A 14-year-old girl in Bangladesh, who was raped by her cousin, was sentenced to 101 lashes for “adultery” and died. Hena Akhter from rural Shariatpur was the fifth child of a day laborer and his wife. An older male cousin — who was forced to marry his wife because he had raped her 15 years ago — returned from working abroad a year ago and began harassing Hena on her way to and from school. Her parents complained to village elders and the cousin was told to pay $1,000. However, because the cousin was the son of Hena’s father’s older brother, Hena’s father was asked to let the matter drop. Then Hena was walking back from an outdoor toilet one winter night when her cousin allegedly grabbed her, gagged her with a cloth and raped her. The cousin’s wife discovered Hena being sexually assaulted and beat her as well.
But no, they didn’t call it “rape.” They called it “adultery.” The village elders met and accused the young girl and this known rapist of carrying out an illicit relationship. Hena was charged with 101 lashes with a fatwa (supposedly illegal in Bangladesh since July except for “family matters”) by the local elders; the cousin was charged with 201. Both were carried out this January. Somehow he escaped after only a few, while Hena fell over after 70 lashes and was taken to a hospital. When she died six days later, her cause of death was listed as “suicide.”
Now Hena’s family have spoken out against the local Islamic religious leaders that sentenced their daughter, causing them to need protection from reprisals of violence. Her father gave this absolutely heartbreaking quote to the UK’s Guardian newspaper:
“I’m not educated. I don’t know what the court laws are. But I know that if I don’t listen to the elders, we would be outcast. None of my daughters could marry, no one would even look at us. If I had known that it would be them who would be punished, not me, then I would have tried to stop it.”
But it’s too late for that. Earlier this week, the four doctors who covered up Hena’s death by calling it a “suicide” learned they would be prosecuted.
Heartbreak and rage are the only possible emotions to feel about this. And there are those who say “women and men are equal,” male privilege doesn’t exist, and feminism “isn’t needed” anymore.