Justice lost in loopholes of the lawIn the end, all we know is that the five-months-pregnant Honufa Begum was caught in a fire at her husband’s Uttara residence on a certain night, and she died at her father’s home in Narsingdi 60 hours later.That Honufa’s husband Monir Hossain tied her up, poured kerosene on the body before setting her on fire, as her father said in the complaint lodged with the Uttara police station, could not be proven in the court.The victim’s father also said that 12 days prior to that fateful night Monir had threatened to kill her if dowry of Tk 10,000 was not paid.The case ran for more than 10 years at the court, and then the fugitive husband was acquitted. Apart from the verdict, no other documents of the case could be seen, which leads to a number of questions.Before we go look for the answers, let us have a look at another such incident. Sometime in 2007, a sixteen-year-old girl, working at a Dakkhinkhan household, died. The owner of the house informed her uncle of the matter over the phone and the uncle then filed a case. The investigation found that the girl had in fact been raped and then strangled to death with a scarf. However, the accused was acquitted last year.Prothom Alo has analysed data available on 421 murder cases filed with five Dhaka tribunals under the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act over a period of 15 years. These cases include murder or attempt to murder for dowry, and death by rape or killing after rape. There were six murder cases filed under the penal code, four of which were actually rape and murder cases.As many as 84 per cent of these cases were murders over dowry while 15 per cent dealt with murders caused by rape or killing after rape.Prothom Alo scrutinised information of 16 murder cases of three categories.In Honufa’s case, it was required to prove that she died after Monir set her on fire when he failed to get the dowry he had demanded. When one is killed in a fire, not much evidence is found in autopsy and investigation. Even if the murder is proved, it has to be established that dowry was behind this killing. Or else, the accused gets acquitted.In the Dakkhinkhan girl case, it had to be proved that the accused raped and then killed her so that she could not tell anyone. The autopsy did say that she was raped and then murdered. However, the state could not produce witnesses or evidence to prove that the accused was the rapist.One thing is common in both the cases — the verdicts were delayed. About 22 per cent of cases that dealt with murder for dowry and 21 per cent of rape related murder cases ran in the court for 10 to 14 years. However, the manners in which the cases were disposed of were different.In only four per cent of the dowry cases the accused were punished. The number of rape related murder cases was comparatively low (61). But the ratio of the culprits getting punished is higher in such cases (25 per cent). However, the number of the accused getting acquitted is also very high.Murder for dowry?According to the law, if anyone related to the bridegroom demands cash or kind, it would be considered dowry. In the same way, if the bride’s family agrees to meet such demands, it would be considered dowry, too. It is often hard to prove that such gifts were connected to the marriage.If it cannot be proved that the man had demanded dowry, justice cannot be served.Honufa’s father in the case statement quoting three neighbours said that she had been murdered. But the witnesses told the Tribunal-2 that they heard anything about dowry.They said they had rescued Honufa breaking down the door while the kerosene stove was lying there. Monir was not there, but the fence of the house was broken.The public prosecutor declared them hostile before questioning. There were discrepancies in their statements and they did stick to their words.Monir was arrested when the charge was framed. He then secured bail and went into hiding. He was eventually acquitted.The verdict did not say anything about the autopsy report nor did it mention Monir’s whereabouts on the day.According to the charge sheet, the neighbours took Honufa to the hospital that night, but they informed her father a day later.The verdict said, the Dhaka Medical College Hospital authorities refused to admit Honufa as her condition was too serious, but it did not mention from where Honufa’s father took her to Narsingdi. The state did not present Honufa’s father at the court either.Supreme Court advocate Maksuda Akhter said, generally the murders over dowry take place at the in-laws’ place and the victim’s family is informed much later. In the meantime, they come up with a story to make it look like a suicide. There is hardly any direct witness and the autopsy or other reports are mostly questionable.Lengthy prosecutionJustice delayed is justice denied. Fazlul Haq hit his wife Minara Begum on the head with a stick. Their 15-year-old son informed his maternal uncle, Kamrul Hasan, who then took her to a hospital, but she succumbed to her injuries there.Minara and Fazlul were married for 30 years. Kamrul filed a case alleging that Fazlul along with his family members hit Minara demanding a dowry of Tk 1 million. The police found them guilty after investigation, but the Tribunal-4 has not yet framed any charges over the crime that was committed in 2014. Fazlul had passed away in the meantime.Kamrul Hasan in April said, Fazlul’s brother is a fugitive now. The proceedings are being delayed as notices in the newspapers to find the culprit are taking time, he said.”It is just harassment, waste of time and money,” he said. Kamrul alleged that the court officials were delaying the case, taking bribes from the accused.Rape and MurderInitially a person was paid to be defendant in the Dakkhinkhan maid rape and murder case. Later, after the police investigation, the head of household’s younger brother was accused. He gave a statement to the magistrate saying he lured the girl into having physical relations by promising her marriage. But the investigation officer did not mention any such thing in the charge sheet.The IO presented three of the brother and sisters of the accused as witnesses. The plaintiff, the girl’s uncle from the village, did not come to the court to give his statement. When called over phone by these correspondents, his younger brother received the call. He said the girl’s family is extremely poor. The defendants, in presence of local member and chairman, negotiated a deal and paid Tk 150,000 to the victim’s family. Following these ‘negotiations’, no one came forward as witness.Another 6-year-old child was raped and murdered in a Dakkhinkhan hotel in April 2011. The autopsy found the child had been hit heavily and strangled to death. Her brother filed a rape and murder case against their cousin in this connection.After arrest, the defendant in his statement to the magistrate said he committed the crime because of enmity with his aunt. He brought the child to Dhaka from Sylhet on pretext of a trip to the zoo.The case is under trial at tribunal-2. The plaintiff said, they had not been called for any statement yet. The defendant is home on bail.In many cases, the criminal cannot be identified. A 12-year-old girl’s dead body was found in a makeshift under the Mayor Hanif flyover of Dakkhin Jatrabari in November 2015. The police recovered the body in a decomposed state. She was a mentally challenged girl, living on the streets.The autopsy report said she was raped and then strangled to death. A case of rape and murder was filed. The police and the criminal investigation division (CID) conducted investigations twice, but could identify neither the girl nor the criminal.The second final report said the incident was true, but witnesses were unavailable. There was no police box CCTV footage either. Tribunal-2 has not yet accepted the report.The additional deputy inspector general of CID, Sheikh Rezaul Haider said, witnesses and evidence are hard to find in gang rape cases too. He said, even if the girl is alive after the crime being committed in the night, it’s hard to identify the criminals. “If accused are not found, then against whom the charge sheet will be filed?” he said.Advocate Abdul Gani said, the IOs are not skilled in such cases. “Crucial evidence is not collected at times.” The chemical tests are not done properly either.Rajshahi’s Wahida Sifat fell in love and married her classmate Md Asif. Their married life was not happy. One day in March of 2015, Sifat’s father-in-law called her brother over phone and said Sifat had committed suicide.There were injury marks on her dead body. Her face and nose were stained with blood. In four hours of first autopsy, physicians reported her death to be suicide. Sifat’s uncle filed a case on charges of murder for Tk 2 million as dowry.After 58 days, the body was exhumed and another autopsy was carried out. According to this report, a blood clot was found in her head and the death was said to be murder.The case was shifted from the Rajshahi Women and Children Tribunal to the Speedy Trial Tribunal in Dhaka.According to the verdict in last December, none of the charges for dowry or murder was proved beyond doubt. The accused party said Sifat committed suicide. Circumstantial evidence said Asif instigated her to commit suicide. Under the related section of the Criminal Code of Procedure (CrPC), the judge sentenced him 10 years’ rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Tk 10,000.Mafruda Haque Sutpa died in her in-laws house in Mirpur. Her brother Aminul filed a murder case. He brought charges that after their marriage, her husband Imrul Sadat and in-laws family tortured her and threatened to kill her.According to the autopsy report, it was suicide. In the verdict of the case last year, the metropolitan magistrate said as per circumstantial evidence, torture by her husband instigated her to commit suicide. The magistrate sentenced her to three years’ imprisonment. Sutpa’s brother Aminul said he had to return along with witnesses from the court many times. He went to the court for justice. The verdict disappointed him.False cases and compromiseCriminal Investigation Department (CID) inspector Md Ibrahim said the complainants sued everybody of in-laws house. Another inspector Nurul Islam said it takes time to drop the additional accused person from the case. In December of 2016, at the national judicial conference, a judge in his keynote paper said cases filed under the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act, 80 per cent of them are related to dowry. The majority of these cases are filed on charges of beating and injury for dowry. But in most of the cases, the matter of dowry was not proved.Lawyer Fahmida Akhtar said according to her experience over a decade said, women tortured in their in-laws’ home filed charges of being beaten for dowry, as there are no legal options. “The torture may be true, but when it is not proved, it is referred to as a false case.”Due to the long-drawn-out legal procedures, and also in consideration of the future of the victims’ children, the most of the families eventually compromise. Former public prosecutor Faruk Ahmed said he saw such two compromises between the defendants and the accused during his tenure. In one case, the complainant was a government official. At one stage, the complainant declined to continue the case. The public prosecutor realised Tk 2 million from the accused.*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Nusrat Nowrin.