(Editorial, New Age (Bangladesh), May 13, 2007)


A survey by Bangladesh Mahila Parishad reveals that the number of victims of fatwa is on the rise. Over the last four months alone, 50 women in seven districts fell victim to the obscurantist religious decree. Needless to mention, the unfortunate ones are mostly poor women of rural areas. In the year 2006, the number of such cases stood at 66. The survey is based on newspaper reports and so one cannot be sure that the number is exhaustive, as many cases may have gone unreported. Set against this rising incidents of fatwa is the rarity of the instances of prosecution of perpetrators. As the president of the Parishad said, very few cases have been filed against those who have issued fatwas. The main obstacle is that under existing laws the issuing of fatwa is not treated as a crime.


Democracy and human rights lose their significance when religious bigots are allowed to run a parallel system of awarding punishment in defiance of law and governmental authority. Many families have been ruined, many women have been driven to desperation, some even to suicide, and yet, there are no signs of the evil abating. The social progress attained through decades of struggle and effort is in danger of being negated due to the doings of the self-appointed guardians of religion and morality. They have also arrogated to themselves the role of prosecutor and judge.


With the steeply rising incidences of fatwas, these can no longer be dismissed as isolated instances. It is clear that the government’s attitude of acquiescence has emboldened the authors of these unauthorised, arbitrary and cruel religious rulings. Also, in 2001, a High Court bench gave a ruling prohibiting the issuance of fatwa and terming it an unlawful act. An interested quarter preferred an appeal against the High Court ruling and the matter rests there all these years due to absence of positive action on the part of the government. Government inaction can easily be construed as acquiescence and support. This is perhaps the reason that they are undaunted by the emergency powers of the present government


The government must come out with a clear decision over a matter that amounts to erosion of its legal jurisdiction. Every momentous problem cannot be swept under the carpet on the plea that it is a ‘sensitive issue’. It becomes sensitive when it is not dealt with firmly at the initial stage. Appeasing obscurantism has never proved happy and in matters of fatwa the perpetrators are not merely obscurantist but local persecutors out to challenge the prevailing law, delivery of justice and governmental authority.

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