Sufia Begum, a Bangladeshi woman who was sentenced to 40 lashes under Sharia law for having an affair with her stepson, died earlier this month of injuries that appeared to result from the caning, although police are still investigating the cause of her death. Two people, including a Muslim cleric and a woman who apparently carried out the beating, have been arrested, and the police say they are looking for four others. Punishments inspired by religious edicts or fatwas (legal opinions) were banned by the Bangladeshi government earlier this year, and this appears to be the first fatality linked to a punishment under Islamic law since the practices were officially banned.
The beating, which took place in mid-November, sounds horrific. “Village elders tied 10 canes together and beat her legs,” police chief Azizul Haq Sarker said to the AFP. Her brother, Taimur Rahman, filed a complaint with the police, saying that the caning caused fatal damage to her kidneys.
“Her body was swollen, and I couldn’t even recognize her,” Rahman said. The family was apparently unable to raise the money for medical treatment, which explains why the injuries – awful as I’m sure they were – resulted in her death.
In a heavily Muslim country, Sharia law carries an understandable amount of weight, but the government has vowed to crack down on punishments like these, although many seem to flout the ban. I’m concerned by some of the media coverage of this story (one piece refers to a “creeping tide of Sharia” in Bangladesh), which makes Islamic law, something that is extremely nuanced and complex, seem like a demonic force, but anything that can inspire a woman’s death should be attracting the government’s attention. What the Bangladeshi government can do is another story. I’m hopeful, though, because Begum’s brother is standing up for her rights – his outrage, and the anger of other family members, can be a powerful force for shedding light on the horror of these punishments.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.