Parliamentary panel wants female officials barred from guard of honour for dead freedom fighters
It was 2012. Years after Muslim women were already working as marriage registrars in other Muslim countries, Ms Ayesha Siddiqua applied to be a marriage registrar here in Bangladesh. What happened next?
Her application was rejected because she was a woman.
Disappointed yet unbowed, Ms Siddiqua filed a writ petition with the High Court challenging the government decision.
It took years for a verdict to be handed down. To no one's surprise, it was not in her favour.
In January this year, the court ruled that women in Bangladesh cannot become Nikah (Muslim marriage) registrar due to certain "physical conditions" and social as well as practical situations of the country.
"It has to be borne in mind that due to certain physical conditions a lady cannot enter the mosque during a certain time of the month. She is even excused from performing the mandatory daily prayers during this particular time. This disqualification does not allow her to conduct the religious task. We are mindful of the fact that Muslim marriage is a religious ceremony and has to be guided by the terms and dictates of Islam," according to the learned High Court bench.
Guard of Honour
Now, comes a new controversy.
One of Bangladesh’s parliamentary watchdog bodies has deemed women officials not fit to serve as Guard of Honour to deceased freedom fighters, citing religious restrictions.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs came up with a recommendation on Sunday (June 13) that instead of women DCs and UNOs, male officials be mandated to officiate the dead freedom fighters' honours.
What this committee showed as a pretext for its regressive recommendation is something not credible at all. They say as women are "not permitted" (as per the committee members' claim) to attend funeral prayer, they consider it a problem for women DCs and UNOs to officiate the programs paying state tribute to freedom fighters.
It is a most regressive stance, shocking in today's civilized world, particularly regrettable for a country that has long been touted as a role model in women's emancipation and whose leadership always boasts of policies that promote women empowerment and gender equality.
Thanks to our government's pro-gender equality stance, today one eighth of our 64 DCs are women and there are dozens of efficient women officials discharging responsibilities as UNOs all over the country.
Attending namaz-e-janaza (Muslim’s funeral prayer) and officiating a Guard of Honour are two different segments of a series of activities that take place when a freedom fighter dies. Even if we accept the JS body's interpretation of Islam (that women are not allowed to attend janazah) it is not logical to write them off from officiating the state-given last tribute event.
Once male officials are done with attending the janazah, the female DCs and UNOs can still very well officiate the Guard of Honour ritual. There shouldn’t be any barrier. This was never a problem before. Janaza and tribute events are not held simultaneously; there is a chronology of events surrounding FFs' post-death rituals.
We do not expect a parliamentary body -- which is intended to play a proactive watchdog role when the Liberation War Affairs Ministry falters in listing freedom fighters or when it falters in properly honouring (allegation of grafts in gold crests) the foreign guests for their role in our liberation, etc -- to bust itself in proposing regressive anti-woman recommendations.
Islam’s interpretation of women's participation in janazah is one territory that is not my forte. Theologists must have diverse views -- some saying it is very much permissible, some forbidding it.
For the record, though, let me point out that women participated in their hundreds in the namaz-e-janaza of Pakistan right champion Asma Jehangir not so long ago.
But whatever the position with respect to janaza, there is no logical reason for the recommendation excusing women from officiating at Guard of Honour tributes.
We hope the Liberation War Ministry will not even consider the JS body’s recommendation, much less forward it to the Cabinet, but would rather reject it outright.