DHAKA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A 22-year-old Muslim woman in Bangladesh has been arrested and charged with kidnapping after she eloped with and married a Hindu teenage girl in what could be the first reported same-sex marriage in the conservative country that bans homosexuality.
Police arrested Sanjida Akter and her 16-year-old girlfriend in Dhaka on July 23 after the minor's father registered a complaint, saying his daughter had been abducted.
"We detained them in a house they rented and were stunned to discover this is a lesbian case," Lieutenant Sazzad Raihan, an officer from the country's Rapid Action Battalion, told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"Both told us that they love each other. They fled their homes in Pirojpur district to start a family in Dhaka. (The younger girl) told us that they were married under Hindu traditions at their home the previous night."
Homosexuality and same-sex marriages are illegal in the majority Muslim south Asian nation and people who are open about their sexuality often face discrimination and violence. This may be the first known case of a same-sex marriage in Bangladesh, although the wedding was not performed by a cleric, priest or magistrate.
The teenager's father, however, claims the relationship is not a homosexual one, but rather a ploy by the older woman to extort money from his family by seducing his daughter.
The father of the minor said the two females met six months ago when Sanjida began tutoring his daughter at home. However, he became uncomfortable with their increasing closeness and eventually stopped Sanjida from teaching his daughter.
"I did not like her attitude and told my wife not to allow her at home," the teen’s father told Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Pirojpur. Soon after his daughter disappeared, he said.
"Suddenly I received a call demanding 300,000 taka ($38,530) as ransom. I informed the police and they finally located the girls."
The police said they tracked down Sanjida and the teenager nine days later and arrested Sanjida based on evidence given by her father, who claimed this was not the first time his daughter had eloped with a woman.
"A jinn (evil spirit) has possessed her since she was a student in class four [9 years old] and we tried many ways to free her from it. This is what's provoking her into this behaviour," Abdus Sobhan, Sanjida's father, told Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone from his home in Shariatpur district.
Sanjida could not be contacted as she is in jail and the teenager's parents will not permit her to speak to the media. However, Bangladeshi tabloid newspaper Manabjamin quoted Sanjida as saying she had never abducted or seduced anyone.
"No one will ever lodge any complaint against me. Not even [this girl] as I did not abduct her. She went with me willingly," she told the newspaper before going to jail.