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A Culture of Cruelty?

April 20, 2006

Rahella Khanom. Not a name which would mean anything to anyone. But if I were to tell you a story of a woman who believed a baby boy was possessed by evil spirits and decided to ‘cure’ it by giving it a good shake, it should raise a few eyebrows. But this is not a normal shake. It is shaking the baby as hard as you can repeatedly for a period of time. To quote the newspapers:

‘The injuries inflicted on the child over several weeks had caused one side of his brain to shrink. It was believed that the boy would have been screaming in agony for eight weeks because his injuries went untreated.’

The judge said: ‘You are a young lady who came from Bangladesh. You lived there in a rural community, adopting the customs and ways of the people there so that getting to know the ways of living in the West and in this country were not easy.’

Khanom was given an 18-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, after admitting one count of cruelty to a person under the age of 16. Which effectively means that she walked free from court.

There are a few things which bug me about what the Judge has said. Firstly, the judge has implied that it may be the cultural norm in Bangladesh to shake baby’s to death and given this woman had not become part of society in the UK, it was understandable that she would believe this is normal. And secondly that this woman has walked scott-free from court. Her defence have effectively insulted Bangladeshi mothers by saying that because this is the norm in BD, it is something which excuses Rahella Khanom. This woman should have been jailed and made an example of.  



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  2. Tanveer Ahmed permalink

    I’m not sure the judge’s decision implies that shaking babies violently is the norm in Bangladesh. I think the judge made a reasonable decision based on the woman;s level of education and background. She was not wilfully trying to harm the baby. The behaviour was extreme even if someone did hold those beliefs, but it would not have been fair to send a woman like this to jail.

  3. I take your point Tanveer, but I don’t think anyone holds the belief that you can shake the possession out of someone. I have seen all sorts of stuff like reciting verses from the Qur’an or simply wearing a ‘Tawiz’ (protective amulet). It’s like the attempting to beat a disease out of someone. It’s just not possible.

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