Bangladesh High Court gets high mark for ruling on women’s rights to reject the modesty veil when a man of power wants to exert his whim ordering his subordinate to sport a hijab or any kind of modesty veil. Don’t we live in the dawn of the twenty first century? Some men in Bangladesh may think they live in medieval age if one judges the way they behave in public places. One such incident took place a year ago in Kurigram.
On April 8, 2010 the High Court (HC) gave ruling on women’s rights to reject the Islamic modesty veil in public places. Going forward, no one could force a woman to wear a hijab or modesty veil in public places as per the ruling of the HC. The ruling comes in response to a writ petition seeking the court’s directive on women’s rights to reject Islamic modesty veil in public places such as educational institutions. As per newspapers report published on April 9, 2010 the HC directed the education ministry to ensure that the court’s directive vis-à-vis the forceful execution of making an woman wear hijab or any form of modesty veil is executed. In essence the HC is telling the nation that it is a women’s’ prerogative whether to wear a religious modesty veil in public places.
About a year ago, a sub-district education officer had harassed a school headmistress in Kurigram, Bangladesh by calling her a slut for not wearing the modesty veil. This was widely reported in the national newspapers in Bangladesh. The court’s directive on the issue had given finality to women’s rights as far as dress code is concerned.
Bangladesh is a pluralistic society, which many people inside the country have hard time to understand. In Bangladesh, many women have joined the workforce working in educational institutes, financial organizations, government and non-governmental organizations, courts of law, medical hospitals, etc. Hardly there are any places where a strict dress code for women is enforced. Still then, we hear from time to time some men making discourteous comments when they see women not wearing hijab or any other kinds of modesty veils. But when a government officer takes the onus on him to chastise a subordinate for not wearing the modesty headgear, he crosses the limit of jurisdiction or legal limit of his authority. That is what had happened in Kurigram. The government gets the credit for bringing the issue into fore. The HC was asked to pass a judgment on it and it did.
The working women in Bangladesh should heave a sigh of relief knowing that the government is by their side. From now, it will be an illegal act if a man or woman in supervisory position asks a subordinate to conform to a religiously dictated modesty head veil. The HC ruling will go a long way to protect tens and thousands of female school teachers from verbal abuse if they chose not to wear any hijab, burqua, or any kind of modesty veil.
Sadly, the Bangladesh society had been treading the slippery slope of parochial path since 1975. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism patronized by two military dictators back-to-back had taken the tolls on women and men alike. In the 1950s and 60s the society was visibly more liberal and open. This open attitude by our citizens had laid the foundation for questioning the domination by the West Pakistanis over day-today affair of the then East Pakistanis. This kind of mental exercise eventually had led to the free Bangladesh movement in mid 1960s. The nation that was carved out of Jinnah’s “moth eaten” Pakistan in 1971 was formed based on the principle of secularism, democracy, egalitarianism, and open society. However, with the murder of the founding fathers in August and November 1975 and violent overthrow of the democratically elected government, the country plunged into the abyss of parochialism. The society became a lot intolerant as the years wore by. The home brewed Islamic fundamentalism was on the rise leading up to the emergence of Jihadi brigades such as the one engendered by the cabal of Bangla Bhai and his cohorts in the last decade.
The society, however, is taking corrective measures to align itself with the rest of the world embracing modernity, which had eluded Bangladesh when the nation was being ruled by politicians that aligned with the religious parties to form the government. Unfortunately, the religious parties have their own agenda to take the nation to a retrogressive journey and thereby derailing all the positive developments that may have taken place in the polity on the face of obscurantists’ propaganda that led to a miasma in which the society was wreathing for such a long period.
I recent days this scribe is becoming hopeful again vis-à-vis the future of Bangladesh. A segment of the society has already embraced the power of the Internet, which is a dominant media in the civilized world. Under this positive development the news of the HC ruling on women’s rights to wear Islamic modesty veil is sending a clear signal to a segment of the society who happens to think that the present-day women of Bangladesh is living in the medieval age.
The incremental change in attitude among males with chauvinistic tendencies will finally take place. The HC of Bangladesh is playing their just role to bring a sea change of attitude. The womenfolk of Bangladesh should know by now that the judiciary is by their side. Again, hearty congratulations to the judges of the HC for taking the Augean task of changing the mindset of many men who vicariously live in the medieval times. Also, there is nothing wrong empowering the fifty percent citizens of Bangladesh.
Dr. A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a researcher and columnist, writes from New Orleans, USA