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Banished Bengali woman kills self, children

Associated Press / August 17, 2011

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DHAKA, Bangladesh - Bangladesh’s High Court launched an inquiry yesterday into the deaths of a woman and two of her children who jumped in front of a train after villagers decided to ostracize her over allegations of an extramarital affair.

A group of influential villagers in Habiganj district voted Sunday that Ferdousi Akhter, 35, should leave the community, after she was accused of having an affair with a neighbor while her husband was working abroad.

Akhter took her four children, aged 8 to 12, and jumped with them in front of a train later Sunday, killing herself and two of the children, police chief Moinuddin Chowdhury said.

The High Court said yesterday that it would summon Chowdhury and eight local officials and villagers to appear before the panel next Tuesday to give details of the incident and explain why it was not averted.

Human rights groups have urged the government to crack down on such gatherings of prominent villagers who meet without formal authority for decisions known as arbitrations. Activists say these panels abuse their authority by meting out punishments.

They sometimes operate alongside elected local councils, which do have the authority to rule on minor disputes over property and other issues, but must refer bigger issues and crimes to the police.

Atikur Rahman, head of the elected council in Habiganj, said he had looked into Akhter’s case two weeks earlier and exonerated her.

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