In Bangladesh the crime of sodomy still exists. S.377 of the Penal Code of Bangladesh states:
“Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.
Explanation: Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offence described in this section.”
This refers specifically to the act of sexual intercourse ‘against the order of nature’ and regardless of whether the act is consensual or not, it would be considered illegal. In the past courts have also considered non-penetrative forms of sex to fall under this section.
The Constitution of Bangladesh provides that the official religion of the country is Islam (paragraph 2A), although other religions can be practiced peacefully and will be tolerated. Shariah Law is not applied in Bangladesh, however homosexuality is still viewed from an Islamic perspective.
No case law could be found. We would be grateful if users of this website are able to refer us to any that they know of which involved LGBTI cases from Bangladeshi.
PUBLIC ATTITUDES AND/OR STATE’S CAPACITY TO PROTECT
Although almost no cases are brought to court with respect to s.377 and homosexual acts, there have been a large number of incidents involving the police and sex workers, especially those that are kothi or effeminate males. A study carried out by the Naz Foundation International has found that a large number of them have been repeatedly harassed and/or abused by police, Goonda (thugs) or other dominant male members of society who take effeminate characteristics to mean that the person will submit to their will and also that they are sexually active and available.
Human Rights Watch noted that a large number of gay men are subject to humiliation, harassment and rape if they are ‘outed’ either by someone else or by choice. They also don’t have any proper methods of recourse as they are discriminated against ‘morally’ at all levels of society, including by the police. Furthermore, rape, according to s.376 of the Bangladesh Penal Code can only be committed by a man with a woman. It therefore follows that a man cannot be raped. Forced sex is often unsafe and can lead to higher incidences of HIV.
One of the best ways of addressing this marginalization is by educating the public, however the people who often attempt to inform and provide services to change public attitudes in relation to sex-workers, homosexual males, kothis and the spread of HIV/AIDS are often also harassed and criminalized (morally) by society at large as well as by law enforcement officers including the army and the police.
There is still a large amount of societal pressure on young Bangladeshis to marry and form a traditional family unit, regardless of their preference on the matter. Marriage of homosexual males to heterosexual females often leads to an unhappy situation where neither party is able to leave the other for fear of the ostracism that follows divorce, especially in societies that are close-knit.
The psychological implications that arise from attempting to reconcile sexual identity with religion (which has a prominent role in Bangladeshi society) are best viewed from the perspective of a kothi. The sexual aspect of their identity is not as important as their gender – most consider themselves to be ‘not men’. This is particularly important, as there is often a mismatch between the sexual desire that they feel compared to the desire they understand as a result of religious and societal norms. This often leads to lowered self-esteem, particularly as kothis are viewed in South Asian societies as being different and unnatural, being born this way because of sexual misdeeds committed by them in a past life. This creates a vicarious cycle in which kothis often feel that it is right that they are marginalized, and so are victims of their own creation as well as that of society.
There is no room for lesbian women in Bangladeshi society. Particularly as the society is one in which women don’t enjoy the same rights as men. Lesbianism is also forbidden by religion, making the societal divide even greater. It is unclear as to whether lesbianism has been included within the ambit of s.377 of the Bangladeshi Penal Code, as no cases have yet been brought to the courts.
NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS (NGOs)
*We have contacted these organizations but we have not yet received responses from any of them.
Bandhu Social Welfare Society
99 Kakrail, 2nd and 3rd Floor, Dhaka 1000, Bangladesh.
Phone: 01675130045 & 0171663667
Fax: 02 9330148
Bandhu social welfare society offers counselling services, general physical and emotional wellbeing and support and they have a legal support officer. They also issue a yearly report on the work that they do in and around Bangladesh to help integrate sexual minorities into society in a more comprehensive manner.
Boys of Bangladesh
Online advocacy group created in 2002 with the intention of providing a forum and physical space for LGBT’s to meet. They now have an office in Dhaka and are dedicated to advocating equal rights for LGBTI’s.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN SPECIALISTS
Prof Dina M. Siddiqi
Dina M. Siddiqi, Professor, Department of Economics and Social Sciences, BRAC University, has extensive work experience with leading human rights organizations in Bangladesh, including Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), and Bangladesh Legal and Services Trust (BLAST). She has consulted for UNDP, UNICEF, and NORAD, among others, focusing primarily on programs related to gender justice and women’s rights. She is part of the Core Advisory Group of the South Asian Network of Gender Activists and Trainers (SANGAT), on the Steering Committee of SANAM (South Asian Network to Address Masculinities) and a member of the international network, the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR). She has lobbied at the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and other relevant UN bodies, representing CSBR and ASK. Dr. Siddiqi divides her time between the US and Bangladesh where she teaches at BRAC University’s Anthropology Program. Her publications, grounded in the study of Bangladesh, cover a broad spectrum: Islam and transnational feminist politics; gender justice and non-state dispute resolution systems; the cultural politics of nationalism; sexuality and rights discourse; and the global garment industry. She is on the editorial board of Routledge’s Women in Asia Publication Series. She is working on a book length manuscript entitled Elusive Solidarities: “Muslim” Women and Transnational Feminism at Work.