Riaz Osmani

February 2, 2021

Note: This article contains 2 (two) special updates at the bottom.

On January 11, 2021, a) Dr. Soumen Bhowmic, a human rights activist in Bangladesh and UK, b) Tasmiah Nuhiya Ahmed, an Advocate and human rights activist in Bangladesh and c) Dr. S. M. Siddique Hossain, Director of Empowerment through Law of the Common People (ELCOP), collectively filed a Writ Petition of number 505 of 2021 with the High Court Division of Bangladesh Supreme Court. This is a public interest litigation and is now with Annex Court 35. You can view a PDF of the certified copy of the petition towards the bottom of this page.

Section 375 of Bangladesh’s Penal Code covers instances of rape of a woman by a man. It does not take into account non-consensual sexual assaults inflicted on a woman by a woman, on a man by a woman, on a man by another man, on a transgender by another transgender or a man or woman. Consequently, this section does not acknowledge male and transgender victims of rape.

One of the gaps in the definition of “rape” in Bangladesh’s legal system is that only a non-consensual intercourse with a woman amounts to “rape”. This is compounded by the fact that “penetration” as referenced in 375 only means penovaginal penetration. This clearly excludes boy children and adult men from the purview of the law.

In the year 2000, the Government of People’s Republic of Bangladesh passed a law for giving protection of women and children, through “Nari O Shishu Nirjaton Daman Ain, 2000” or “The Prevention of Cruelty Against Women and Children Act, 2000”. This was amended in the year 2003 but no change took place regarding the definition of “rape”, which should have been replaced with a term of gender-neutral offence such as “sexual assault”.

This law miserably failed to address men or transgenders as victims under the law. It is therefore appropriate to broaden the meaning of penetration to include not only vaginal penetration but also anal and oral penetration as well as penetration by any part of the body or by any object. It should be without doubt that the experience of a boy, man or transgender of such sexual assaults by a man, women or transgender would be equally brutal and traumatizing as that of a girl or woman.

In vast majority of child sexual abuse cases in Bangladesh, the penetration is other than penovaginal. Yet, it is not widely accepted within the law enforcement agencies that when a man sodomizes a boy under the age of 16 with or without the latter’s consent, the man can be charged under Nari O Shishu Nirjaton Daman Ain, 2000. It is not clearly defined that such an act of sodomy equates to “rape”.

Moreover, if a man sodomizes another man without the latter’ consent, there is currently no legal recourse for the victim. In a recent interview with BBC Bangla, the Bangladeshi Law Minister Mr. Anisul Huq stated that a non-consenting adult male victim of sodomy by another adult male can seek recourse through Section 377 of Bangladesh’s Penal Code which criminalizes any sexual act against the laws of nature which has been interpreted mostly as sodomy. It escaped the Minister that under this section, both the victim and perpetrator of forceful sodomy would be penalized and for this reason, an adult male victim of forceful sodomy by another male never seeks justice.

Section 377 is at the same time inhuman and unethical. It is a remnant of the British Raj and it is widely accepted in the civilized world that consensual sexual acts between adults of the same gender should never be penalized. Petitioning against this section is a battle for another day.

This Writ Petition asks to broaden the definition of “rape” to cover all variations of forceful sexual acts by a person on another irrespective of the type of act and the genders involved. Details of all types of such acts are provided in the petition. This would bring all human beings (both victims and perpetrators) under the purview of the law and ensure equality before the law as guaranteed under the Constitution of Bangladesh.

Dr. Soumen Bhowmic has spent a considerable part of his fortune to bring this petition to its current stage. More funds will be needed to conduct upcoming hearings. It has become very difficult for Dr. Bhowmic to continue to fund this endeavour himself. And yet, this petition is of utmost importance to the country given the complete lack of legal recourse for male and transgender victims of sexual assault by any gender (though mostly by males).

I humbly ask you to donate any amount of money to this cause using the mobile wallet (bKash) or bank information given on the bottom of this page. It is our aim to raise a further 500,000 Taka (approximately 5800 USD) to a) complete the hearings without adieu and b) to compensate Dr. Bhowmic to some extent. We will be very grateful for your generosity. You will be able to be part of a significant legal and social change that the country is in desperate need of.

We are aiming to raise the funds mostly through donations from within Bangladesh though it will be possible for Bangladeshi expatriates and foreign friends to donate as well. Donors in Bangladesh will be able to transfer money to Dr. Bhowmic’s bKash mobile wallet or do a simple transfer to his bank account. People outside Bangladesh in many select counties can use well known international money transfer applications (mobile and web) like Western Union or Transferwise to directly send funds to the bKash mobile wallet or the Bangladeshi bank account. You will be able to use your debit or credit cards in those apps.

Sending you best wishes and we hope that we will find your company in this journey.

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Writ Petition 505 Of 2021 Against Section 375 Of Bangladesh’s Penal Code

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Special Update (1): April 11, 2022

Dr. Bhowmic has WON the writ petition (at an initial stage). On last Sunday (April 9, 2022), the country’s High Court has given a verdict in favour of the petition. Bangladesh government has been given one month to decide to accept the verdict or appeal against it. I cannot fathom any logic as to why the government would appeal against the rule, except for sheer pigheadedness.

If the government accepts the verdict or loses a future appeal, then we could, in the not too distant future, see an amended and expanded version of section 375 of Bangladesh’s penal code, which would bring a considerable change to the country’s law and justice system. This broadened definition of rape in Bangladesh will bring about a major social change as well. For example, male victims of rape will now be able to get legal recourse under a befitting law, the opportunity for which currently does not exist.

In addition to showing the path for an important legal and social change, Dr. Bhowmic has demonstrated something else as well. Under a personal/private initiative, it is possible to bring a writ petition against any section of Bangladesh’s penal code, and if that initiative is logical and has legal robustness, then it is possible to get a ruling from the Court in favour of the writ. Everyone in Bangladesh should remain grateful to him for this. Until now, such petitions have been brought forward only by the country’s legal and human rights organizations. This is a first by a personal/private initiative of a Bangladeshi national. This sets an important precedent for days ahead.

PLEASE HELP

Dr. Soumen Bhowmic has spent a considerable part of his fortune to bring us this initial victory. In addition to spending his own money, he has dedicated his personal life for this cause as well. I came to many of you a year and a half ago, when the writ was about to be filed, asking for kind donations to help Dr. Bhowmic. But the response was nil. I come to again today. In order to receive a written copy of the full verdict, the lawyers must be sent TK. 50,000 (approximately 580 USD). If any of you are able to donate whatever you are able to using Dr. Bhowmic’s bKash mobile wallet or bank account, then he will remain grateful to you all. Here are the details. Many thanks.

বিকাশ তথ্য / bKash Information:
Soumen Bhowmic
Wallet Number: 01681765151
From Outside Bangladesh:
+8801681765151

ব্যাংক হিসাব তথ্য /
Bank Account Information:

Soumen Bhowmic
BRAC Bank
Joydebpur Branch
Gazipur
Bangladesh
Account: 2001102602362001

ইমেল / Email:
soumenbhowmic@gmail.com

Special Update (2): April 27, 2022

Dr. Soumen Bhowmic paid for the written copy of the verdict attached below. Bangladesh government has 4 (four) weeks to respond from the date of this written copy which is April 26, 2022.

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