social forces align and re-align themselves in their efforts to re-fashion a secular order, one notices two different streams, one, more prominent than the other due to the power structures in which it is embedded, which through its silence on WOT may be regarded as friendly towards imperialist forces, the other, more fragmentary, articulated by left parties and left-leaning intellectuals, which is critical of imperial invasion and occupation. The latter includes parties such as the Communist Party of Bangladesh, Workers Party (electoral allies of the ruling Awami League), Bangladesher Samajtantrik Dal, and intellectual-activists, such as, Badruddin Umar, Farhad Mazhar, Anu Muhammad, Salimullah Khan, Nurul Kabir.
One would have liked to see leaders and activists belonging to the women’s movement taking a principled stand too. To see them express their solidarity with the sufferings of women in US `occupied territories’ (Afghanistan, Iraq), and in Palestine. It should have come forth easily because of our experience of 1971, particularly, because of the women’s movement’s acute awareness of the gender-specific impact of war, summed up beautifully in the words, narir ekattur. It is the name given to an edited collection of oral histories recounted by women who survived 1971, a collection markedly pluralistic through its inclusion of Bengali and adibashi/indigenous women, and women of diverse religious backgrounds, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists etc. (researched and published by Ain o Salish Kendra, 2001). `Women’s 1971′ thus is more than a mere book title, it encapsulates a perspective instead, from within which Bangladeshi women/feminist authors, researchers, artists and film-makers have developed critiques of masculinist accounts which glorify the 9 month long liberation struggle, the sacrifices made (only) by Bengalis. War impinges on all women’s lives. But despite our tales of suffering being distressingly similar to those of women living under US occupation now? ?deaths, of husband, children, other family members, economic ruin, sexual assault, rape, fleeing from home, becoming refugees overnight, turning to prostitution to survive, to support children, to feed maimed male family members?expressions of solidarity with women elsewhere, are yet to occur.
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Reflections on Women Development Policy and IOJ's hartal PART III


By rahnuma ahmed

Apnader naamte hobe, had said my friend.
We were discussing the Women Development Policy and both he and Nurul Kabir were astonished. Women’s organisations had not taken to the streets. They had not protested against Islami Oikyo Jote leader Mufti Fazlul Huq Amini’s fabrication, nor against the Awami League-led government’s shocking betrayal of women’s rights.?
The Policy contains anti-Islamic provisions, said Amini. Equal shares to inheritance are against the Quran and Sunnah, these should be scrapped, its implementation would destroy “family values and social norms.” It would encourage the “breakup of families and [lead to] illegitimate births” (bdnewslive, April 21, 2011).?
The lie was used by the Islami Ain Bastobayon Committee (Committee for the Implementation of Islamic Law, or ILIC) to call a daylong countrywide hartal, which, in all likelihood, benefitted the government. It gave credence to Sheikh Hasina’s allegation that the previous BNP-Jamaat led government (2001-2006) in which the IOJ was an alliance partner, had “smeared” the name of Islam, had turned the country into “a haven for terrorists and militants.” (I myself think that the situation is more complex than it is made to appear, for reasons which I’d mentioned previously: the ties between some of the militant Islamically-oriented parties and state intelligence agencies are unclear, as are the reasons as to why Sheikh Hasina has agreed to setting up the regional Counter-Terrorism Centre (for South Asia) in Dhaka, for which the European Union is reportedly providing 1.5 million euros along with technological assistance. And while we are on the topic, I think it’s worth mentioning that American soldiers recently landed at Dhaka airport in a special aircraft with “arms and tools.” According to news reports, they were `disarmed’ by airport customs; apparently, Bangladesh army personnel receiving them had been unaware of customs laws; hurriedly-dispatched home-ministry-authorised documents ensured the release of the armaments which had been brought by visiting US soldiers “to train [the] Bangladesh army” (New Age, April 21, 2011).?
Interestingly enough, Sheikh Hasina’s government seemed to assist the hartal. Summons’ and arrest warrants issued against Amini by a Dhaka court on March 31, 2011?sedition and defamation cases filed respectively by Sammilita Islami Jote, and Jananetri Parishad?were swiftly retracted by the magistrate on the advice of the chief metropolitan magistrate.? Being not under lock-and-key must have helped Amini organise the April 4 hartal.
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