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Gender, religion and development in rural Bangladesh [Elektronische Ressource] / Ainoon Naher

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Gender, Religion and Development in Rural Bangladesh Ph.D. Dissertation Ainoon Naher Department of Ethnology South Asia Institute Heidelberg University December 2005 ABSTRACT This thesis examines the relationships between gender, religion and development in rural Bangladesh in the context of a series of attacks on NGOs by ‘fundamentalist’ forces in the country in the early part of the 1990s. Specifically, the focus is on the emergence of rural women as a center of contention as events unfolded. My examination of the discourses and various political, economic and social factors that surrounded or underlay these events shows that the poor rural women in Bangladesh were being pulled in different directions as a result of multiple forces operating in the context of structures of inequality that existed at global, national, community and domestic levels. Based on fieldwork carried in the village of Jiri in Chittagong, Bangladesh, the thesis argues that while it is possible to see the attacks against NGOs as 'resistance' against 'Western' or 'elite' domination/exploitation, a closer look of events reveals that forms of gender inequality operating at domestic and community levels are largely behind the targeting of women beneficiaries of NGOs by the ‘fundamentalists’.
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Gender, Religion and Development
in Rural Bangladesh



Ph.D. Dissertation



Ainoon Naher

Department of Ethnology
South Asia Institute
Heidelberg University



December 2005
ABSTRACT


This thesis examines the relationships between gender, religion and development in rural
Bangladesh in the context of a series of attacks on NGOs by ‘fundamentalist’ forces in
the country in the early part of the 1990s. Specifically, the focus is on the emergence of
rural women as a center of contention as events unfolded. My examination of the
discourses and various political, economic and social factors that surrounded or underlay
these events shows that the poor rural women in Bangladesh were being pulled in
different directions as a result of multiple forces operating in the context of structures of
inequality that existed at global, national, community and domestic levels. Based on
fieldwork carried in the village of Jiri in Chittagong, Bangladesh, the thesis argues that
while it is possible to see the attacks against NGOs as 'resistance' against 'Western' or
'elite' domination/exploitation, a closer look of events reveals that forms of gender
inequality operating at domestic and community levels are largely behind the targeting of
women beneficiaries of NGOs by the ‘fundamentalists’. The thesis also explores the
nature and extent of rural women's resistance to these events and concludes that instead
of representing the 'poor rural women' of Bangladesh only as victims, their active and
creative roles also must be stressed in our analysis.
DECLARATION




I hereby declare that I have written this PhD thesis myself, and that it has not been
submitted to any other university for a degree.



Ainoon Naher
Heidelberg

Signature: ____________________________Date:______________________________






CONTENTS

Abstract……………………………………………………………………………….. i
Declaration……………………………………………………………………………. ii

Acknowledgments…………………………………………………………………….. vi
Glossary of Acronyms and Non-English Terms……………………………………. viii

Chapter 1: Introduction……………………………………………………………… 1
1.1 The Problem and the Context
1.2 Research Questions
1.3 Fieldwork
1.3.1 Selecting the Village
1.3.2 ‘Situating’ Myself as a Researcher
1.3.3 Methods of Observation and Data Collection
1.4 Overview of the Thesis

Chapter 2: Gender, Development and Religion: Theoretical and Conceptual
Issues…………………………………………………………………………………... 16
2.1 Key Terms
2.1.1 Gender
2.1.2 Development
2.1.3 Discourse (of Development)
2.1.4 Religious Fundamentalism
2.2 Gender and Development
2.3 Gender and Religion
2.4 Religion and Development
2.5 Religion in the Literature on Women and Development

Chapter 3: Women, Islam and Development in Bangladesh: An Overview……… 35
3.1 National Identity and Gender: Emergence of Bangladesh
3.2 Gender and the Revival of Religious Fundamentalism in Bangladesh
3.2.1 Factors behind the Growth of Religious Fundamentalism
3.2.2 The Return to Democracy and Women’s Status
3.3 Gender and Development in Bangladesh
3.3.1 The Rural Women of Bangladesh as Development ‘Target’
3.3.2 The ‘Poor Rural Women of BD’ in the Discourse of Development

Chapter 4: Introducing Jiri: The Social and Economic Background…………….. ..61
4.1 Location and Demography of Jiri
4.2 Bazaar and hat in Jiri
4.3 Social Organization of the Village
4.3.1 Household
4.3.2 Bari and Gushti
4.3.3 Samaj
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4.4 Education and Literacy
4.5 The Village Economy: Land Ownership and Economic Organization
4.5.1 Non-Agricultural Economic Activities
4.5.2 ‘Dubaiwala’ in the Economy of Jiri

Chapter 5: Women and Development in Jiri……………………………………….. 93
5.1 NGO Intervention in Jiri
5.2 Ideology and Approaches of NGOs: Targeting Women
5.3 The Rhetoric of Sustainability, Participation and Empowerment vs. Reality:
A Case of BRAC in Jiri
5.4 Micro-Credit, Women and Empowerment in Jiri
5.4.1 Women as Target Group of Micro-Credit Programs
5.4.2 Women as Reliable Borrowers
5.4.3 Accessing Credit: A right realized or a burden to be borne?
5.4.4 ‘We take out the loans, men use them’: Male control over loans meant for women
5.4.5 Repayment of Loans: Whose Responsibility?
5.5 Empowering Women through Credit, or Disciplining Them?
5.5.1 Purdah and Poverty
5.5.2 Social Development and Consciousness Raising Initiatives: Shortcuts?
5.6 Women’s Empowerment vs. Program Expansion
5.7 Conclusion: ‘We are stuck!’

Chapter 6: ‘Fundamentalist’ Attack on NGOs and Women in Jiri……………….. 140
6.1 The ‘Fundamentalist’ Backlash against NGOs: An Overview
6.2 The Targeting of NGOs and Women by ‘Fundamentalists’: The Context of Jiri
6.3 Allegations against NGO activities
6.4 Mechanisms/Strategies of the Anti-NGO Campaign
6.5 The Types of Attacks on NGOs and Women in Jiri
6.6 Beyond Rhetoric: A Close Look at the ‘Fundamentalists’ and Their Motives
6.6.1 The Rhetoric of Defending Islam against the Agents of the ‘Christians’
6.6.2 The NGOs and Their Opponents at the National and Local Levels
6.6.2.1 NGOs in National and Local Politics
6.6.2.2 NGOs and the National Elite
6.6.2.3 Resource Competition among National NGOs
6.6.2.4 The Organizers of the Anti-NGO Campaign
6.6.3 Mullahs, Matbors and Moneylenders: The ‘Rural Elite’ and Their New Rivals
6.6.3.1 Economic Insecurity of Madrasa and Maktab Teachers
6.6.3.2 The Reaction of Matbors and Other Rich Peasants
6.6.3.3 Traditional Moneylenders Facing New Competition
6.6.3.4 Sense of Exclusion (among those left out of NGO programs)
6.6.4 Gender Issues
6.6.4.1 Changes in Women’s Mobility in Bangladesh: The Broader Context
6.6.4.2 Men’s Fear of Losing Control Over Women
6.6.4.3 ‘A Thousand Allegations against Women’
6.6.4.4 The Irony of Male Officials Promoting Rural Women’s Empowerment
6.7 Conclusion
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Chapter 7: Resistance and Accommodation of Women in Jiri……………………..182
7.1 The Broader Context: Women in the ‘Political Domain’
7.2 Forms of Rural Women’s Resistance
7.3 Women’s Responses to ‘Fundamentalist’ Attacks
7.3.1 Redefining Purdah
7.3.2 Using Kinship Morality
7.3.3 Reinterpreting the Dominant Religious Ideology
7.3.4 Gossips, Jokes and Songs
7.4 Conclusion

Chapter 8: Summary and Conclusions……………………………………………… 203
8.1 Women and Development in Bangladesh
8.2 The Fundamentalist Backlash against NGOs and Women
8.3 The Poor Rural Women in Resistance and Accommodation
8.4 Postscript: Post-9/11 and the Birth of Suicide Bombers in Bangladesh

Endnotes………………………………………………………………………………. 213

Bibliography…………………………………………………………………………... 217



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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Over the last several years, many people provided help and support in various ways to me
in completing this thesis. First and foremost, I am greatly indebted to my supervisor at
the University of Heidelberg, Professor William S. Sax, for his intellectual stimulation,
guidance and constant support. Without his careful readings of many drafts and swift and
constructive feedback, I would not have been able to finish this thesis. I also owe special
gratitude to Professor. Dr. Subrata K. Mitra, my other supervisor at Heidelberg, who has
been equally supportive and helpful. Professor Mitra’s expertise on Bangladesh helped
me to develop and sharpen my ideas presented here.

My enormous debt, of course, is to all my informants, the women of Jiri, for their warmth
and hospitality, and for providing me with all required information patiently. The respect
and affection that I feel for the women whose help made my time in the village both
productive and enjoyable are profound. Though it is impossible to name all of them, I
would like to express special thanks to Pakiza, Nargis, Hasina, Khoteza and Fulmoti. I
also want to express my gratitude to Sharif and his family for accepting me as a member
of their family and giving me the opportunity to share food and home with them.

I started my work on this thesis initially as a doctoral student of Social Anthropology at
the University of Sussex, where several friends and professors—particularly Dr. Katy
Gardner, who was my supervisor at that time, and Dr. Anne whitehead—encouraged me
to embark on my study. Over the years, I have been indebted to many more people, both
in Bangladesh and abroad, in pursuing my work. Of them, I must mention the names of
Dr. Anna Schmidt, Prof. Peter J Bertocci, Prof. B. K. Jahangir, Prof. S.M. Nurul Alam,
Rahnuma Ahmed, Dr. Martin Gaenszle, Stefan M. Eggs, Abantee Harun, Martin Kunz,
Karine Polit, Mahiuddin Ahmed, and Malabika Sarker, who have given invaluable
comments on all or parts of this thesis at one stage or another. I am further thankful to
the PhD students of the Ethnology Department, South Asia Institute, Heidelberg
University, for sharing ideas and critical discussion with me in the Doctoral Colloquium.
My heartfelt thanks also go to Anna M. Hanser-Cole for her extreme generosity and
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unhesitating administrative and personal assistance, to Shahed and Polin, who helped me
by collecting and mailing relevant material from Bangladesh.

I would like to acknowledge my debt to those funding agencies that made my research
possible. The Overseas Development Agency, UK and the Social Science Research
Council, New York sponsored my field research in Bangladesh. And the Center for
Development Research (ZEF Bonn) awarded me a fellowship for a portion of the writing-
up period at the University of Heidelberg. I am also grateful to Jahangirnagar University,
and particularly to my colleagues at the Department of Anthropology there, for allowing
me to be on leave for a long time to complete my thesis.

Finally, my family members have been loving and supportive through the long years of
this project. I am grateful to many members of my family including my father, brothers
and sisters, and my in laws and their relatives for their assistance, especially to those who
took care of my young son during several long periods of my absence from Bangladesh.
My husband Prashanta Tripura, through his moral support, constructive criticism and
keen interest in my research, and also through much editorial assistance and other
practical help, has sustained me during the last crucial years of what has been a long
drawn up process of finishing this work. Last, but not the least, I will never forget the
understanding and unceasing encouragement of my young son, Aichuk, who just turned
seven this year, and at his young age has endured long periods of separation from me
during my write-up phase. He constantly supported and encouraged me during my ups
and downs by saying that he wanted me to finish my thesis before I returned home. So I
dedicate this thesis to the greatest source of my inspiration, Aichuk.

Ainoon Naher
Heidelberg


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GLOSSARY OF ACRONYMS AND NON-ENGLISH TERMS




Note: In the literature, spellings of Bengali (or Bengalicized Arabic and Persian) words
vary. The entries below are the spellings adopted in this paper. Variant spellings, as
may appear in quoted passages, are shown in parentheses.




ADAB Association of Development Agencies in Bangladesh

alim/alem Islamic scholar

ASA Association for Social Advancement, a Bangladeshi NGO

apa (Term of address for) elder sister. Also used as a term of address of female
schoolteachers, officials etc.

ashraf Muslims of noble origin

atraf Muslims of humble origin

bari Literally, house/homestead. Also, refers to extended family living on the same
compound in a village.

bepurdah Literally, without/out of purdah; ‘immodest’

BNP Bangladesh Nationalist Party

BRAC Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, the largest NGO of Bangladesh.

burkha Veil (usually back in color, covering one from head to toe) worn by Muslim
women in Bangladesh

CEDAW Covenant for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women

fatwa (fotwa, fotowa) Juridico-religious verdicts, interpretations, or sanctions issued by
Islamic scholars/teachers.

EPZ Export Processing Zone

GAD Gender and Development

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GB Grameen Bank

GDP Gross Domestic Product

gushti lineage

halal Proper (food, beverages, income etc.) in accordance to Islamic prescriptions

haram Any practice (e.g. taking of bribes) or substance (e.g. alcoholic beverage) that is
strictly prohibited in Islam.

hartal General strike

HYV High Yield Variety (of crops)

hat Rural (weekly) markets

kani Unit of land (equivalent to two-fifths of an acres).

imam Muslim prayer-leader. Theoretically, this could be any respectable person. But
each mosque usually has a designated Imam.

ijjat (izzat) Values of honor, prestige and status.

Jamaat/Jamaat-i-Islami An Islamic Political Party of Bangaldesh

jihad (jehad) Holy war

qaumi madrasa Madrasas in Bangladesh that run independently, without any
government control (The government-run madrasas are known as Alia madrasas)

madrasa (madrasha, madrasah, madrassah, madrassa) Islamic school.

mahajan Traditional moneylender

maktab Elementary Islamic school

matbor (matabbar, matobbor) A traditional village leader

molla (mullah) An Islamic scholar or teacher. The word is often used in a derogatory
way to refer to anyone whose status as a religious expert is disputed.

moulabadi A modern Bengali coinage meaning 'fundamentalist.'

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