Bangladesh: 17-year-old Hindu Girl in Jail for Over a Year for Allegedly Hurting Muslim Sentiments
The media silence is deafening.
A 17-year-old Hindu girl, Dipti Rani Das, a resident of Dinajpur’s Parbatipur Upazila, has been in a jail in Bangladesh for over a year for allegedly insulting the Quran in a Facebook post. She has been denied bail 4 times.
It is the same old story that has been done to death in the South Asian Islamic nation: a rumor begins spreading about a Hindu committing “blasphemy” and “hurting the Muslim feelings,” and the Hindu quickly finds himself or herself in hot water. The story of Dipti Rani Das is just one among hundreds of such cases, but it needs to be told and widely known, because a minor girl’s future is at stake. What’s worse? No one is talking about this.
About a year ago, Dipti, a 10th grader, informed her father that her Facebook account had been hacked. Shortly after that, a rumor began circulating that she had posted some objectionable posts concerning the Quran. Furious Muslims gathered at her house. Dipti’s father, Dilip Das, a hardware trader, reprimanded his daughter in front of the crowd and apologized to the Muslims. Muslim mobs also gathered around his hardware shop, intending to destroy it, but local traders stood up in Das’s defence and convinced the mob that Das was born and brought up in the area and had been respectful of the Muslims and Islam all his life.
Through the crowd dispersed without causing any harm to the family or the shop, Dipti’s father sensed that things did not augur well for the teenager, and that it was only a matter of time before his daughter would be severely threatened. He attempted to send her to his sister’s home, but some local youths noticed her in the train. They stopped the train, dragged Dipti off it, and took her to the Parbatipur police station, where a formal complaint was lodged against the minor.
The First Information Report registered against Dipti read that she had committed “the crime of deteriorating the law and order situation by hurting religious sentiments using electronic means.” She was booked under the Digital Security Act 2018 and has been in the juvenile correction centre since, without her crime being proven in a court of law.
During this year, Dipti’s bail plea has been rejected four times; the fourth rejection was given by the highest court of Bangladesh. She was almost released from the detention centre in May, as the High Court had approved her bail on May 11. But the District Deputy Commissioner raised objections and submitted an appeal to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, pursuing a stay on the bail.
“The interim order of bail granted by the High Court Division in a pending appeal clearly shows non-application of judicial mind having failed to appreciate that the accused respondent is named in the FIR having strong prima-facie and specific over an act of committing a heinous offence under section 25, section 28, section 31 of the DSA,” read his appeal, emphasizing that the case is still under investigation and an interim bail granted to the accused may affect the prosecution’s case or influence the course of the investigation.
Section 25 criminalizes publishing information that is “aggressive or frightening.” Section 28 criminalizes speech that “injures religious feelings,” and section 31 criminalizes posting information online which “ruins communal harmony or creates instability or disorder or disturbs or is about to disturb the law and order situation” and speech that “creates animosity, hatred or antipathy among the various classes and communities.” These are non-bailable sections and are applicable on a minor as well. These provisions may allow for broad and irregular interpretations that may criminalize almost all forms of legitimate communication and threaten an individual’s freedom of expression — something that has happened routinely with Hindus in Bangladesh and Pakistan.
The “heinous crime” highlighted in the FIR, which led to the Hindu minor’s imprisonment, was an image of the Quran placed on a woman’s thighs which was allegedly posted by her on Facebook. This image of the Quran hurt that the religious sentiments of the Muslims and apparently justified her prison time.
Dipti was about to start eleventh grade when arrested. His mother, eyes brimming with tears, recounted how her ambitious daughter was looking forward to pursuing university education and becoming a software engineer. But the family will have to arrange for her marriage as soon as she gets out of jail (if she does at all) and send her away, as staying in the area would only make things difficult for her.
There are no schooling facilities in the detention centre. The quality of food is poor; Dipti’s father often sends her money for snacks. The detention centre is two hours away from her home. It has been two months since her father has visited her.
Their livelihood has suffered as well, as Muslims of the area are avoiding doing business with them after this incident. It’s just another day in the life of a hapless family from the minority community in an Islamic country, and the world doesn’t care.