Pohela Boishakh, Women and the Muslim Zealots
The series of sexual assaults of women and children during last year’s Pohela Boishakh celebrations in Dhaka University area, the age-old center of the main congregation, and the subsequent reluctance of the law enforcers and the DU authorities to act promptly and punish the perpetrators have inspired the anti-Bengali and anti-women quarters, more specifically the radicals linked to different religion-based political parties, to flex their muscles more often.
These radical groups and individuals have been campaigning against the celebrations for the last few years terming it anti-Islamic, more significantly after last year’s ordeals of the women who usually join the programs wearing saree – a dress hated by the radicals as they promote veils to prevent sexual harassment and rape of women.
However, this “proper veil can save women from harassment” argument, spearheaded by disgusting Islamic leaders like Fazlul Huq Amini and Delawar Hossain Sayedee, does not have ground in Bangladesh where at least 25 madrasa girls were raped and gang-raped between January and March.
Rather, by warning women not to participate in the Pohela Boishakh celebrations this year and labeling the well-accepted activities of the day as anti-Islam, the radicals have issued rape threats. Thanks to media, their disgusting statements have reached millions of people as an imminent threat and prompted their supporters to carry out vigorous campaigns on Facebook and blogs against Pohela Boishakh terming it a Hindu culture.
In Bangladesh, the hatred between Hindus and Muslims began around a century ago, but the incidents of persecution, land grabbing, killings and rape have always been one-sided. The Hindus never retaliated and have always been denied justice by subsequent governments and the judiciary. Anti-Hindu campaigns have got a foot in Bangladesh last year after India banned beef and radical Hindus killed several Muslims over beef-related incidents, and took tough steps to stop cattle smuggling to Bangladesh. Hence, the incidents of attacks on Hindu families, land and worshiping places have increased significantly in the recent months. Moreover, fatal attacks on secularists, Buddhists, Christians, and minority Muslim communities like Shia and Ahmadiyya are taking place frequently.
Even though festival bonus has been announced on Pohela Boishakh for the first time in history from this year, the so-called secular Awami League-led government has chosen the path of appeasing the Islamists as a single group though they are divided in dozens of sections over what is true Islam. Evidently, the Saudi-inspired Wahhabi version of Islam is the strongest group in Bangladesh. Money matters!
Disturbing and horrifying developments related to observing Pohela Boishakh and participation of women in outdoor events
# An influential faction of Awami Olama League, a pad-only party allied with the government alliance, has demanded that the government withdraw the allowance declared for the alien cultural festivities as they are similar to those observed by the non-Muslims.
General Secretary of the party Maulana Md Abul Hasan Sheikh Shariatpuri at a human chain in front of the National Press Club on April 10 said that the traditional procession seeking peace (known as Mongol Shobhajatra), lighting candles, using musical instruments and masks, and women wearing sindoor (red lead) are the activities of the non-Muslims. By observing the day, some people are propagating against Islam, and it should be stopped. Instead of Pohela Boishakh, they demanded allowance for Eid-e-Miladunnabi.
They also reiterated their claim that the existing education policy discourages religious teachings, and vented anger on the chief justice for being a non-Muslim.
The small parties and groups that expressed solidarity with Olama League’s 10-point demands are Bangabandhu Olama Parishad, Bangladesh Awami Olama Parishad, Sommilito Islami Gobeshona Parishad, Jatiya Qur’an Shikkha Mission, Bangladesh Olam Mashayekh Oikyo Jote, Central Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, Jatiya Olama Parishad, Bangladesh Orphanage Welfare Society, Imam-Muezzin Welfare Council, Dhaka University Sunni Chhatra Oikyo and Amra Dhakabashi.
The Awami League has again denied the existence of Olama League as its ally. On Tuesday, Joint General Secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif said: “Olama League is not an affiliate or associate organization of the Awami League. It is a party of fraudsters. We have asked the law enforcers to take action against them.” He made a similar remark a couple of years back.
In response, Olama League has labeled Hanif as a hybrid Awami League leader. Shariatpuri said that they fought for the AL on the streets when the party’s existence had been at stake. “The prime minister invited and entertained us with foods. We are Muslims. If the Awami League allows these activities to happen in the name of Pohela Boishakh celebrations, they will lose votes.”
# Another spiritual but Islamist political leader Syed Muhammad Rezaul Karim (better known as Charmonai Pir) has claimed that the people who celebrate Pohela Boishakh are trying to destroy Islam in Bangladesh and heading towards Hindu-dominated India. In a statement issued on April 11, Rezaul said that Pohela Boishakh festivities, full of vulgar and nudity, were imported from India. He called upon the Muslims to prevent Indian cultural aggression and refrain from observing Pohela Boishakh.
# Unpopular for instigating secularist murders, Qawmi madrasa-based radical platform Hefazat the same day gave a similar statement. They also described the festivities and free mixing of men and women as anti-Islam. Moreover, they warned the women not to join the programs as they may face more sexual assaults than last year. “Everything happens in the world by the order of Allah. So Muslims should expect their welfare from Allah not anything imported from the Hindu culture. So you should not join the Mongol Shobhajatra.”
Issuing a note of warning, the Hefazat leaders said that the country was on the verge of destruction due to the activities of the secular quarters. They claimed that Islamic education and wearing Islamic attires were subjected to severe criticisms.
Earlier on April 8, chief of Hefazat or protector of Islam Ahmed Shah Shafi called on the fellow Muslims to get ready for another tough movement against the atheists. “We will not spare anyone who tries to do anything with Islam. No conspiracy will be tolerated on the soil of Bangladesh till the last member of Hefazat is alive,” Shafi said, only two days after religious extremists hacked and shot dead Nazimuddin Samad, a pro-government secular activist, on a Dhaka street, the sixth victim since February last year. It should be mentioned that two of the three killers of secular activist Oyasiqur Rahman Babu are students of Hefazat’s Hathazari Madrasa in Chittagong.
* Abdur Razzak Bin Yusuf is another Hindu hater who has a massive supporter base. In a widely circulated video, he recited a self-composed poem to incite hatred towards Hindus, Bangalee culture and women. He says that since he is born as a Muslim, it is in his blood to oppose Hindu culture. He will dismantle the idols of the Hindu Gods and Goddesses; he will eliminate Pohela Boishakh celebrations from the land.
* Banned militant group Ansarullah Bangla Team has claimed the responsibility for at least eight deaths and five murder attempts – all secularist writers, teachers and teachers. In a six-point directives sent to media outlets in October last year, it said that woman’s photos must not be used in any advertisements on newspapers. They also banned publication of photos of women without veils in newspapers. Their another demand was not to publish/air anything that might arouse sexual desire among the youths.
* Jamaat-e-Islami leader Sayedee, now serving jail terms for 1971 war crimes, is very popular among the Islamists for vulgar remarks made about women during his sermons. He thinks women are like uncovered fruits where flies may sit, referring to the women as attractive and men as perverts. And yet he gets claps from the perverts, who think that it is justified to rape or sexually assault a woman if you can find even a silly fault in her, especially with regard to her dress.
* Another outlawed militant group Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami, emerged in 1992, bombed the main stage of the Pohela Boishakh celebrations at Ramna Batamul killing at least 10 people and injuring many others. During the trial, a top Huji leader said that they attacked the festival as it is anti-Islamic. Even though the attacks panicked many people, the celebrations have never stopped.
Pro-Islamist police force
As the government has relentlessly been showing its soft stance towards the radicals, the law enforcers and Dhaka University authorities follow their highups. They have imposed some restrictions upon the Pohela Boishakh celebrations citing security reasons. One of those is holding no program at open place after 5pm and another is not allowing anyone to wear masks – as if those will prevent sexual harassment or militant attacks.
Last month, the detectives told some media outlets that the militants/religious extremists might attack on the festival participants on April 14. A DB official, seeking anonymity, said militants are now getting more chances to plan such violence as they are getting shelter and financial support from political leaders.
The radicals are so powerful and dreadful that the secularists and moderate Muslims are afraid of speaking against them in public let alone filing cases against the instigators. The police are not willing to sue those bigots.
Under the circumstances, cultural organizations and rights bodies have protested the restrictions saying that the ban would finally help the radicals’ propaganda to take a stronghold on the minds of the people.
Former caretaker government adviser Sultana Kamal on April 12 said: “It is a fulsome step. The government is patronising the criminals by taking various steps against the freethinkers. Everyone’s rights have been compromised for the threats of some criminals.”
She alleged the government is reluctant towards the persistent incidents of torture of women, rape and anti-women activities. “Rather the women are asked consistently to take care of themselves, hide themselves in a way that their female entity is not exposed. By imposing the ban, the police have hinted that the state will not shoulder responsibility for anything that may happen after 5pm. The culture of terrorising people has been supported through such step.”
Head Image by: Leo Holidays