Dhaka: Fear spreads through the Bangladesh LGBT community forcing it into hiding, weeks after suspected Islamist militants hacked to death Xulhaz Mannan, editor of the country’s first LGBT-themed magazine along with an associate on April 25. Another friend of the prominent gay rights activist Mannan, was threatened by a letter delivered to his home.
“Say your prayers, confess to God for your sins. Eat or drink whatever you wish to, nobody can save you,” read the handwritten letter.
The attack, claimed by the regional arm of al Qaeda, was the first of its kind to target the community, although it followed similar killings in the last 16 months of university professors, bloggers and atheists who published views critical of Islam.
Bangladesh’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community was already marginalized in a country where same-sex sexual activity is illegal and many people strongly disapprove.
Reuters interviewed eight members of Bangladesh’s LGBT community, some of them activists. All but one spoke on condition they not be named, because of the threat to their safety.
Based on their own and others’ experiences, they said some people had scrubbed Facebook pictures that hinted at same-sex relationships or de-activated profiles altogether.
Several had gone into hiding in safe houses in Dhaka arranged by local and foreign friends, while others fled to the countryside, considering it safer than the teeming capital.
“There is this constant, creepy feeling of being followed by someone, even if in reality we are not,” said a young gay professional, who froze in fear last week when he mistakenly thought a man carrying a bag was approaching him with a machete.
“This is what is crippling our everyday life. Any bag can have a machete, which can crack my skull open for being a free thinker.”
Some have moved to more secure apartment blocks with close circuit television, while others are taking self-defense classes.
The slaying of the two gay men is part of a broader pattern of killings claimed by Islamist militants, who have stepped up a violent campaign in the mainly Muslim nation of 160 million people.
At least 23 people have been hacked to death with machetes since February, 2015. Most attacks occurred in homes, but some happened in broad daylight.
The main groups claiming these murders have been al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and Islamic State, lending the impression of an intensifying rivalry between two movements engaged in global jihad and trying to lure recruits.
That prospect has raised alarm in India and the United States, diplomats in the region said, particularly with U.S. forces engaged in battling Islamist insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan facing its own militant threat.
On the quiet street where Mannan, 35, lived in a small apartment block, neighbors and the security guard had believed the killers to be couriers delivering a package.
Friends said Mannan’s home was like a “shrine” for members of the gay community, where they could celebrate birthdays and once staged a mock same-sex marriage.
They added that they were too scared even to visit his grave, lest someone see them.
The size of Bangladesh’s LGBT community is impossible to estimate, activists said, given that only a small proportion of its members openly admit it.
“CRIMINALS, SINNERS OR PERVERTS”
A few days after Mannan’s death, hate messages appeared online saying his mother should also be executed for producing a “bastard son,” said Shahanur Islam, a gay rights campaigner who left Dhaka for an undisclosed location after the attack.
“There is so much hatred against us that we fear they will go after our parents and brothers and sisters.”
None of the members of the gay and lesbian community who Reuters spoke to said they had approached police for protection, because they feared further harassment.
Some worried that the police investigation into the double murder could “out” them as gays when they had spent a lifetime trying to hide that identity.
“In the eyes of the law we are criminals, in the eyes of our religion we are sinners and from the viewpoint of society we are perverts,” said the young professional.
Bangladesh police said on Sunday they had arrested a home-grown Islamist militant in connection with the murder of the gay campaigner and his friend.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said no one involved in the killings would be spared, whether the victims were bloggers or homosexuals. But he urged people to respect religious sensitivities.
“I request everyone to express views moderately. We have learned that Xulhaz was an editor of an LGBT magazine and used to work to protect the rights of gay people. It is not in line with our society,” he told reporters.
A lesbian woman said her plight was even more difficult than that of homosexual men; women were simply forced into marriages, or worse.
“My family is not aware of my case,” the 20-year-old college student from the north of the country said by telephone. “I suspect they would kill me if they come to know about it.”
(Additional reporting by Ruma Paul and Serajul Qaudir; Editing by Mike Collett-White)
Pakistan pedophiles, who believe having sex with minors enhances their sexual prowess and stamina, routinely abduct minor Hindu and Christian girls, have sex and convert the girls to Islam and marry them, all within 24 hours.
Muslim clerics in the length and breadth of Pakistan aid the culprits while the parents of the victim girls have no avenue to seek justice. The rapidity with which the entire process happens shows the conversions are well orchestrated and enjoy state blessings as the culprits go scot-free.
“Is there any single day empty, when Hindu girl would not be abducted and converted? A 13-year-old girl kidnapped from Shahpur Chaker and got married to 52 year-old-man at Bharchundi Dargha,” said Hindu agriculture engineer Raj Kumar Tuesday in a Facebook post. “Descendants of Mohammed bin Qasim are to this day treating Hindu girls as if they were a war booty,” he quipped on Facebook. Qasim was a young Saudi general from Taif who attacked and defeated ruler of Sindh, Raja Dahir, in the Eighth Century.
“Where is Sindh Government and child marriage law?,” asks Dr. Jaipal Chabbria, who hails from Kandhkot town in Sindh and is the leader of the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf of former cricketer Imran Khan. “How surprising that a 13 year-old-girl is kidnapped and forcefully married to 52 year-old-person who has already five children. Who will give protection to none Muslims?”
The cleric responsible for the conversion is a former member of the National Assembly and belonged to Pakistan People’s Party when Asif Ali Zardari was president. His name is Pir Faqeer Abdul Khaliq aka Mian Mithoo from Daharki town of district Ghotki, neighboring India’s Rajasthan state.
In a span of three years, Mian Mithoo reportedly has converted 150 girls to Islam but he insists that all the conversions are voluntary, never forced.
Even as Hindus were lamenting the abduction of the 13-year-old girl from Shapur Chaker, another Hindu girl was abducted. “No single day passes without abduction of Hindu girls. One more Sorath, daughter of Heero Meghwar from District Tharparkar has been abducted,” said Hindu rights defender Shankar Meghwar
Asad Chandio, a veteran journalist who has been a leading voice against forced conversions of Hindu girls in Sindh, says Mian Mithoo’s conversion works pale in comparison to an even more dangerous cleric named Pir Ayub Jan Farooqi aka Pir Ayub Jan Sirhandi, who is from Samaro town in Umerkot district.
“Farooqi targets Umarkot and Tharparkar, two Sindh districts where even today Hindus form 65 percent of the population. The Hindus there are the poorest among the poor like Bheel, Kohli, and Meghwar,” Chandio, who fled Pakistan after receiving death threats from both religious outfits and Pakistan secret services, said Tuesday from Houston, Texas. “Pir Farooqui has vowed that he will not rest at ease until each and every Hindu in Umarkot and Tharparkar convert to Islam,” he said.
Pir Farooqui heads the religious seminary called Gulzar-i-Khalil in Samara town where he religiously issues a report card each year on the number of Hindu girls and boys he has converted to Islam.
A report in the New York Times early this year said, 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls, mostly underage, are taken from their families each year, converted to Islam, and married.
The Times report cited Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani of the Pakistan Hindu Council as saying, “So many immature girls, below the age of 18 mostly, have been kidnapped. After 15 days a (certificate of marriage) will be presented in court that the girl has of free will be converted and accepted Islam, and she has now been married.”
In some cases, the matter reaches the court system but the victims are often threatened that if they don’t say they had eloped and converted on their free volition, their entire families will be gunned down. So they tell the judge they converted on their free will. Only in rare cases, does a victim tell the court the truth about their rape.
When Pakistan was created by the British Raj, by dividing India, in August 1947, thirteen out of the 53 members of parliament were non-Muslims. Farahnaz Ispahani, a Pakistani scholar and aide to former president Asif Ali Zardari, in a paper titled “Cleansing Pakistan of Minorities”, writes, “At the time of partition in 1947, almost 23 per cent of Pakistan’s population was comprised of non-Muslim citizens.” That population has now gone down to three percent because of the forced conversions and intimidation to non-Muslims.
Hindus have nowhere to go
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in a report said around 25 Hindu girls are converted to Islam each month—many cases never get reported. In most cases, Hindus have no door to knock for justice as Pakistani judges side with the rapist kidnappers. According to Hindu rights activist Shanker Meghwar, under the Child Marriage Restraint Act, the age for the marriage of a girl is fixed at 18 years and any person contracting a marriage with a girl under the age of 18 commits an offence, but in the case of Hindu girls the law is silent and so are all human rights activists. “Where should the Hindus go?” Meghwar asks in a Facebook posting. “We don’t know which door to knock; we don’t know before who to cry.”
In seldom cases, a court may pass a verdict in favour of the parents, but those orders go unimplemented, Hindu rights in Pakistan say. “Our community can bear looting and the kidnapping of our men, but the abduction of our daughters and wives is too painful,” Bhagwan Das, who holds a National Assembly seat reserved for minorities, told Al Jazeera news. “Unfortunately, the frequency of these crimes is increasing due to religious extremism.”
Christians in Punjab
If minor Hindu girls are targets in Sindh, minor Christian girls are sitting ducks for the Muslim men of Punjab province. “Raping and killing the kafirs is justified in their basic Islamic ideology,” said Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC) chief Bhatti, who lives in Philadelphia. He said Punjab, the stronghold of the army, is one of the most dangerous places in the world for Christians, including their females. He adds more than 99 per cent of rape and forced marriage cases, involving Christian females, go unreported in Pakistan.
In one case of rape and abduction of a 12 year old Christian girl in Lahore, the militant organisation Lashkar-i-Taiba or “Army of the Pure,” whose main target is India, produced a nikahnama or marriage certificate, claiming that the minor girl was married to one of their members, according to the Christian Freedom International. The non-profit Movement for Solidarity and Peace, MSP, says every year between 100 to 700 Christian women, “usually between the ages of 12 and 25 are abducted, converted to Islam, and married to the abductor or third party.”
In its investigative report “Forced Marriages & Forced Conversions in the Christian Community of Pakistan” the MSP notes that after abduction, these Christian women are subjected to “sexual violence, rape, forced prostitution, human trafficking and sale, or other domestic abuse” but in court, when asked to testify before the judge, these victims give a statement in favour of their captors out of fear.
PCC’s Bhatti said these hapless girls are threatened that since they have recited the kalima, Muslim declaration of belief in Allah and Muhammad, and embraced Islam now if they dare say they are Christians they will be killed for blasphemy and apostasy.
Islam and sex with minors, sex slaves
Apparently, Pakistan pedophiles have Islamic history on their side. After ISIS fighters overran Yazidi villages in Iraq’s Sinjar region, the USA Today quoted the ISIS as saying, “It is permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who hasn’t reached puberty if she is fit for intercourse; however if she is not fit for intercourse, then it is enough to enjoy her without intercourse.”
Mumbai’s Islamic televangelist Zakir Naik, president of the Islamic Research Foundation in India, defends the practice of sexual slavery. Zakir Naik, who got 135,000-pound sterling reward from Saudi King Salman, explains at the time of the Prophet Muhammad Muslims were allowed to have sex with captured slave girls and women – the spoils of war – without marriage. “There are many verses in the Quran which say that you can have sex with those who are your wives and what your right-hand possesses,” Naik said on his Peace TVexplaining “right-hand possesses” meant girl and women slaves.
Islamic historians admit during Muhammad’s days, there were quite a few wars or jihad that the Prophet personally launched against the Jews and infidels to spread Islam. For example, in the Battle of Khaybar, a beautiful Jewish teenager named Safiyya bint Huyay, 17, whose husband and father were slaughtered by Muhammad’s army was captured as a sex slave by a Muslim soldier but the Prophet later took her custody and married her. The Prophet then took Safiyya, his newest bride, to Medina on his camelback.
Since marriages and having sex slaves is recognized in the Quran, men in the “fortress of Islam,” Pakistan, apparently have no qualms when it comes to forcibly abducting, raping and “marrying” minor Hindu and Christian girls even though Pakistan law prohibits marriage of any girl under 18.
Mir Salim Sanai, a Sindhi nationalist activist based in Germany, said victims of forced marriages are not limited to under-age non-Muslims but are also common in the case of minor Muslim girls in Sindh. However, in these latter cases, the girls are not abducted and the parents do consent to their child’ marriage.