One night while walking from her room to an outhouse, 14-year-old Hena Akhter of Bangladesh was gagged, forced behind a bush, then beaten and raped. Rather than condemning her rapist, both he and Hena were charged with adultery. She was sentenced to 101 lashes and he was sentenced to 201. He escaped after only a few whippings, but Hena was hit 70 times before she dropped to the ground. Later in a hospital she died of what doctors called a suicide.
Hena's death on January 31 has sparked outrage both in Bangladesh and abroad. According to CNN, the nation forbids fatwas and punishments based on Sharia law, but often these laws are ignored in small villages.
Hena was the youngest child of Darbesh Khan, a day laborer from Bangladesh's Shariatpur district, and Aklima Begum. When Hena's 40-year-old cousin, Mahbub Khan, returned to their village after worked abroad, he started harassing her on her way to school. Her father complained to the village elders and they fined Mahbub $1,000, but told Darbesh to drop the issue. On the night Hena was raped, Mahbub's wife heard her muffled screams, but instead of helping her she took her back to her home and beat and trampled her. The next day the village elders ruled that both Mahbub and Hena were guilty of an illicit relationship. CNN reports:
Darbesh Khan and Aklima Begum had no choice but to mind the imam's order. They watched as the whip broke the skin of their youngest child and she fell unconscious to the ground.
While that could have been the end to her story, the public outcry over doctors ruling her death a suicide prompted the High Court to have her body exhumed and reexamined last month. The second autopsy found she died of internal bleeding after sustaining severe injuries. This week the doctors who conducted the first autopsy were told they will stand trial for the false post-mortem report. One justice said, "We are appalled to see the magnitude of illegality." Several people, including Mahbub Khan, have also been arrested in connection with Hena's death.
In a post about the story on his New York Times blog, Nicholas Kristof wrote:
Let's hope that the public reaction and punishments are so strong that the word goes out to all of Bangladesh's villages that such misogynist fatwas are not only immoral but also illegal. And that the crime lies not in being raped, but in raping.
Those responsible for Hena's death may be punished, but there are still thousands of girls and women who died in similarly horrific ways but will never have justice. Tragically, Kristoff's message still needs to be heard around the world, not just in Bangladesh.