Dealing with superstitious villagers


by Sunny
21st April, 2006 at 2:22 am    

A Bangladeshi woman who shook a baby boy so violently that he suffered brain damage walked free from court yesterday because a judge conceded that she did not know how to behave in the West.

Rahella Khanom, 24, caused the five-month-old boy in her care to suffer fractures to his breast bone and ribs as she tried to rid him of evil spirits, Southwark Crown Court was told.

“I accept you were kept really quite isolated from our society by your community and it would seem to a large extent by your husband as well. Under these circumstances I do not feel it is in the public interest to pass an immediate custodial sentence.” [The Times, via Wardyblog]

How does one deal with this? One the one hand I hate judges who let off criminals using the “it maybe in your culture” argument. No, if the person has done something criminal please lock them up. Stop treating Asians with kid-gloves as if they should be held to a lower standard of criminality or stupidity.

But will locking such villagers with mad superstitious tendencies help? I doubt it. They’ll remain forever locked to that mindset. The main problem seems to be that she is under severe stress since coming over and being ignored by her husband. So she takes it out on the kid.

Consequence: After being let off lightly, she is no better off. Others use this as a “multi-culturalism is bad” example. ‘Community leaders’ turn a blind eye. Government enacts some silly legislation after Daily Mail hysteria. Then ‘community groups’ complain of a nanny state. Nothing actually improves.
What may be the correct way to deal with this?


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  1. Tim Worstall

    Britblog Roundup # 62…

    Once again with the Britblog Roundup. Severely shortened this week as several regulars seem to have taken advantage of the spring sunshine to not nominate entries. I’m also frantically busy trying to meet deadlines before my travels next week. You…




  1. Yusuf Smith — on 21st April, 2006 at 9:51 am  

    This is not really superstition, just ignorance, isn’t it? In the west there have been so many well-known cases of babies dying of being shaken that anyone knows better than to do it. In rural Bangladesh perhaps people don’t know this.

    By the way, comment preview sucks. It just makes typing slow.

  2. zahed — on 21st April, 2006 at 10:29 am  

    I was in a taxi two days ago when the driver said he just arrived back in London from a trip to India and had to return within a few days. He said the reason for this was that someone in the family had become posessed.

    I found myself spending the next five minutes (as someone who’s family is from India) trying to think of something constructive to say, trying not to get too disturbed by what was going to happen to this poor “posessed” family member. I really found myself at a loss.

    I’ve had similar discussions with members of my own family and know that trying to bring up facts, anecdotes, or how people in the West aren’t plagued with such “posessions” (maybe they just take drugs) won’t carry much weight. And there’s no point in being condescending when the fear they have is genuine.

    If you think of something, let us know.

  3. Sid Singh — on 21st April, 2006 at 10:36 am  

    Superstition or ignorance; I don’t think its either. A woman emigrates to the UK from Bangladesh, straight from from a village in Sylhet. Here she finds herself isolated, ignored and, inevitably, pregnant. Her situation is probably compounded by the (unstated) fact that she was mentally unstable and probably the victim of passive and overt violence. Her situation is tragic. To mitigate her crime by a light sentence was the judge’s decision. But to base that decision on ‘community differences’ is wrongheaded of the judge. Why blame the woman?

  4. Jay Singh — on 21st April, 2006 at 10:58 am  

    What Sid said.

    Comment previews do not suck by the way they’re actually really good.

  5. Jay Singh — on 21st April, 2006 at 11:00 am  

    Although I hope something is being done in terms of mental health provision for the lady.

  6. Bonnie Prince Vickie — on 21st April, 2006 at 11:04 am  

    But i dont think ignorance should be a reason for aquital, a less harsher punishment maybe…

  7. Don — on 21st April, 2006 at 11:20 am  

    ‘It was believed that the boy would have been screaming in agony for eight weeks because his injuries went untreated.’

    Eight weeks? So what were the rest of the family doing?

  8. Roger — on 21st April, 2006 at 12:29 pm  

    I’d have my doubts about the woman’s ignorance of child care. Coming from a part of the world where large extended families are usual she’d probably have seen and practised looking after babies before she came to Britain. I certainly don’t think child care in Bangladesh involves behaviour that will break a child’s bones and damage their brains- if it did there wouldn’t be many Bangladeshis.

  9. douglas — on 21st April, 2006 at 12:42 pm  

    Sunny,

    What is disturbing is the implication that the woman didn’t know how to behave in the West.

    Would that not have been unacceptable behaviour in the East, too? Had the same incident happened in Bangladesh, what would the local judiciary have made of it? Would they not have come to, broadly, similar conclusions?

    I’m not sure if it is in a Judges power, but the very least he should have insisted on was psychological and social support.

    The arguement for universalist rights (and obligations) is gained one step at a time.

  10. Sid Singh — on 21st April, 2006 at 12:46 pm  

    Yeah, it was Yusuf Smith who suggested that rural Bangladeshis are ignorant of what violently shaking a baby will do because they are unaware of the the many well known cases of infanticide by shaking in the West! Perhaps its his thinking that is slow and not Comment preview.

  11. Sid Singh — on 21st April, 2006 at 1:01 pm  

    Well ‘motherhood’ and ‘murder’ are universal concepts.

    What would have happened in Bangladesh is that the woman would have been clapped in irons and thrown into prison. Her husband would divorce her and she would be bereft of any social or family support because she will have been disowned. At best she can look forward to a life of prostitution if she can retain her sanity from this ordeal.

    What I would like really to see is that judges in Bangladesh would, as this judge as done, take other social and mental factors into consideration before proceeding to sentence her. I would like to think that the British judge in this case has referred her to mental health services but probably used the “community differences” pretext in order to vindicate her.

  12. Bonnie Prince Vickie — on 21st April, 2006 at 1:18 pm  

    Comment preview sure slows down my firefox.

  13. Sid Singh — on 21st April, 2006 at 1:20 pm  

    Not my IE7 beta.

    Jay, why come you’re not linking to your spiffy new PP blog?

  14. Jay Singh — on 21st April, 2006 at 1:24 pm  

    Good thinking Sid. I suppose I am just too humble for my own good!

  15. Bonnie Prince Vickie — on 21st April, 2006 at 1:42 pm  

    Maybe i should move my blog to PP afterall..

  16. Bonnie Prince Vickie — on 21st April, 2006 at 1:45 pm  

    But then again i’m such a procrastinating bitch that it’d just turn out to be a waste of space.

  17. Sunny — on 21st April, 2006 at 2:04 pm  

    Zahed – I know what you mean… Indians are the bloody worst at these stupid ghost superstitious rubbish. My dad was so superstitious that he still hates it if people call out to him if he’s on the way out of the door. It used to drive me mad.

    There are several angles to the story. I’m sure Ms Khanom knows how to look after a baby otherwise, as there wouldn’t be so many Bangladeshis ;)

    So:
    1) she could be other extreme stress and then took it out on the baby
    2) she thought the only way to get rid of the ghost would be shake the baby really really hard – you never know. Maybe there is a lot of child abuse in the sub-continent that never gets highlighted.

    There was a story about some woman being ostracized from her community because she had messed up teeth. Hello, it’s only a dentral problem. The idiotic villagers thought it was an evil spirit.

    I think this is a combination of sillyness and stress. Maybe she should be treated for stress instead of being let back into that household.

    And lastly – I haven’t noticed my typing being slow because of comment preview. Is this the case for a lot of you? I’m on firefox, works fine for me.

  18. j0nz — on 21st April, 2006 at 2:22 pm  

    What a f**** twat this judge is Judge Rodney McKinnon is. I agree this woman probably does need our pity, and not punishment.

    But I find it incredibly irritating that the reason she was able to walk free because she’s from a different culture & values.

    My wrath is saved entirely for this idiot judge. Sunny sums it up well I think his last pargaph, that this is further ammunition that the white working class are being unfairly treated with respect to ethnic minorities. Has he not heard the news recently about the rise of the BNP?

  19. Bonnie Prince Vickie — on 21st April, 2006 at 2:31 pm  

    Indians are the bloody worst at these stupid ghost superstitious rubbish.

    Not just any Indian, those espcially from *ahem* Harayana ;)

  20. Sunny — on 21st April, 2006 at 2:40 pm  

    Listen mr Vikrant – please do not point the finger at people from Haryana. There are worse people – Biharis for example :D

  21. Sid Singh — on 21st April, 2006 at 2:47 pm  

    Riiiiight, so judges will have to consider their sentences in accordance with the fortunes of this or that political party. Thats so very, how do they say in on the Euston Manifesto, culturally relative.

    I think there is a distinct pattern of cases involving ethnic minorities receiving perversely lenient sentencing, as in the case of the four Pakistani rapists in Australia that Wardytron referred to in the linked post. There are others of course. But I don’t believe that this particular case is representative of that. I think the judge has made the right decision but has reached for this catchall salve (‘community differences’) as an unfortunate choice of pretext.

  22. Don — on 21st April, 2006 at 3:12 pm  

    This is one of those annoying newspaper reports that don’t tell you nearly enough for a balanced view. Was the woman given mental health help? Has she been passed back into her isolation? Why did no-one else in the family act if it took the baby eight weeks to die? What were the circumstances of her marriage? Are social services looking into the household in question?

    There were reasons for clemency, but I agree with J0nz and Sunny (how often does one get to write that?) that the judge was wrong to identify cultural values as one of them.

    It is particularly fraught because ‘exorcism’ of children resulting in harm, abandonment or death, seems to be cropping up in several communities – and is frequently denied.

    We could do with a balanced overview of this. Whether it is smug middle-class dipsticks like this;

    http://www.exorcisms.co.uk/aboutus.htm

    or the more disturbing reports like this;

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-1641295,00.html

    or this;

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9711921/site/newsweek/from/RL.4/

    Surely it is assault, regardless of the religious mumbo-jumbo. Does anyone know the legal position on this?

  23. douglas — on 21st April, 2006 at 3:17 pm  

    Sid Singh, 1.01pm post,

    This is all too dark for a Friday afternoon, what with the sun shining and all. But my point was simply that justice would have been served, whether she had lived here or there. I agree with you about the barbarity.

    It is ridiculous for the Englsh Judge to have thought that this would not be an offence in the East, as well as the West.

    I think It is a ridiculous arguement that the judge has come up with. It makes a nonesense of his comments, does it not?

  24. Bonnie Prince Vickie — on 21st April, 2006 at 5:12 pm  

    isnt Hundal a Haryanvi surname?

  25. Old Peculier — on 21st April, 2006 at 7:28 pm  

    A long custodial sentence would not have been the answer. A condemnation of the culture that keeps women locked in the house would not have gone amiss.

  26. Old Pickler — on 21st April, 2006 at 7:29 pm  

    Old Peculier, you are so wonderful.

  27. wardytron — on 21st April, 2006 at 8:24 pm  

    Ooh, I should say that my first thought was exactly that in your first paragraph, but you read on and you find that she was pretty much kept prisoner by her husband, although he probably wasn’t breaking any law. So how does one deal with this? I think a bit like when Matthew Parris was writing about how odd and wrong he thought it was when he was in Sydney or somewhere and saw a woman in blazing heat wearing a full burka and wanted her husband to feel ashamed. I want this woman’s husband, and the husbands of any other women like her, to feel bad. My problem is more with Martin Jacques, for implying that it’s somehow “Western” to want women to be sufficiently educated and informed for things like this not to happen.

  28. Col. Mustafa — on 22nd April, 2006 at 12:06 pm  

    Why did she think her baby was possessed in the first place?

    And where did she get the idea that shaking the baby till brain damage would get rid of the spirits that are corrupting her child to burp in an obscene manner?

    Its BS, and most probably something to do with mum and dad fighting too much over how many times she looked at the tesco’s clerk the other day.

    You don’t shake a baby cos its possessed by spirits; ive heard of people reciting various Surah’s and praying and blah blah to get rid of imaginary shit or illnesses but that seems abit dodgy to me.

  29. Sunny — on 22nd April, 2006 at 1:52 pm  

    Exactly. Maybe it was used as a defence to save her… as some sort of an excuse.

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