“British Bandit Queen” fought off mob of village tribal men and survived honour killing attempt

I am Aklima Bibi, a British woman who was forced to fight off a death mob of village tribal men in Bangladesh to keep my honour as a woman. I feel compelled to write this story because this sort of violence against women in Bangladesh is so common. Women are not even regarded as second-class citizens. Nothing changes and will not change until someone speaks up. I am the first woman to do so. I want my story to inspire other women.

Travelling to Bangladesh

I was posted to Bangladesh as Operations Director for a European multinational in March 2007. Despite having been taken to Bangladesh and forced into marriage when I was only a teenager, there has always been a part of me that seeks to return to my birth country.

I had emigrated to the UK when I was just eight years old, in 1981 with my mother and siblings to join my father who had lived there since the 1960s from the age of 19.

But as soon as I had obtained a visa to enter the UK, within a year aged 9, I was engaged to my first cousin and taken to Bangladesh as soon as I left school and forced to marry him. There, engagement is a promise made by parents, sometimes at birth, for marriage at a later date.

I endured ongoing violence beyond belief at the hands of my in-laws and my husband, including mental and physical torture. On my wedding night, I was drugged and raped by my husband. On another occasion I was beaten up so badly that I nearly lost my eye. My crime? I was caught revising for an exam.

Nevertheless, after many years of violence, I did manage to obtain a divorce. But as a divorcee I was stigmatised and shunned by my community in the UK and in Bangladesh as a worthless woman.

But I was eventually free and re-enrolled to finish my education. As a result I have been successful in obtaining prominent job roles – rare for Bangladeshi women of my generation.

I proved that I was not worthless. By this time my parents realised that I was determined to succeed, especially my father who came up to me and said “don’t bother with that worthless man, go for what you want”. I also found out that he apparently held a knife to my now ex husband’s throat soon after, at a busy bus stop and told him he’ll cut his throat if he bothers me again.

However, my ex-husband felt his honour was violated because he believed as a Muslim man it is he who can divorce me, not me divorce him.

Although he stopped harassing me for a while, he continued to torment me after I had travelled to Bangladesh for this posting. He made many false accusations and filed court cases against me by bribing police officers and village tribal men via the panchatt, or village court.

Mob attack by tribal men

many village tribal men came to attack me ( credit google search)

On a dark, gloomy day in Bangladesh’s monsoon season, I arranged to travel from my city home to survey land that I owned in the same village as my ex-husband. Village roads were muddy, slippery and dangerous, infested with snakes, leeches and mosquitos.

I had to have the survey done in order to defend myself properly against the cases filed against me, so I travelled with my son about 10 miles to the village of Hussain Pur in the Osmani Nogor area of Sylhet, where some of my land was situated.On entering a small muddy road into the village, I phoned the surveyor.

 

He was scared because he’d been threatened with death if he came to do this survey for me. However, he agreed after I guaranteed his safety and offered him higher fees.

The sky was getting darker with every passing minute and we could hear a distant thunderstorm brewing. After traveling for about two miles from the local bazaar along a small, broken and muddy road, we reached the path that would lead us to the village. I was looking at a 6ft boundary wall surrounding the house and a firmly locked, 7ft metal gate. Men’s voices could be heard. “She is a westernized woman who has no place in society here!” I heard one cry.

I heard men shouting within the boundary wall and my heart sunk with fear. I ran towards the boundary wall, falling on the slippery, muddy path several times in my frantic attempt to get there as quickly as possible as I feared my teenage son might be under attack.

aklima-gate

the gate

My heart was racing and I was breathless as I reached the gate but it was welded shut. I kept shouting my son’s name but I couldn’t hear him. As I was hitting the gate with an axe on the welded area, the tropical thunderstorm broke with loud thunder. At the same time, the hinges broke and with whatever strength I had left, I pushed the gate open, to be met by many men with spears and curved machetes.

Older men were standing behind, shouting, “Get her! Don’t let her get away!” In the midst of this violence and deafening shouting, I was relieved to see my son running to me, pushing men away as they turned towards me, shouting out, “Finish her off!” A machete flew past me – missing me by an inch or so – then a spear and a big chunk of wood.

My son grabbed one of the men as he came towards me with a machete, punching him in the face to the ground, while I pulled another by his sarong and hair and slammed him against the wall. Then I pushed another to the ground, kicking him in the head before putting the machete to his throat. When 10-11 police officers arrived, they did nothing because I was a woman – they chose only to listen to the village men.

The mob – all men – intended to kill me with their weapons. They had been ordered to have me killed by my ex-husband from the UK. These village men did not even hear my side of the story simply because I was a woman. I had no say and no rights.

I defended me and my son with courage, fear and rage. My fear overpowered my sanity and forced me to defend myself with whatever means, even if I had to kill. Despite the violence, I did get my survey done ready to continue defending myself to prove the court cases against me in relation to my land were false.

At the end of all this, one of the elderly men walked past me. He looked back at me as he went, slowly shaking his head as he said to another man, “Britishor ranir dhakaith” – “British Bandit Queen”.

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