BBC World Service
I have a right to...

Manoshi Barua - Bengali

Reporter's Story

We have 13.5 million listeners in Bangladesh - it's our main target area - so I wanted to focus on several human rights issues there. We have listeners in West Bengal and north east of India too, so, I wanted to highlight the main human rights issues in that part as well.

Victims of Acid Attacks

In Bangladesh, women are oppressed; their rights are violated in many ways. The most traumatic experience for me was to interview women who have been victims of acid attacks

I met them through an organisation called Acid Survivors Foundation, in Dhaka, the capital.

I met many young girls at this foundation who had been scarred for life. Young boys approached them for marriage. Because the girls rejected their advances, the boys disfigured them as an act of revenge. It was horrific.

One of them, a middle class lady told me her story. She had two sons and she engaged a private tutor for them. Then he started to make some advances. She kept asking him to stop but he continued. Then she told the tutor that she had told her husband about his advances. One evening, when her husband was out, the tutor poured acid over her body, which damaged her skull. It made her blind in one eye; she became partially sighted with the other eye. Her whole face, chest, wrist and hand got burnt.

The good thing is that her husband stood by her side throughout. The tutor's family tried to convince her not to proceed with the criminal case. They said people would know she had been dishonoured; that she had had a relationship with him; her husband would leave her. But she was determined to press charges and the man was given the death sentence. But that was just one incident.

The men take advantage of this idea of male honour, of this tradition that you must listen to men - "How dare you say no to me. I am going to disfigure you for life so no man will ever be able to enjoy you, nobody will marry you. You have said no to me; well, stay like that."

Although only authorised users are allowed to buy acid for industrial and other purposes, regulations are often flouted and acid is obtained by potential abusers.

Making a Difference

Through the work of the Acid Survivors Foundation, and other organisations, the victims are now learning about their legal rights and how to deal with acid burns.

The Acid Survivors Foundation gave me statistics. They said that on average, per day, 1.5 women in Bangladesh are suffering acid attacks.

This organisation rehabilitates survivors. It arranges hospital treatment, provides moral support and helps the victims find jobs.

Unprotected Communities

In Bangladesh, I focussed on tribal rights and land rights. From Sylhet, I travelled to a remote mountain village to visit the Khasi tribe. It had been attacked. There was no road. I had to walk through a mountain stream for two hours. It was really scary, steep, muddy, slippery.

Accompanying me was a local journalist, a head man of the Khasi tribe and the father of a Christian mission.

There are tribes that are afraid of being evicted from lands they have been living on for decades. The tribal communities allege that people who are supported by the administration try to frighten them ... they show false documentation laying claims to the land. They are attacked in the middle of the night, with weapons, by local Bengali settlers.

By the time I finished my interviews it was pitch dark. The tribesmen were worried about how to get me down the mountain, back to Sylhet. After a meeting, they decided to carry me in a square bamboo basket, hung on poles ... it was terrifying. There was a gorge on one side. I simply held my breath in fear.

Making a Difference

The Indigenous People's Forum, a recently formed organisation in Dhaka, is trying to highlight the problems of these tribes.

They are very poor and they do not have the power or the money to fight their cases.

They have to travel enormous distances in order to file their cases. They don't have some of the basic rights. If they get sick, they may die. The nearest village is more than an hour's walk away.

Organisations such as The Indigenous People's Forum are helping tribal people become more aware of their rights; what they can have, who they can go to. They are now acquiring contacts and learning how to file cases.

Before, these people would quietly suffer. But now they are trying to fight together.