The law can provide justice for victims, but society must also change
Rani, a 20-year-old, studies in a private university in Dhaka. Despite being born into poverty, her parents named her Rani.
Despite their poverty, her parents focused on her higher education.
They believed education is the most important thing parents can bless their daughter with. They sacrificed what they could to help Rani pursue higher education.
They taught Rani humility and an appreciation for the things they do have. They borrowed money from lenders at high interest and sold their property, livestock, jewellery to arrange money for Rani’s education.
They sold their last resort to send her to an unknown destination in the hopes of building a better future and to keep the dream of the family alive.
The first time Rani came to Dhaka, she had never been this far from her home in all her life.
She was working hard to achieve good grades. Because of her resilient spirit, she was adjusting very well in Dhaka.
During weekends, she went out with her room-mates. Soon, she met a boy through a common friend. They spoke several times.
During her evening classes, he started to stalk her. Due to his inappropriate behaviour, Rani stopped communicating with him. Then, in one dreadful evening when she was returning home alone after class, she froze out of shock and fear, as the boy grabbed her clothes and dragged her somewhere.
A few boys cornered her, and one of them called her a slut. They kept yelling at her until she fainted.
They raped her brutally. When she came to her senses, they threatened to kill her if she reported them to anyone.
They also said everything had been video recorded, and it would be disseminated if she protested.
The trauma and the threats kept her awake all night. She became physically and emotionally fragile, and was suffering in silence.
She became depressed, started cutting herself, and withdrew from almost everything.
A few days later, her room-mates found her lifeless hanging body. Rani’s mother went half-mad with grief. She looked fragile like an aged piece of porcelain.
Her father lost his bearings for several days after the tragic demise of his loving daughter.
Her dear friends broke down when they saw Rani’s dead body.
Laws of the land
Rape is sexual intercourse with a person without one’s consent. According to section 375 of the Bangladeshi penal code 1860 (Act XLV of 1860) a person is said to commit “rape” if the person has sexual intercourse with another under circumstances like any of the following: 1. Without consent. 2. When consent has been obtained under duress ie via threat. A slight penetration is adequate to constitute rape.
Punishment for rape has been stated in both The Prevention of Oppression against Women and Children Special Act 2003 (Nari O Shishu Nirjatan Daman Bishesh Ain, 2003) and The Bangladeshi Penal Code 1860.
As per section nine of The Nari O Shishu Nirjatan Daman Bishesh Ain, whoever rapes a woman or a child shall be punished with imprisonment for life and with a fine. If in consequence of rape or any act by the perpetrator after rape, the woman or the child dies, the man shall be punished with capital punishment and also with a fine.
Every time we choose to ignore or walk away from such barbaric acts, we put some other girl in danger
If more than one man rapes a woman or a child, and that woman or child dies or is injured in consequence of that rape, each perpetrator shall be punished with death penalty or imprisonment for life; and also with a fine. It also says that whoever attempts to cause harm to the victim after committing rape, shall be punished with imprisonment for life and also with fine.
According to section 376 of this Penal Code of Bangladesh, whoever commits rape shall be punished with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to fine, unless the woman raped is his own wife and is not under 12 years of age, in which case he shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
Laws alone cannot curb the social evil
In many cases, the perpetrators start off by committing less serious offences like lewd remarks, stares, whistles, stalking but lack of support or protest from victim’s family and ignorance from the victim’s side can lead them to commit more serious offences like rape, acid attack, and even murder.
In many cases, the victim remains silent as the family of the victim and the people of the society at large stigmatise the girl rather than giving her support and protection.
Some parents even choose to keep their daughters at home rather than protesting the heinous act of the molesters or they marry the girl off at an early age to protect their so called honour and safety.
And, therefore, cases like Rani’s are still occurring every day. Many girls have taken their own lives — lives, which had been loved and nurtured dearly.
A father’s love for her daughter is endless and unconditional. There has never been, nor can there be anything as precious as the love of a father. But a few weeks ago, a father committed suicide along with his eight-year-old daughter Ayesha, by jumping before a running train, after failing to get justice for his daughter’s rape.
There are many existing laws to protect the rights of women, but law alone is not enough to prevent this malady, unless we change our mindset. Every time we choose to ignore or walk away from such barbaric acts, we put some other girl in danger.
A rape victim and her family in our society face a lot of harassment, discrimination, and obstacles in every step. The victim has to go through a lengthy period of agony because of the close-mindedness of the people of our society at large.
Laws cannot fix a torn heart and body, but it can at least secure a girl’s right to justice.
Miti Sanjana is a Barrister-at-law from Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn and an Advocate of Supreme Court of Bangladesh.