Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Lost Rights, Lost Lives

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Lost Rights, Lost Lives

Article excerpt

The Rana Plaza disaster and the rise of political violence speak to lost human rights.

Out of the rubble of a garment factory, just outside Dhaka, hundreds of bodies of women are brought to light, shalwar kameez and saris vivid against death's pallor. In the capital itself, meanwhile, Islamic extremists burn buses, loot shops and attack policemen. Their main demand: an Islamic state, in which women are segregated from men.

The irony is lost on them that it is women who bring vital resources to Bangladesh (at $19 billion, the overwhelmingly female garment industry is the country's main income earner); women who toil hardest to sustain many livelihoods beyond their own; women who bear the brunt of an appalling labor-safety record.

For more than two decades, two women have swapped the political leadership of this country back and forth between them. And yet this country, my homeland, continues to fail its women.

The Islamists are also demanding that "atheist bloggers" be hanged. Protesters, many of whom have never accessed the Internet, have compiled a list of 84 bloggers they want executed. There would have been more names on this list, but one blogger, Rajib Haidar, has already been hacked to death. Another, Asif Mohiuddin, has been stabbed.

Inspired by the bloggers, hundreds of youths have taken to the streets to protest against extremism. But in the process, they have unleashed an extremism of their own: They want the death penalty for all those accused of war crimes. The irony is lost on them, too: It does not occur to them that human rights apply as much to the guilty as to the innocent; that even the worst perpetrator deserves due process.

What of the political class? In a calculated but dangerously short-sighted move, the main opposition party has thrown in its lot with the Islamists. The government, for its part, is saying one thing and doing another. It announces a gender equality policy but leaves discriminatory laws intact. It condemns Islamist extremism but arrests four of the bloggers (including Mohiuddin) and charges a newspaper editor with "instigating negative elements against Islam. …

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