Bangladesh: Feminists Urge Women to Attend Boishakh Festivities

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
160413-BD-women-620.jpg Men and women build a float ahead of Bengali new year festivities in Dhaka, April 12, 2016.
Focus Bangla

On the eve of Bangladesh’s largest cultural festival, a group of female journalists protested in Dhaka over the alleged inaction of police to arrest any male suspects who groped and sexually harassed women at Bengali new year celebrations last April.

The Bangladesh Women Journalists’ Center and other working women formed a human chain outside the National Press Club, during which they urged women to attend this year’s instalment of the Pahela Boishakh celebrations, but watch out for potential sexual harassment.

They also called for women to resist efforts by Islamic fundamentalist to discourage women from attending the event and to “confine [women] to the four walls.”

At last year’s festival, some women attending public celebrations in Dhaka were groped or harassed by men, including one woman who reportedly was disrobed by assailants in the crowd in broad daylight.

“[T]he militants and the fundamentalists have been conspiring to foil the celebration through fatwas and sexual assaults on women at public places,” Nasimun Ara Haque, the center’s president who led the human chain, told BenarNews.

According to news reports, fundamentalists have declared the festival, which is celebrated every April 14 and draws millions of revelers to festivities nationwide, as un-Islamic.

Meanwhile, Bangladeshi authorities announced earlier this month that they were beefing up security around this year’s Pahela Boishakh, and were cancelling concerts and other programs scheduled to take place on Thursday night over concerns that militants might target the celebrations.

During Boishakh celebrations in Dhaka in 2001, the banned militant group Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islamic (HuJI) carried out a bombing that killed 10 people.

“We, on behalf of the women, want to make it clear: the Pahela Boishakh must take place,” Haque said.

“The ploy is to discourage the women from attending the Pahela Boishakh celebration. They want to confine us to four walls,” she said.

Udisa Islam, a senior reporter of the news site banglatribune, said that fundamentalist forces such as HuJI were trying to undermine women’s empowerment through their criticism of Boishakh, which brings together Bangladeshis of all castes and creeds.

“They will talk like this as it is their so-called ideology; I am not surprised by this. They will talk like this and we will go ahead,” Islam told BenarNews.

She also criticized the authorities for imposing a late-afternoon curfew.

“I am really saddened by the attitude of our law enforcers; they would force us to go into our house before 5 p.m. Who are they promoting? The women are worried because we are supposed to go to the police, in case militants attack us or we are sexually harassed,” she added.

‘Our responsibility’

The government’s curfew order came after Hefazat-e-Islam, an association of conservative Muslim teachers and students, faxed a statement to media outlets on Monday urging people not to celebrate the “anti-Islamic” Pahela Boishakh.

A day earlier, a group calling itself the Awami Ulama League also branded the Pahela Boishakh celebrations as “against Islam,” and voiced its opposition to women’s participation at the festivities.

“Our responsibility is to ensure security of the people. And this responsibility has prompted us to put up some restrictions. I request people to leave the spots before evening,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told BenarNews on Wednesday.


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