Plight of Hindu women in Bangladesh

A Bangladesh Hindu woman

 I am a university educated Hindu woman and got a prestigious scholarship on my own merit to do Ph.D. in a foreign university in 2008. I also had the opportunity to visit many countries in Europe and North America between 2009-2013. I take this opportunity to tell readers about my life before I could come out of Bangladeshi Hindu society. I did my MA in 2000 and taught at a university college in Dhaka. I was married after my BA Honours and got a baby too, thanks to my monster husband with whom I was married under pressure from my family and relatives. He was a Ph.D., that attracted them most, but my first contact with him was a nightmare that haunts me even today.
Yes, I had no choice but to live with this man for long 5 years and every day of it was hell for me. He had other women and it was normal for him to beat me without any rhyme or reason. We never made love and he regularly raped me. Soon I started hating men deeply because of the behaviour of this man. When I was pregnant one day he punched me on my backbone and I fainted to wake up in a hospital bed. On examination, the doctors found that my spinal cord was damaged and said that the injury may never be healed. Quite surprisingly, my husband did not regret what he did and continued his brutal behavior.

Finally, with my father’s help I gained some courage and divorced him against uproar and protest from my relatives, many of them with university degrees. Without my father’s support and a job at the university college I could never have had the guts to divorce the brute. I felt highly relieved after divorcing the monster and moving in with my parents. But my problems were not really over. I was regularly lectured by my so-called educated relatives who constantly asked me to return to my husband knowing well how brutish he was and how unfaithful he had been. Most of them boycotted me and I was never invited to any social and religious gathering.

Once I wanted to visit my grandparents but they told on my face that I would be welcomed only with my “Thakhur,” otherwise not. My ex-husband was married by then but still I was asked to go back to him by most of my relatives. I wonder what I would do if I had no education, a job and, most importantly, my saintly father’s support against great pressure from my relatives. I wrote about the injury my ex-husband inflicted on me. I am still suffering from it. I have undergone treatment in foreign countries and the doctors concluded that I shall never be cured and have to live with it for the rest of my life.

With the growth of Western education in Bengal and social movement that was started by Ram Mohan Roy and Iswar Chandra Bidyasagar, Bengali Hindu women progressed greatly. Gone were the days of of Sati Daha (widow burning), Gouri Dhan (marriage by 6-9 years), forbidden widow marriage, unlimited polygamy and what not. But are they really gone for good from Bangladesh? Bangladeshi Hindus don’t have Sati Daha but the rest of the barbaric Hindu cultures are fully intact with hidden but strong support from the so-called Hindu intellectuals. We hear every day how Muslim women are suppressed but how many know to what magnitude the Hindu women are oppressed and live like sub-humans in Bangladesh?

Hindus lived under full repression during Pakistani period. But in independent Bangladesh they may not have full rights as citizens that the constitution of the country promises but no doubt they have made remarkable progress in educational, economic and political arenas by their own efforts and hard work. But what about social progress so far as Hind women are concerned? It is very disgraceful and deplorable, to say the truth.

Hindus don’t register their marriages, and divorce is not allowed legally. Widow marriage is still not a Hindu social norm in Bangladesh. Polygamy is an open secret among Bangladeshi Hindus.  Muslims may have 4 wives by religious culture but Hindus have no number limitation. Adultery is a common fact among Hindu men and it is a hush-hush matter. Hindu Bengali widows in Bangladesh still live in utter disgrace and face inhuman treatment and discrimination. Hindu widows are not allowed in social gathering such as weddings; they are not supposed to eat fish and meat and must wear simple white clothes only. In some cases they are not even allowed to wear shoes.

Centuries-old Hindu tradition does not allow a widow to remarry and the question of divorce does not arise at all.  A widow or a divorced woman is a curse to a family and the society at large. Most of the Bangladeshi Hindus consider seeing widow or a divorcee’s face as an evil omen and bad luck and that is why they don’t invite them to any auspicious occasions. Caste and dowry system are other two most inhuman Hindu cultures and traditions that dominantly prevail in Bangladesh as in the Indian Hindu society.

All these I write from my personal experience and I wish I were wrong. Western press talk about oppression on Muslim women, as Hindu media cheerfully and gleefully nods. But nobody writes about us, the unfortunate Hindu women in Bangladesh. We silently accept our pathetic social condition and tolerate all sorts of suppression and oppression that Hindu men inflict on us.

We have “Bangladesh Hindu Bouddha Christian Oikyo Parishod” to fight for political rights for minority communities in Bangladesh, but did they ever give any attention to the centuries-old evils that prevail in Bangladeshi Hindu society? They foiled the Bangladesh government’s move to make Hindu marriage registration mandatory. The bill (Hindu Marriage Registration Bill-2012) aimed at providing legal and social protection to Hindu women. The objective was to safeguard women from marriage-related cheating by their husbands, to ensure the rights of the Hindu married daughters who are deprived of most of their rights, including their equal rights or inheritance to the parental as well as husband’s property, and making polygamy a punishable offence.

This bill was vehemently opposed by a large section of Bangladeshi Hindu leadership. Hiren Biswas, the president of the Samaj Sangskar Parishad group, passed the most obnoxious comment on these issues saying: “We don’t mind optional registration because Hindu couples sometimes need the marriage certificate when they travel, but we won’t accept mandatory registration, or divorce and inheritance rights to women because our scriptures and customs don’t allow them.” What silly reasons he had for his objection! How long do he and other Hindus want to oppress their mothers, sister and daughters? I ask this question to all Hindu men of Bangladesh and plead to our government to come forward with legal framework to protect us.

Name withheld by request.

2 thoughts on “Plight of Hindu women in Bangladesh

  1. “Western press talk about oppression on Muslim women, as Hindu media cheerfully and gleefully nods. But nobody writes about us, the unfortunate Hindu women in Bangladesh. We silently accept our pathetic social condition and tolerate all sorts of suppression and oppression that Hindu men inflict on us”.







    The Suffragettes

    The Suffragettes wanted the right for women to vote.

    The move for women to have the vote had really started in 1897 when Millicent Fawcett founded the National Union of Women’s Suffrage. “Suffrage” means the right to vote and that is what women wanted – hence its inclusion in Fawcett’s title.

    Millicent Fawcett believed in peaceful protest. She felt that any violence or trouble would persuade men that women could not be trusted to have the right to vote. Her game plan was patience and logical arguments. Fawcett argued that women could hold responsible posts in society such as sitting on school boards – but could not be trusted to vote; she argued that if parliament made laws and if women had to obey those laws, then women should be part of the process of making those laws; she argued that as women had to pay taxes as men, they should have the same rights as men and one of her most powerful arguments was that wealthy mistresses of large manors and estates employed gardeners, workmen and labourers who could vote……..but the women could not regardless of their wealth…..

    However, Fawcett’s progress was very slow. She converted some of the members of the Labour Representation Committee (soon to be the Labour Party) but most men in Parliament believed that women simply would not understand how Parliament worked and therefore should not take part in the electoral process. This left many women angry and in 1903 the Women’s Social and Political Union was founded by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia. They wanted women to have the right to vote and they were not prepared to wait. The Union became better known as the Suffragettes. Members of the Suffragettes were prepared to use violence to get what they wanted.

    In fact, the Suffragettes started off relatively peacefully. It was only in 1905 that the organisation created a stir when Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney interrupted a political meeting in Manchester to ask two Liberal politicians (Winston Churchill and Sir Edward Grey) if they believed women should have the right to vote. Neither man replied. As a result, the two women got out a banner which had on it “Votes for Women” and shouted at the two politicians to answer their questions. Such actions were all but unheard of then when public speakers were usually heard in silence and listened to courteously even if you did not agree with them. Pankhurst and Kenney were thrown out of the meeting and arrested for causing an obstruction and a technical assault on a police officer.

    Both women refused to pay a fine preferring to go to prison to highlight the injustice of the system as it was then. Emmeline Pankhurst later wrote in her autobiography that:
    “this was the beginning of a campaign the like of which was never known in England, or for that matter in any other country…..we interrupted a great many meetings……and we were violently thrown out and insulted. Often we were painfully bruised and hurt.”

    The Suffragettes refused to bow to violence. They burned down churches as the Church of England was against what they wanted; they vandalised Oxford Street, apparently breaking all the windows in this famous street; they chained themselves to Buckingham Palace as the Royal Family were seen to be against women having the right to vote; they hired out boats, sailed up the Thames and shouted abuse through loud hailers at Parliament as it sat; others refused to pay their tax. Politicians were attacked as they went to work. Their homes were fire bombed. Golf courses were vandalised. The first decade of Britain in the C20th was proving to be violent in the extreme.

    Suffragettes were quite happy to go to prison. Here they refused to eat and went on a hunger strike. The government was very concerned that they might die in prison thus giving the movement martyrs. Prison governors were ordered to force feed Suffragettes but this caused a public outcry as forced feeding was traditionally used to feed lunatics as opposed to what were mostly educated women.

    The government of Asquith responded with the Cat and Mouse Act. When a Suffragette was sent to prison, it was assumed that she would go on hunger strike as this caused the authorities maximum discomfort. The Cat and Mouse Act allowed the Suffragettes to go on a hunger strike and let them get weaker and weaker. Force feeding was not used. When the Suffragettes were very weak……….they were released from prison. If they died out of prison, this was of no embarrassment to the government. However, they did not die but those who were released were so weak that they could take no part in violent Suffragette struggles. When those who had been arrested and released had regained their strength, they were re-arrested for the most trivial of reason and the whole process started again. This, from the government’s point of view, was a very simple but effective weapon against the Suffragettes.

    As a result, the Suffragettes became more extreme. The most famous act associated with the Suffragettes was at the June 1913 Derby when Emily Wilding Davison threw herself under the King’s horse, Anmer, as it rounded Tattenham Corner. She was killed and the Suffragettes had their first martyr. However, her actions probably did more harm than good to the cause as she was a highly educated woman. Many men asked the simple question – if this is what an educated woman does, what might a lesser educated woman do? How can they possibly be given the right to vote?

    It is possible that the Suffragettes would have become more violent. They had, after all, in February 1913 blown up part of David Lloyd George’s house – he was probably Britain’s most famous politician at this time and he was thought to be a supporter of the right for women to have the vote!

    However, Britain and Europe was plunged into World War One in August 1914. In a display of patriotism, Emmeline Pankhurst instructed the Suffragettes to stop their campaign of violence and support in every way the government and its war effort. The work done by women in the First World War was to be vital for Britain’s war effort. In 1918, the Representation of the People Act was passed by Parliament.

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