November 11, 2020
One of the best kept secrets in Bangladesh is the incident of regular, systematic and institutional child abuses that take place inside Qawmi Madrasas. Qawmi Madrasas are same-sex, residential Islamic places of learning that follow the Deobandi scholastic tradition popular in the Indian Subcontinent. We have unearthed harrowing tales of boys and some girls being raped, physically tortured and emotionally blackmailed. Many of them are done by teachers and guardians of dormitories, but a greater number of boy on boy rapes in the form of sodomy are conducted by older students onto younger ones.
It has been an uphill struggle to raise awareness in the wider society in Bangladesh regarding this epidemic. First of all, Islamic clerics tend to deny any form of epidemic and brush away such stories as isolated incidents. When perpetrators are caught, they are simply transferred to other institutions. Local police are hesitant to take on cases if any parent dares to bring the matter to them. Laws regarding punishment of such criminals are still vague to many and prosecution hardly sees completion. Moreover, many rural parents send their children to these Madrasas to become Hafez (someone who has memorized the whole Quran). It is believed that that is how the keys to heaven for the whole family can be found. While many parents are aware of the physical torture that is meted out to their children, which are condoned, most are unaware of their children getting raped and most never believe such allegations.
The middle and upper classes in Bangladesh are generally unaware of this epidemic. Most tend to believe the narrative of these cases being isolated incidents. Most don’t wish to speak up against them for fear of either offending Islam or becoming known in society as anti-Islamic. Moreover, many politicians, business people, members of the civil society, teachers of general education etc. knowingly or unknowingly patronize Madrasas to establish their Islamic credentials, atone for ill-gotten wealth, hide their various forms of criminality or simply use the products of Madrasas for their social and political gains. Majority of boys in these residential Madrasas are orphans who have no one to speak to when they are sodomized or physically assaulted. Thus, we rarely hear about the crimes committed against them.
Saiful Baten Tito, a writer and media professional in Bangladesh has recently written a novel called Bishfõra after researching many news items as reported by online and printed newspapers in Bangladesh. He followed up with police officers approached regarding the reported cases, went in disguise to many of the Madrasas and confidentially interviewed many students and teachers, in addition to speaking to local human rights organisations and legal institutions. The current government of Bangladesh has banned the publication and distribution of the book in order to preserve social harmony. A PDF of the book in the Bangla language can be found here. English translation of the book is in the works. I have written an unofficial translation of the section “From the Author” which is available here. You will get a fuller picture of what we are dealing with if you read his comments.
The novel mentioned above cannot be used for accurate research and legal proceedings since many names and places of incidents have been changed to make the novel to appear fictional. Most readers familiar to the epidemic (which include both Madrasa students and some socially aware people) have agreed that the book reflects the real picture. We have however decided to take matters to the next level and publish a full volume of all incidents that have taken place or will take place between January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2020. This will involve searching for all reported incidents online and in print, and where necessary investigating further by contacting the police, working with organisations dedicated to the rights of children, contacting various legal organisations, speaking to the victims where possible and talking to parents. It should be mentioned that these were the techniques used for researching prior to writing the book.
The completed volume will contain monthly and yearly reports with accurate data, similar to the web version of the report for October 2020. Please find the English version published here and the Bangla version here. The PDF version of the entire volume will contain actual web links of the news items published over the period. The paper version will contain the name of the newspaper and date and headline of the relevant article.
Saiful will have to sacrifice his personal and professional life for this cause as he has already done for the book. He is located in a remote and secure part of Bangladesh with internet connection and a laptop, and will be conducting the research and documentation with the help of some like-minded people. Since he will not be able to have a regular income, he needs our help. I know these are not favourable times for me to ask you to reach for your card and donate any small amount for this cause. But any amount will help to not only sustain Saiful for 1 year but pay for any costs of travel and ancillary costs during this project.
We have to save up to a third of all children in Bangladesh who are turning into sexually, physically and emotionally abused, culturally handicapped people who in turn conduct the same crimes onto newcomers. A comprehensive documentation of all these incidents (most of which remain hidden) will go some way in launching a wider movement to take proper steps to stop this menace once and for all. The volume will be printed in both English and Bangla and PDF versions will be available in both languages as well.
I, Riaz Osmani, am a Bangladeshi and British national currently based in London. While I am employed in the IT sector, I am an online LGBTQIA activist concentrating inside Bangladesh through social media and connectivity. I provide mental support to many LGBT boys and some girls in Bangladesh and have developed a support network through others.
While Saiful’s work is in no way related to LGBTQIA issues, I look at this project from a wider human rights perspective. This volume needs to be created to shake up society, the legal administration and the country as a whole since the crimes mentioned above have remained taboo for too long. I implore you at this difficult time to reach for your card and donate any small amount in order to help us get to our financial goal and publish the volume. If you are unable to make a donation, I will be grateful if you could at least send the link of this fundraising page to as many people as you can. Same for those of you who do donate. Sending you Saiful’s and my best wishes and we promise to bring you the documentation within a year which is November 8, 2021.