Two weeks ago, Karishma Fatiha was on her way to a mid-term when she was almost molested by a stranger on the empty streets of Bashundhara Residential Area.
The perpetrator was a driver of a private car who approached her asking for directions.
It was raining heavily, around 4:00pm in the afternoon. Karishma, who is a student at North South University (NSU) was on her way to university when the car stopped her.
“I heard someone say: ‘Excuse me, Apu, can you tell me what this address is?’” Karishma told the Dhaka Tribune. He was calling from inside the car, so she walked over to take a look.
“He handed me a small piece of paper, but before I could even tell him anything, he reached out his hand and tried to squeeze my breast,” she said.
Karishma snapped his hand away in reflex.
And he tried again.
This time, Karishma began hurling abuses at him, so he sped away. The street was empty, says Karishma, and there was no one to help.
A timely outrage
Being groped on the streets of Dhaka is nothing new for girls and women. It is a reality so much a part of our system that most people have stopped reacting to it.
The shame and stigma around these issues further discourage women from reporting. Often, when some do try to confront their molester, there is a general resistance both from the public as well as police who often try to shrug it off as “That’s what boys do,” or “Chaira den” (Let him go).
That day, Karishma went on to post a long message on social media site Facebook about the incident because she wanted to address the issue of shame around it.
“If I can say it out loud – that I was molested today – then why can't any other girl have the rightful courage to say it too? Why is it a taboo in our society?” she wrote in a part of her Facebook post.
“I wasn't angry because someone tried to touch my breast. I was angry because women don’t speak up about this,” she told the Dhaka Tribune. “That’s what my post is about – I wanted women to understand that there is nothing to be ashamed about when you are subject to harassment. I wanted women to speak up.”
But the story went viral on Facebook. Lots of people – strangers and friends – reached out to her offering her their support and applauding her courage for speaking up.
A friend of a friend, who lives and commutes in the same area, alleged that the same thing happened to her just earlier that day.
Rounak Nur, another student at NSU, was also stopped with the same ruse by the same driver. But she managed to record the number of his car – which turned the entire situation around.
“I’d decided right then that I would do something about it,” Rounak told the Dhaka Tribune. So when she saw Karishma’s Facebook post later that day, she was ready to help.
‘My mind craved it’
Although the Facebook post soon spread, given the lifespan of protests on social media, it soon dissolved as well.
“Within a week, people had begun to calm down. They were beginning to forget about it,” says Karishma. “So I put up a post again, as a reminder, and this time with information on the car that I had received from Rounak.”
This time, friends suggested she contact Moja Losss?, an entertainment blog that has in recent times worked undercover to investigate various crimes, such as the April 14 public harassment of girls in the TSC area during Pohela Boishakh celebrations.
Once she was in touch with Moja Losss?, things were a lot easier. They referred her to Razib Al Masood, ADC of Ramna Thana, who then helped her catch the perpetrator.
Moja Losss? also helped track down the name and address of the car owner, a representative from the blog told the Dhaka Tribune in a phone conversation.
“We usually get lawyers who like to assist us with our work, but this time we had someone from BRTA’s IT section who offered to help us,” said the representative, adding that this helped move things forward.
Once the details had been worked out, the police brought in the car owner – but he did not match the image of the man Karishma remembered. She soon identified his chauffeur to be the molester through a picture shown to her by Razib.
It turned out that the driver, identified as Ujjal Biswas, had gone home to Gopalganj to celebrate Durga Puja. However, with the ADC’s persistence, police in Gopalganj tracked Ujjal down and brought him to Dhaka.
The girls went to Ramna Thana to identify the molester, and when Ujjal finally confessed, they were sick to hear him say he did it because “mon chaisilo bole” (my mind craved it).
After a tough week that moved the case this fast, the girls finally attended a mobile court hearing on Sunday, where Ujjal was sentenced to six months in jail.
Despite the case moving this quickly, the girls had hoped for him to get at least one year in jail.
“Whoever is determined to change would do so in one month, or in six months,” Razib said, adding that it was about punishing him for the crime and teaching him a lesson.
However, both Karishma and Rounak remain appreciative of the ADC’s help and immense support in the case.
“I never thought it would go this far. I thought it would just be shared among a few friends,” says Karishma, expressing hopes that others will start addressing similar issues henceforth.
The right rage
It has been two weeks since the rainy day when Karishma and Rounak unknowingly sparked a change in the community. Today, Ujjal is in jail, the girls are back to class, and social media has taken up some other issue to rant about. But this remains as a stellar example of what the power of outspoken words can do with the right kind of access – and the right kind of rage, as was Karishma’s.
This is not the first time a social media platform such as Moja Losss? has helped the citizens’ cause (although anonymously), and hopefully it will not be the last.
“We fuel encouragement where encouragement is needed, anger is where needed,” said the Moja Losss? representative.
And that is why it is equally important for the citizens to realise the power of their own voice, and stand up when needed.
As Karishma says, the point of her Facebook post was more about empowering women to stand up in such similar cases: “There is nothing for women to be ashamed of in these situations. We need women to stand up against it.”