Nepal’s Muslim women lead street march against dowry violence

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS

Kathmandu : Since she was married four years ago, Hasrun Idrissi has been living a woeful life, abused and regularly beaten up by her husband and her in-laws for her father’s inability to pay them the dowry they had demanded. Now, they have tried their best to kill her.

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No one came to her aid all this while. However, Nepalgunj, a town in southern Banke district with one of the highest Muslim populations in Nepal, saw an unprecedented scene Thursday when dozens of enraged Muslim women marched on the streets, demanding action against Hasrun’s in-laws.

Though living with violence and death for over a decade now, Nepal was still shocked Wednesday after a private television channel showed the 24-year-old Hasrun fighting for life in a hospital.

On Tuesday, to punish her for her father’s inability to pay Nepalese Rs.50,000 (about $780), Hasrun’s husband Wasim, his two brothers, sister and mother poured kerosene over the nursing mother and set her on fire.

Though she cried for help, no one heard the calls of distress and came to her rescue. Hasrun survived with severe burns, including the lower part of her face. After the trauma, she continued to suffer at home. Her in-laws neither sought medical treatment nor gave her anything to eat.

But finally, her neighbours came to learn about her distress, rescued her and took her to hospital.

On Wednesday, Kantipur, Nepal’s biggest private television station, aired terrible images of the suffering woman, triggering national outrage.

Messages poured in for the SMS poll called by the channel to ask how the guilty should be punished. An overwhelming 85 percent said the culprits should be given life imprisonment.

In the wake of the broadcast, dozens of Muslim women, many of them wearing black burkhas and the rest with their heads covered, began demonstrating on the streets of Nepalgunj, demanding punishment for the perpetrators and compensation for Hasrun.

Pressured by the outrage, police Thursday arrested Hasrun’s husband, his brother and mother. Wasim’s family reportedly comes from India. He and Hasrun have a three-month-old son and a two and a half-year-old daughter.

The Muslim community of Nepalgunj is one of the poorest in the country, with a low literacy rate.

A large number of women from the community told the National Human Rights Commission, the apex rights body in Nepal, that they were reduced to prostitution and begging after being given talaq by their husbands — the Muslim system that enables a man to divorce his wife simply by uttering the word talaq thrice.