The women of Bangladesh have made giant strides. They have become astronauts, statespersons, scientists, authors, armed forces officers, pilots, and even day labourers, slowly but steadily catching up with their male counterparts in almost every field which was once dominated by men.This is clear manifestation of what girls can achieve when given opportunity.
But shocking it may be, in this age of freedom and equality, there are still pockets of darkness where women are still confined within the four walls of their own house. However, with social progress and the spread of education it is hoped that those women or their next generation will be able to come out and explore their potentials.
But what is most disturbing and despicable is a section of men’s perverse outlook and attitude for which women and girls so frequently find themselves in the cross-hairs of eve teasing, molestation, rape, acid attack and other dreadful situations. Harassment of girls on the street during this year’s celebration of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s historic 7th March speech is a grim reminder in this regard. At least four college and university going girls alleged that they faced sexual harassment at different roads adjacent to Suhrawardy Udyan on that day.
A college girl posted on her facebook page “Could not catch a bus even after waiting for one hour at Shantinagar intersection. Went to Banglamotor on foot only to find myself amid a procession. Around 15-20 people surrounded me...many were trying to take video clips and still photos of a girl in a college uniform being harassed. The button of my uniform tore off and the scarf was removed. They slapped me... my two hands couldn’t save myself from so many hands. A police officer rescued me and helped me find a bus....there’s no bruise in the body except severe pain. I’m mentally horrified but physically fit. I won’t stay in the country of these pigs. I won’t stay in the country of those who molest a girl shouting ‘Joy Bangla’. Won’t stay. Won’t stay....”
The facebook post went viral but the victim was apparently forced to hide the post. Subsequently, her parents filed a case but so far police didn’t make a single arrest in this connection.
Another female student of Dhaka University wrote, “Oh God why did you give me only two hands? How can I tackle so many hands with these two hands?” She further wrote, when she got rid of the beasts after much struggle, she heard an elderly man who witnessed the incident saying “You deserve it. You knew there would be crowd on the streets. Why did you come outside?”
This incident is reminiscent of the Pahela Baishakh incident of 2015 at TSC on Dhaka University campus when groups of hoodlums surrounded several women and tried to rip off their clothes. At that time several left-leaning student organisations protested the incident but they met with heavy-handed police crackdown. As if they did a crime by seeking justice! Lessons have been learnt. This time around there is hardly any protest. It is not understandable why the teachers who often launch vehement protests to press for their various demands remained unmoved to save the honour of their female pupils.
What a country we are living in! Women are so powerful politically, and yet, so helpless socially!
After some warnings were sounded by the high-ups, there has been no concrete action, neither in 2015 Pahela Baishakh nor in this year’s 7th March sexual assault case. Although in recent times we witnessed speedy trial of some sensational sexual assault cases, law enforcement agencies are surprisingly inactive in some selective cases. Apparently, miscreants are escaping trial and punishment mostly because they either belong to a political party or are from a very rich, powerful family. Such laxness only emboldens sexual predators to defy the police, social norms and values.
Indulging criminal behaviour of leaders and activists is self-destructive for a political party because when an activist sees his fellow party members are not punished for sexual offense and other crimes, why would he think raping or harassing girls on the street as a crime? This type of criminal behaviour is highly contagious, and thus the party may end up becoming a den of criminals. And a criminal not only does harm to society but also to the very party to which he belongs.
We hope not to see any political party sheltering criminals. There are CCTV footages of the assaults on Dhaka’s street. The law enforcement agencies should take the matter seriously and punish whoever was involved. At the same time concrete and effective measures should be taken so that women can move freely and safely across the country. Appropriate police vigilance and response could at least help in controlling the spread of the villainy.
Though sexual harassment on Dhaka’s streets is rather of recent origin, it has already become a deep-seated social malaise of almost ineradicable nature. It is prevalent across all economic classes. Almost every day young girls in village areas are being teased on their way to school. Some of them are being kidnapped and raped, and murdered. On the other hand amongst the urban educated class, the harassment takes place more subtly by alluring women with false promises. Quite a number of teachers were accused of raping their students by promising first class or threatening to fail them if they do not submit to them. Similar pattern can be seen in the offices, where women are prey to their bosses’ lustful demands. Most of the cases go unreported because of the social taboos and victim blaming.
We have to fight this menace on several fronts. First of all the women must speak out; when they endure sufferings in silence, not only they don’t get justice but also help embolden the perpetrators. So if the victims protest and lodge complains through proper channel, then half the battle is won already. Secondly, we need to put more emphasis on effective policing and bringing justice to the victims so that they can live with the satisfaction that those who have ruined their lives did not go unpunished.
Last but not least, there is a need for education on social behaviour towards women. Education on how to treat women with due respect, that sexual harassment is not acceptable, and that it is not her dress or outside exposure which is to blame, should be started from family and continue in educational institutions. Well, many will argue in the same vein of the old man who blamed a victim of 7th March incident. Such argument doesn’t hold water just for the same reason you cannot cut off a head to cure headache. So, it is all about men’s attitude which needs to be changed. Nothing is more despicable than depraved men who look down upon women of whom they are born.
The writer is a journalist