Her Name was Hena, and She Committed No Crime

BY DAN-CHYI CHUA
Feb 23, 2011
*Special to asia!

She was raped by a cousin, and then killed by a medieval system that persists in Bangladesh despite it being outlawed by the country’s high court.

451 This is Hena Begum, 14, dead from being flogged 100 times for being raped by her male cousin.

By the 80th lash, she was unconscious. Six days later, she was dead.

Hena Begum was just 14 when, in January this year, she bled to death from the flogging that had been ordered by a court of elders and clerics in her village not far from Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital.

Hena’s crime? Rape. Her rape by a relative.

One Sunday, her 40-year-old married cousin, Mahbub Khan, raped her. The next day, the village court ruled that she was having an affair with Khan. A fatwa, or religious Muslim edict, was issued against them both. He managed to escape; she didn’t.

Hena’s tragic story made its way into the local media, and then the international media, and brought new attention to the medieval situation of women in rural Bangladesh.

A week before Hena appeared before her village court, another girl in another Bangladeshi village was flogged 101 times.

The 16-year-old - who has been left unnamed – had been raped some months earlier by a 20-year-old man on her way to school. She didn't tell anyone about it, and was later married off to another man.

Five months later, the husband found out she was pregnant from the rape, and divorced her. She was forced to have an abortion, and made to appear in front of the village elders. They issued a fatwa, sentencing her to be whipped 101 times. Her family was also fined.

Since 2000, 503 women have been publicly flogged in Bangladesh. The country’s high court last year outlawed Muslim clerics from issuing fatwas, but this has had little impact in the rural areas.

The heinous abuse of women in Bangladesh is not, in any case, restricted to the Muslims.

When the crime came to light, Serafina was ordered by the local Catholic church to marry one of her rapists.

Serafina Mardi, a girl from a village of indigenous Christian families, was gang-raped by nine men last April. When the crime came to light, Serafina was ordered by the local Catholic church to marry one of her rapists. Local police and her family said it was to shield the nine men from prosecution and to protect the church.

The marriage never took place. Days ago, Serafina set herself on fire and died.

In the Hena Begum case, four people have now been arrested.

In the midst of the public outcry in Bangladesh over the case, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told her country's women that they should bravely face their stalkers, instead of choosing suicide.

She also had this to say: “One section of women wears too small clothes while another section covers their whole body, even their face and eyes… both are unacceptable. We’ve to maintain our culture and tradition.

dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for theasiamag.com, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

Contact Dan-Chyi