Bangladesh probes woman's suicide after banishment

AP News
Posted: Aug 16, 2011 9:13 AM
Bangladesh probes woman's suicide after banishment

Bangladesh's High Court launched an inquiry Tuesday into the deaths of a woman and two of her children who jumped under a train after villagers decided to ostracize her over allegations of an extramarital affair.

A group of influential villagers in Habiganj district voted Sunday that Ferdousi Akhter, 35, should leave the community after she was accused of having an affair with a neighbor while her husband was working abroad.

Akhter took her four children aged 8-12 and jumped with them in front of a train later Sunday, killing herself and two of the children, police chief Moinuddin Chowdhury said. The other two children were being treated at a local hospital.

The High Court said Tuesday it would summon Chowdhury and eight local officials and villagers to appear before the panel next Tuesday to give details of the incident and explain why it was not averted.

Human rights groups have urged the government to crack down on such gatherings of prominent villagers who meet without formal authority for decisions known as arbitrations. Activists says these panels abuse their authority by meting out punishments.

They sometimes operate alongside elected local councils, which do have the authority to rule on minor disputes over property and other issues, but must refer bigger issues and crimes to the police.

Atikur Rahman, the head of the elected council in Habiganj, 75 miles (120 kilometers) northeast of Dhaka, said the Sunday meeting of villagers was unauthorized and that he was not present. He also said he had already looked into Akhter's case two weeks earlier and exonerated her.

"I came to know about the meeting later from one of her relatives by phone," Rahman said. "But she committed suicide before I could engage myself with it again."

In a separate incident two weeks ago, two housewives were beaten by local villagers in another part of the country after a similar arbitration. That prompted the High Court to urge local administrations to monitor such incidents. Several people were arrested.