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Rape: Political power a factor for impunity?

  • Published at 01:56 pm October 9th, 2020
Dhaka Anti-rape protest
File photo: Students of Viqarunnisa Noon School and College (VNSC) demonstrating outside the main campus of the institution at the capital’s Baily Road area with anti-rape festoons and placards on Thursday, October 8, 2020, Mehedi Hasan

The protests following the recent spike in rapes brought the issue of the political identities of rapists into the limelight yet again

In the incidents of rape and violence against women, consequences are not always the same for offenders with or without political influence.

Offenders with political influence often enjoy a certain impunity as the very powers that are in place to ensure justice for victims can sometimes act against them. Victims do not feel safe to report such crimes to the police out of fear, said educationalists, rights activists, and jurists.

The protests following the recent spike in rapes brought the issue of the political identities of rapists into the limelight yet again.

Society and crime expert Tawohidul Haque thinks that just because the current protests managed to unmask some rapists nationwide, the trend would not continue forever.

Both the media and public forget the issues, and eventually stop protesting, over time. However, the criminals do not stop gaining political backup and an offender never becomes reckless overnight, he said.

Anti-rape protesters demonstrating with banners like “Boycott the rapist” in Dhaka’s Shahbagh on October 9, 2020 Rajib Dhar

The Dhaka University’s Institute of Social Welfare and Research teacher said that when a youth gets engaged in politics he follows a leader who already has other followers. That empowers him as an individual as he becomes part of a pack. The members become reckless and unruly when they find people fearing them as there are none to protest.

“Rapists know that they can be prosecuted but do not care when they feel that their political identity and backup is stronger than the victim’s family’s ability to fight back for justice,” he said.

Offenders believe that political backing exists to protect them and they often do not victimize someone who has a better social and political position than them, he added.

Also read - Protests against rape spree erupts at Shahbagh for 5th day

People fear political goons who have connections with political leaders and have their patronage, as evidenced by the recent rape in Noakhali. 

The gang rape survivor was raped at least thrice over a period of  a year by the same gang who are members of a local platform of the ruling Awami League. The survivor was threatened at gunpoint but the local public representative did not stand by her and she eventually had to leave her home in fear of her life and safety. 

The video footage of five men raping the woman went viral on social media platforms on Sunday and raised concerns among netizens. Only then did she file cases and police scrambled to arrest the rapists.

A few days before this incident, another woman was raped by a group of activists of the ruling Awami League’s student wing, Bangladesh Chhatra League. The rape occurred at MC College in Sylhet, in front of her husband. Locals said that the gang was also involved with other such incidents but no one dared speak up against them.

Civil rights organization Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) says at least 975 individuals were raped over the last nine months, of which, 208 were victims of gang rape. Which means, on an average, around 23 women have been gang raped per month.

Students started thronging in front of Shahbagh’s National Museum for the fifth day to protest rapes across the country on October 9, 2020 Rajib Dhar

Why do rogues get political backing? 

In this current political situation, leaders and activists share an unhealthy relationship.

Dhaka University’s political science teacher Muhammad Badrul Hasan said, in local politics, leaders and their subordinates have patron-client relations.

“For example, when activists commit petty crimes and land in jail, leaders come to their rescue. Leaders ensure their ‘security.’ In return, the rogues work for the leaders, carrying out every single order. It is part of power politics,” he said.

But Badrul thinks that political leaders should not legitimize rape by standing beside their followers who engage in such heinous crimes as it “creates havoc for justice seekers.”

Also read - Why do so many men rape?

The patron-client relationship is now common practice in the country's political scenario that started way back in the 80’s. It is now exercised at every level of politics — local, national, as well as in professional welfare bodies.

Practices such as this have helped develop the culture of impunity.

Political shelter a blessing? 

A dangerous presumption grows among followers that law enforcement will not touch them if they enjoy the patronage of political parties. They continue committing crime, from minor to major, such as rape, and eventually murder.

“They know that without that [party’s] shelter, it is not possible to commit crimes and they do not care about anything other than for the mentor in the political party,” said eminent jurist, Dr Shahdeen Malik.

“We witness, in some of the recent rape incidents where offenders with political identities are involved, that it was not their maiden act of crime. It was just a continuation,” he said.

Also read - Awami League leader arrested on charge of raping niece

Jona Goswami, advocacy director of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, argued that empowered rogues use rape and torture as a tool for showing muscle power against women.

“No matter which party is in state power, they give shelter to some unruly people,” she added. Even when victims get through hurdles to file even a general diary against rapists, law enforcement normally does not want to confront them.

Prolonged trial process and slow justice delivery are also awarding impunity to offenders. 

“If a rape case takes five to ten years to be disposed of, it means a long fight. A victim cannot drag the fight forward when offenders have political identities. She feels threatened and insecure in society, against her opponent. Nobody stands by her for years. We have seen many such cases that are eventually settled out of court,” she said.

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