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Asking for it

  • Published at 11:29 am May 9th, 2017
  • Last updated at 01:43 pm May 9th, 2017
Asking for it

Bangladesh is a terrible country for women.

Our so-called economic achievements (the formidable growth rate, the dynamism of the RMG sector, etc etc) mean nothing, not a damn thing, if a woman cannot so much as commute from her home to her workplace without the fear of harassment, assault, or worse.

Reports of rape and sexual assault are so common that our eyes glaze over when we read about them in the news. It doesn’t even feel like news anymore.

Another octogenarian raped.

Another school-going child raped.

Just another day in Bangladesh, right?

So here’s the latest: A case was filed with Banani police alleging that two men assisted by three others participated in the rape of two university-going women.

This time, the story is getting an unusual amount of traction -- and that is largely due to the fact that the chief accused, 26-year-old Shafaat Ahmed, is the son of one of the owners of Apan Jewellers, one of the most recognisable names in jewellery in Bangladesh.

Shafaat’s alleged co-rapist is the 30-year-old Nayeem Ashraf. According to the case that has been filed, the girls were raped at gunpoint, while someone videotaped the scene.

Another octogenarian raped. Another school-going child raped. Just another day in Bangladesh, right?

Now get this: Some five days after the case was filed, a single person was yet to be arrested in connection.

In fact, police were at first reluctant to even take on the case. Could it be that this was because the father of the accused was rich, and rich people cannot be charged with rape around here?

Far be it from me to pronounce a verdict on this matter -- that is a job for the law courts. But the fact that the police were unwilling to even take this case or make any arrests shows a deep sickness with which our whole system is infected.

So two young women, raped and videotaped at gunpoint with five young men in the room, threatened for weeks that they better not come forward to police, finally make the courageous move to come forward.

They finally gather the courage to utter those words in front of the authorities: That they were raped.

Our official response? To not take it seriously. To be afraid of consequences. To be afraid of some bigshot jeweller  or what his boys might do.

What it must be like to walk into a police station full of men -- uniformed officials steeped in a time-honoured tradition of misogyny and bribe-taking -- to stand in front of an officer and admit that you were raped.

What it must be like to admit that you were raped in a country that will shame you and blame you for your own victimisation.

To come forward in a society more interested in asking what a young girl was doing out and about at a hotel with a bunch of guys, instead of demanding justice for a crime in which she was clearly the victim, and the young men were the perpetrators.

Rape is one of the worst affronts to human dignity. It is one of the most terrible violations of the sanctity of the human body, male or female.

Yet, in a country where the majority of the people claim to be religious, time and again we behave like rape is no big deal.

We tell women to cover up to avoid harassment. We curb their freedom of movement until any kind of life is choked out of them, and when they have the gall to dress nice and go out and make independent decisions, we scrutinise, we judge, we pass comments.

I can already hear a rebuttal coming: I am being too harsh on Bangladesh, some (men) will say. Sexual violence happens all over the world, they will argue, why hate on our country? Don’t rapes happen in North America, in Western Europe, in the rest of Asia?

But ultimately, we know deep down that the “it also happens in other places” argument is a cop out. If you’re not convinced, try this for a thought experiment: You have four daughters. They’re all, say, in their 20s. But through some twist of fate, they live in different countries. One lives in Toronto, one lives in Oslo, one lives in Singapore, one lives in Dhaka.

One day, as coincidence would have it, they all call you (separately), to let you know that they are at a bar full of drunken men, unsupervised, it is late, and they will be walking home alone.

Which one do you worry about the most? Come on, be honest.

The journey towards recovery begins with admitting that we have a problem.

Abak Hussain is Editor, Editorial and Op-Ed, Dhaka Tribune.

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