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OP-ED: Neither a feminist hero, nor a damsel in distress

  • Published at 09:42 pm August 13th, 2021

As a citizen, Pori Moni deserves protection of the law -- not a toxic media trial

Pori Moni is neither a feminist hero nor a damsel in distress. She is not breaking down any gender stereotypes, nor is she a woman in need of saving. All the flowery adjectives, heart-felt tributes, and the desperate attempts to paint her as a deeply vulnerable, powerless woman, are problematic. Because she is none of these things. 

One can infer from the video and audio clips obtained from the night in Dhaka Boat Club that she is a vindictive woman who possibly filed a false rape allegation, made a gross miscalculation in the process, angered the wrong people and, as a result, has spectacularly fallen from the power ladder.

Her fall provided a timely distraction from the more pressing issues currently plaguing the country -- a situation dangerously paralleling the state-led vilification of India’s Rhea Chakrabarty in 2020 following the unfortunate suicide of her boyfriend and Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput. 

Our tendency to often resort to extreme binaries -- either depicting someone as the root of all social evils or as a guileless victim -- leads us to miss most things in between. 

Unlike armchair activists’ attempts to paint Pori Moni as a naive woman who rose from the lower socio-economic strata of the society, and consequently did not know better, the actress was very much aware of the limited power she enjoyed primarily as a woman in the immediate post-#metoo era. Not only did she plausibly exploit the gains of this movement for her own interests, she took advantage of the “believe women” sentiment finding gradual acceptance in our society.

Many on social media also declared that the publication of the birthday video involving the actress and ADC Saklain is at odds with journalistic ethics.

It is important to note here that Pori Moni is a public figure, who went public with her allegation, who consensually, or out of pressure, had an affair with a senior police officer -- a public servant -- whose unit was currently investigating her case. This is a quintessential example of conflict of interest. 

The revelations in the video have indeed served public interest by exposing the gross misconduct of professionalism and the conflict of interest at play inside the police force. On these grounds, this is not an unethical breach of privacy; in the same way that whistleblowers shouldn’t be deemed “unpatriotic” even if their leaked information hurts their countries’ perceived national interests.

So, Pori Moni is not a feminist hero or a damsel in distress. But here is the thing though. She doesn’t need to be. Under the constitution of Bangladesh, all citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law. 

She can be whoever she wants, and still be eligible for due process and retain her civil liberties. You and I can find her choices morally questionable or at the minimum, dubious. But what we absolutely cannot do is deny anyone a due, unobstructed legal process. Neither should we make the mistake of establishing a false equivalence between Pori Moni’s alleged misuse of her identity and the oppressive measures that the entire state machinery has resorted to ever since. 

In addition, we need to ask ourselves why this woman has been arrested and repeatedly remanded on such petty charges, and why the media has been shamelessly hounding her. If the allegations against her comprise the filing of a false rape case, then there are legal measures that can be utilized, which does not necessitate a toxic media trial. 

The official narrative remains that Pori Moni is connected to very powerful people and the dark underbelly of the capital. Fine. When do the authorities then plan to lift the veil from these powerful people? From 10 to 1, what level of darkness are we talking about here? And why has she been arrested in a narcotics case that seems to have little relevance to the official narrative and serves little purpose other than generating public vitriol? 

The questions are endless, but sadly we are not very interested in them. All nuances have been lost on us.            

Nishat Salsabil Rob is sub-editor at Dhaka Tribune.

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