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OP-ED: Shoot the kids, blame the phones

  • Published at 12:02 am October 1st, 2020

Society as a whole needs to reevaluate how it responds to rapes and sexual violence

Recently, the conservative society of Bangladesh has been having a field day regarding a crime of sexual nature that has taken place in Bangladesh. In their usual ignorant ways, instead of getting to the core issues of rape, they have been blaming it on everything from the clothes of the girls, to this being a sign of the apocalypse. 

Surprisingly enough, the crime itself was committed by a minor. More surprisingly, the conservative society of Bangladesh was quick to blame this on mobile phones as well -- which is weird, even for the particular subset of people I am talking about.

Technology is not the enemy

The fact that Bangladeshis blame anything and everything on the usage of phones has been a running joke among the more educated community for a while now, so much so to the point where it has been turned into a meme. But there is still a large number of people in the country that think that the main problem with this generation is technology. 

Never mind the fact that their extremist teachings are turning their kids into bigots. Never mind the fact that the daily beatings that their kids are receiving are damaging them in a more harmful way than mobile phones ever can. 

Never mind the fact that the way that the fathers argue and fight with the mothers have a profound impact on the kids, and can instill in them debilitating mental ailments such as trust and intimacy issues that the kids might not be able to break away from even after reaching adulthood. 

Whatever happens, Bangladeshi parents have always blamed the failing of their kids on smartphones and other technologies. So, while it is weird that the same group would choose to blame the usage of smartphones when it comes to something as serious as sexual assault, it isn’t that surprising if you think about it. 

Problem is, while letting kids use smartphones from an early age is not a good idea, it is also not the cause when it comes to the myriad of problems that our adolescents are facing -- which includes the toxic culture going on in schools (especially boys only schools) where things like eve teasing and minor sexual assault are normalized as part of the “boys will be boys" persona. 

And if the real cause of these issues is not looked at, rapes committed will be the least of our worries in the coming age. 

Coming to the scope of the article, however, we will mainly be looking at crimes of the sexual nature committed by minors here, and how our prevailing societal structures and parenting practices contribute to the problem. 

While we could look at the problems of children as a whole here, that would make this article ten times longer than it is already going to be.

The causes of rape

First, a refresher on the causes of rape. Contrary to popular belief, rape doesn’t happen because of the clothing of women or the lack of Sharia law, nor does it happen because of the porn that kids get to watch nowadays due to getting a smartphone at an early age. 

Sure, watching porn for a long time does have a prolonged effect on one’s psyche and it can lead to a warped world-view and unjust expectations when it comes to sex, but it is not the main culprit when it comes to the causes of rape. 

Rape has been around in our society for generations, and considering the fact that things like marital rape aren’t even treated as crimes in our society, it quickly becomes clear that porn is not the culprit here. 

There are different angles that look at the phenomenon through different lenses -- but they all intersect and generally agree that rape happens due to the power structures of a patriarchal society where boys are conditioned from a younger age to treat females as sexual objects that have no autonomy of their own, and the rape is the act of exercising that power by the boys.

If I were to explain this through an example: Suppose that the son of a powerful man has been stalking a girl in their village for a year. 

Due to his upbringing, his gender, and the power of his father, he too enjoys a position of power in his society. So, when the girl repeatedly says no, it comes as an attack on his power and authority in the male-dominated hierarchy of the rural society. 

As a result, the act of rape becomes an act for reasserting that dominance on his part -- which is only reinforced further when the bulk of the fault falls on the victims in these cases and the rapist is actually rewarded the girl in the form of a bride. 

To use another example, a vast majority of Bangladeshi men think they can have sex with their wives regardless of consent, even though any kind of sexual relation without consent is rape by default. But when you hear justifications like “why did I even marry her if I can’t have sex?” or “why do I need permission when she is my wife” or “I want to marry four women because my wife can’t have sex with me during her periods,” it becomes clear that in our society and culture, women are objects to be dominated, not to be treated as human beings. 

And in that context, god forbid that a woman speaks up and blames the man for rape. Because if she does, well, it’s time to bring out the pitchforks and blame the attire of women, while simultaneously wanting Sharia -- even though under both of those systems, the core problem would remain. 

‘Boys will be boys’

Now that we have looked at the causes of rape, let’s look at how these things are instilled inside the mind of a mere child. Boys by default are generally raised in an environment where toxic traits and a sense of control and authority are instilled in them from an early age. For example, in kindergarten, whenever girls do anything out of the ordinary in the playground, they get a stern reprimand both from the parents and teachers. But when a boy does something, his actions are laughed off on the basis of it being an act of boys being themselves. 

This discrimination contributes to building a sexist framework in the boys of our society from an early age. The kinds of things they hear at home such as “it was the woman’s fault” and that “she was asking for it” also reinforces this and leads to the rape culture, both within and across society in general. 

And even in families where domestic abuse is not present, verbal abuse towards the wife or even the general act of subjugation Bangladeshi wives face -- where they essentially act as servants of the husbands -- contribute to the problem. 

In theory, a secular education with a healthy dose of feminism and sex education would be a good place to start to tackle these issues that are found in the broader society. But since they are not included in the curriculum, we don’t get the benefits of these fields. For example, in sex-ed, kids would be taught about consent, their bodies, consensual sexual relationships, and how women are not sexual objects. 

But these things aren’t taught because the majority of the country don’t want their kids to learn about sex as they don’t want their kids to engage in sex. 

But kids eventually end up doing both anyway, as sex is as natural as eating, and because they learn about sex from their classmates or boro bhais, who in turn learn it from theirs. 

And the teachings that are imparted on these young kids during these sessions are far more harmful than porn can ever be, where boys learn that girls are maals and that teasing girls makes you “cool.” 

Going back to my own school experiences, the kids that were considered the coolest were also the most bokhate ones that engaged in teasing girls. 

Even then, it was treated as a trait of the “boys will be boys” theory. For example, these boys used to tease the girls openly in a coaching classes, but the teacher would just lightly reprimand and tell them to stop doing dushtumis. Keep in mind that he was a Dhaka University educated chemist, and considered a reputed teacher in the community. 

But to him, these acts were nothing but dushtumis. Even now, posts like “I used to stalk her, now we’re married” or “I used to disturb her on the phone, now we’re married” go viral, which show that incidents like these are not only normalized, but are also romanticized in our society. 

And since this kind of climate has persisted in schools for a long time now (a look at the popular “joke” involving NDC and two other colleges should make it apparent), it’s really not surprising that the overall culture of the country is spawning rapists as young as nine now, and if changes aren’t made (and I’m talking about real changes, not putting a ban on cell phone usage), it’s only going to get worse. 

The culture that has produced these rapists for generations is a culture that most Bangladeshis are proud of. We take pride in low divorce rates, even when that means that women have to put up with cheating and abusive husbands. 

So, when they inevitably see by-products of the system, it is normal for them to blame things that are foreign to the culture, such as feminism or cell phones. 

But if they truly want the betterment of society, they will have to change themselves. Otherwise, it will be their sons that will be featured in the news soon.

Nafis Shahriar is a freelance contributor.