Members of Hifazat-e Islam, a radical Islamist party in Bangladesh, attacked female journalists on assignment as the group marched in the country's capital to demand strict Islamic law, including a ban on free mixing of the sexes and punishment of “atheists and blasphemous bloggers”.
Hefazot Islam introduced their 13-point demand during the march on April 6, 2013 in Dhaka, which would enforce capital punishment for blasphemy, make Islamic education compulsory, and see the the end of “all alien cultural practices like immodesty, lewdness, misconduct, culture of free mixing of the sexes, candle lighting in the name of personal freedom and free speech.”
On the day of the long march, Hifazat-e Islam not only barred women from entering the event, but also physically and verbally harassed several female journalists on duty there. Numbers of Hifazat activists chased and physically assaulted Ekushey Television Reporter Nadia Sharmin at Bijoynagar on the path of the rally, and interrupted Financial Express Reporter Arafat Ara at Paltan, close to the event venue, when she was going to her office.
Cases were filed against 60 people. This video uploaded to YouTube by ProfessorZiauddin shows Sharmin being attacked by a Hifazat mob:
An old woman collecting water bottles at the rally area was driven away on the pretext that “it is not a place for females”.
However, amid countrywide protest of the attacks on the journalists, which called for a boycott of news and broadcast of the news of the Islamists, representatives from Hifazat stated later that the group regretted the attack, saying “miscreants had carried out the attacks on scribes”.
So far, the Bangladeshi government has been soft on them and the prime minister has requested to postpone their planned protests in Dhaka scheduled for March 4 and 5, 2013 respectively taking into consideration the ongoing rescue operations for the Savar building collapse victims (see Global Voices Report).
The prime minister also mentioned that many of their 13 points have already been implemented or are under the process of being implemented. She also offered negotiations for other demands.
However, the party has promised to stage protests and disruptions into the long-term.
On May 5, 2013, the group plans to cut off Dhaka from the rest of the country by stationing its activists at all six entry points into the city terming the Prime Minister’s claim of addressing most of its 13-point demands as “devoid of merit”. The oppositions parties BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami are backing them.
Hefazot's anti-woman stance have earned strong condemnation from throughout Bangladesh, with a number of protests and rallies organizing against the group across the country.
Bangladesh is a secular democracy in which women have made significant strides. According to latest census data [bn], about half of Bangladesh's population of 152,518,015 are women. In education, women are progressing faster than men, with 89.19 percent of girls compared to 78.23 percent of boys passing the higher secondary school exam. And women are increasingly economically empowered, thanks to the garment industry in which 80 percent of employees are women.
And the country's prime minister, leader of the opposition and ex-prime minister, and the newly appointed speaker of the parliament are women. Many consider Hifazat's oppressive regimen as a halt to the progress Bangladesh has made for women's rights.
On April 27, 2013 an alliance of 68 non-governmental organisations working for women's rights held a rally in Dhaka to speak out against the proposed subjugation of women. Sultana Kamal, a human rights activist, told reporters there:
The people are non-communal and religious tolerant. The nation cannot cave in to the muscle-flexing of a handful of fanatics.
Kazi Mamun Hossain wrote in community blog Somewhereinblog against the Hefazot wish to establish a Taliban-like state with women forced to stay at home inside in burqas:
হেফাজত তাদের ১৩ দফায় ধর্মের নামে নারীদের চার দেয়ালে বন্দী করতে চায়, চায় পোশাক শ্রমিক নারীদের মাধ্যমে দেশ যে বিদেশী মুদ্রা আয় করছে তা বন্ধ হোক, আমাদের মেয়েরা কাজ না করে স্বামীর পদতলে বাঁধা থাকুক। শিক্ষা ব্যবস্থাকে আধুনিক না করে আমাদেরকে অন্ধকারে বেঁধে রাখতে চায়। ধর্মের নামে আধুনিক বাংলাদেশকে তালেবান রাষ্ট্র বানাতে চায়।
Hefazot is trying to confine women inside four walls with their 13-point demand. They want to stop the flow of foreign currency by preventing women workers in the garments industry from doing their job. They want our women to stop earning and be submissive to their income-generating husbands. They want to restrict modernization of our education policy keeping ourself in darkness. They want to establish a Taliban-like state in the name of protecting religion.
On the same website, Nayakraj reiterated that this country is for everybody:
বাংলাদেশকে কোনক্রমেই তালিবান আফগান বানাতে দেয়া যাবে না। বাংলাদেশ কোনো কাঠমোল্লার দেশ না, এই দেশ নারী পুরুষ সবার।
Blogger Himu wrote on community blog Sachalayatan that Bangladesh's women are too integral to the running of the country to remain inside and at home:
যে বাংলাদেশের কৃষি অচল নারীর অংশগ্রহণ ছাড়া, যে বাংলাদেশের শিল্প অচল নারীর শ্রম ছাড়া, যে বাংলাদেশের পরিবার অচল নারীর নি:শব্দ আত্মবিসর্জন ছাড়া, সে বাংলাদেশে মাথায় ফেট্টি বাঁধা কতগুলি উন্মাদের কথায় নারী অন্তরীণ হয়ে থাকবে?
The agriculture of Bangladesh is dependent on the women workforce, the industries are dependent on women. In Bangladesh, families are dependent on women's silent contribution in parenting and housekeeping. The women of Bangladesh will not be confined because some radicals with turbans on their head said so. Never.
Shariful Islam Rukun at community blog Amarblog questioned the group's understanding of Islam in light of its attack of female journalists at the march:
ইসলাম শান্তির ধর্ম। হেফাজতের যে সব কর্মীরা এ মহত্ (!) কাজে অংশ নিয়েছেন তারা কী জানাবেন, একজন মহিলাকে অর্ধশত পুরুষ মিলে এভাবে নির্দয়ভাবে পেটানোর অনুমতি ইসলামের কোথায় উল্লেখ আছে?
Islam is the religion of peace. Could the Hefazot members who participated in these holy (!) attacks tell where in Islam it is prescribed that a bunch of men should beat mercilessly an unarmed women?
Irteza (@irteza) asked on Twitter:
@ইরতেজা: সকল গণমাধ্যমকে উদাত্ত আহবান জানাচ্ছি, সাংবাদিক বোনদের ওপর অব্যাহত অত্যাচার নির্যাতনের প্রতিবাদে হেফাজতে ইসলামীর সকল সংবাদ বর্জন করুন।
@irteja: I am asking all journalists to boycott all news related to Hefazot Islam in media in protest of their attack on female journalists.
Bikkhipto Khitish (@projonmo106) wrote that the fundamentalists’ efforts were futile: