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Lesbian Couple Arrested After Marrying in Secret in Bangladesh

Categories: South Asia, Bangladesh, Citizen Media, Freedom of Speech, Human Rights, Law, LGBTQ+, Media & Journalism, Women & Gender

Muslim woman and a Hindu woman [1] in Bangladesh were arrested for marrying each other in what is described as the country's first same-sex marriage despite laws criminalizing the union.

The 21-year-old and 16-year-old, who met when the older woman tutored the younger, recently eloped from southwestern Pirojpur and came to the capital city of Dhaka to marry and start living together. But one of the women's fathers filed a missing person's report after his daughter fled, and police found them living together in a rented house in the Dhaka shortly after.

Homosexual relationships including same-sex marriage are illegal [2] and punishable with life in prison in Bangladesh or up to ten years of hard labor. Public displays of affection between friends of the same sex are common and do not raise any controversy, however, there is a strong objection to homosexuality arising from the religious traditions of the majority Muslim country. Homosexual communities exist in Bangladesh, but they are the hidden minorities (see Global Voices report [3]).

World homosexuality Laws. Click on image to see legend. courtesy Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0 [4]

World homosexuality Laws. Red indicates Imprisonment (up to life sentence) & dark brown indicates punishment up to death penalty. Click on image to see legend. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0

The news made waves throughout Bangladesh's social media and caused an uproar among some.

But many welcomed the first same-sex marriage of Bangladesh. Golam Rabbani [5] [bn] wrote on his Facebook page:

যে দুটি মেয়ে বিয়ে করেছে তাদের জন্য শুভকামনা রইলো… জীবন সুন্দর… তাদের এ সাহসের জন্য অভিনন্দন তাদেরকে… জয় হোক জীবনের…

My best wishes for these two women on their marriage… life is beautiful… congratulations for their courage… let life reign…

Diaspora blogger Avijit Roy [6] writes on his blog many scientific articles on homosexuality. He praised the courage of these two women in a Facebook note [7] in which he mentioned that one of them was bold enough to ask the police officer interrogating them:

একটা ছেলে যদি একটি মেয়েকে ভালো বাসতে পারে, তবে একটা মেয়ে কেন আরেকটা মেয়েকে ভালোবাসতে পারবে না?

If a man can love a woman, why can't a woman love a woman?

However, many could not accept the marriage. A lot of negative comments could be seen in the comments section of online news articles.

Blogger and Twitter user Mehedi Akram (@mehdiakram [8]) saw this as an invasion of Western culture:

Marriage of two women! http://t.co/aX2o5V2D5R [9] what more we will have to see. This is the domination of western culture :D

Some went further. Last year, Dr. Muhammad Yunus [11], an economist and Nobel laureate from Bangladesh, and three other Nobel Peace Prize laureates released a statement in which they called for the legalization [12] of same-sex sexual relationships. After the news of the same-sex marriage of these two women had broken out, “Ulama Masayekh Sanghati Parishad”, an association of Muslim clerics accused Dr. Yunus of promoting same-sex marriage in Bangladesh and called for his arrest and punishment [13] [bn]. They have called for [14] socially boycotting him and announced a program of occupying Yunus Center [15].

Others showed tolerance. A commenter named Notun commented on a blogpost of Kanij [16] on the Bangla blogging platform Somewhereinblog.net covering the news:

সমকামিতাকে আমি ভালো মনে করি না… কিন্তু এটা তাদের ব্যক্তিগত ব্যাপার… তাই তাতে আমি নাক গলাবো না…

I don't support homosexuality.. but this is their private affair… so I will not poke into their issues.

Photoblogger Pranabesh Das [17] wrote on Facebook about the arrest of these two women and the bad publicity they are getting:

They are just unlucky to born in the wrong country in the wrong time.


This is Love. Image by MOKOtheCRazy. CC BY-NC-ND

Blogger and a student of law Rayhan Rashid [19] opined that this unique example from Bangladesh is significant for four reasons:

(১) যে সমাজে নারীর নিজের কোনো পছন্দ অপছন্দ থাকতে নেই, সেখানে তারা নিজেদের পছন্দকেই প্রাধান্য দিয়েছেন;
(২) তারা দু'জন ভিন্ন ধর্মের, একজন তো আবার সংখ্যালঘু ধর্মের। কিন্ত তাদের সম্পর্কের কাছে সে দেয়াল দাঁড়াতে পারেনি;
(৩) ধর্মীয় গোঁড়ামীর দেশে সম-লিঙ্গের সম্পর্কের সাহস দেখিয়ে নিজের মতো করে ঘর বেঁধেছেন;
(৪) দেশের আইনে ফৌজদারী অপরাধ জেনেও নিজেদের বিবেক, পছন্দ এবং সম্পর্কের সাথে কোনো ধরনের আপোষ করেননি দু'জন।

  1. In the male dominant society where women's demands are ignored, they gave importance to their preferences.
  2. The two are of different religions, one from a minority group. But this did not challenge their relationship.
  3. In a religiously conservative society they have shown utmost courage for same-sex marriage and their choice.
  4. They haven't compromised their relationship or their conscience knowing that homosexuality is criminalized in the country.

Blogger Vaskor Abedin [20] found that the debate on this issue had a male-dominant tone:

[…] গতকাল দুই নারীর সমকামী সম্পর্কের খবর নিয়া নিউজ পোর্টাল আর সোশ্যাল নেটওয়ার্কিং সাইটগুলিতে যেমন প্রতিক্রিয়া হইলো তাতে পুরুষালি জাজমেন্টের সেক্সিস্ট উত্তাপটা বেশ টের পাইলাম […]

[…] Yesterday in all the debates within traditional and social media on same-sex marriage I have felt a male-dominant sexist tone. […]

Some days earlier an Islamist leader compared women to tetul, [21] or tamarind [22], in a sermon as if men salivate watching them and told women to stay at home. Renowned film maker Mostofa Sarwar Faruki mentioned this on Facebook [23]:

If the news is true, we have the first official lesbian couple exposed here in Bangladesh. In a country where mr. Tetul Hujur [cleric] preaches girls not to mix with boys, now how this girl-mixing-girl would be seen? Eager to study the next episodes!

Many called the media irresponsible for disclosing the women's identity and pictures, fearing this could endanger their lives and they will become subject to ostracizing. Shaugat Ali Sagor [24] wrote:

যারা নাগরিকের ‘প্রাইভেসি’ ‘প্রাইভেসি’ বলে গলা ফাটান, তারা কি … [সমকামী তরুণী] আর … [সমকামী তরুণী] এর ‘প্রাইভেসি'কেও সম্মান দিতে প্রস্তুত। নাগরিক হিসেবে তাদেরও তো ‘প্রাইভেসি’ আছে। নাকি?

Those who cry about ‘privacy’ all the time.. are they willing to respect the privacy of [the couple]? They also have privacy as citizens of the country. Right?

Journalist and writer Anisul Haque expressed his outrage at the publishing of their identities and addresses of both the women in a comment on the post of Mostofa Sarwar Faruki [23]:

[…] I am afraid we are crossing the limit, we are violating their right to privacy by publishing their photo, name, address. will they be able to live in this society after this news? Does any journalist have the right to kill any citizen?

Boys of Bangladesh [25], an LGBT group, provides an update on the women on their Facebook page:

UPDATE on [the two women] : As you have already known, [the 21-year-old] is now under custody and [the 16-year-old] has been returned to her family. [The 21-year-old] was shown arrested in a case filed abduction and trafficking. [..] Of immediate concern is the protection of the two young women involved. Second, file a complaint with the Press Council against making public the identity of at least the minor. We are also trying to convene an urgent meeting to formulate a strategic response to address the immediate concerns as well as the longer term potential to gain official recognition of same sex desire and same sex relationships.