General strike cripples Bangladesh`s main cities

Islamic hard-liners enforced strike, demanding installation of Islamic law.

Updated: Apr 04, 2011, 12:19 PM IST

Dhaka: Schools and businesses were shut in Bangladesh`s main cities on Monday as an Islamic hard-line group enforced a nationwide general strike demanding the installation of Islamic law and the scrapping of a new government policy that gives women equal rights to inheritance.

The strike came a day after a student was killed and 25 other protesters were injured during a violent clash between Islamic hard-liners and police in western Bangladesh. Those protesters were demanding the government scrap its new policy that ensures women equal rights to inheritance, which they brand as anti-Islamic.

Traffic was light on Monday on the usually clogged streets of the capital, Dhaka, and was also disrupted in other major cities across the country.

There were no reports of violence in the first few hours of the strike, which was organised by the Islamic Law Implementation Committee.

While the strike was called to broadly seek the adoption of Islamic law in the Muslim-majority nation of 150 million people, its specific agenda was the opposition of the government`s new policy on women`s inheritance rights.

According to Muslim family law, women can claim only a quarter of what men get from their parents. Under the government`s new rules, every child inherits the same amount.

Despite being governed mostly by secular laws, Bangladesh follows Islamic law in family-related matters, including marriage and inheritance.

Fazlul Huq Amini, who heads the Islamic Law Implementation Committee, accuses the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of violating Quran, the Islamic holy book, by introducing the new inheritance policy.

Hasina, however, insists the new rules do not hurt Islam, and says the hard-line group is deliberately playing with people`s religious feelings to destabilise the country.

Hasina`s government says it wants women to have greater rights in employment, inheritance and education.

In Dhaka, a city of 10 million people, thousands of security officials were deployed on Monday to patrol the streets, police said.

The security officials cordoned off the country`s main Baitul Mokarram mosque in downtown Dhaka and set up barbed wire fences near the mosque.

On Sunday, 19-year-old Ahmed Husein, a student at an Islamic school in the western district of Jessore, was shot during the clash with police and died instantly. The protesters blamed police for shooting Husein. The police denied responsibility and said some of the protesters were armed.

Husein was a member of the Hefajat-e-Islam group, which belongs to Islami Oikya Jote, an alliance of hard-line groups usually tied to former prime minister Khaleda Zia`s Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

Bureau Report