The owner of a hotel in Kushtia was detained on Monday after an American female freelance photojournalist claimed he repeatedly tried to gain access to her room in the middle of the night.
Bishwanath Das Bishu was picked up by police around 1pm from the Chhoy Rasta intersection in the town and taken to Sadar police station for several hours of questioning over the allegation, which he denied. His detention followed an executive magistrate order issued earlier in the day, asking police to investigate the matter.
According to Kushtia Sadar OC Shahabuddin Chowdhury, sometime during the late afternoon, Bishu was produced before the Cognisance Court of Judge Mesbahul Haque, which then sent him to jail under section 54 of the CrPC.
Police did not seek his remand.
“We will investigate the case and submit a report to the court,” Shahabuddin added.
Boston-born photojournalist Allison Joyce told the Dhaka Tribune that she went to Kushtia to cover a story on child marriage and checked in to the Kheya Hotel around 4pm on March 5.
Her “nightmare” experience started when she was woken at about 12:30am because the proprietor, Bishwanath, and his staff were being loud in the hallway outside her room.
“I went out to tell them to be quiet, but Saha (Bishwanath Saha Bishu) came and stood in my doorway, preventing me from closing the door. He was drunk and rambling incoherently, telling me not to shout in the hallway,” Joyce said.
[caption id="attachment_52179" align="aligncenter" width="800"] The email Allison Joyce sent to Kushtia Sadar OC and a local Awami League leader on March 9. It was accepted by the deputy commissioner and the police superintendent on Sunday DHAKA TRIBUNE
“After about two minutes, I managed to convince him to go and let me shut the door. I went back to sleep and 30 minutes later this whole thing started,” she said.
Bishwanath – one of the four owners of Kheya Hotel – has claimed that he and several other staff went to talk to Joyce about a complaint she had made about noise pollution from nearby places.
However, Joyce's written complaint emailed to police and a local Awami League leader on March 9, states that Bishwanath had tried to break into her room at 1am.
“He was sh*t-faced drunk. For 30 minutes he knocked, called my phone, tried to open the door and demanded the master key from the hotel staff. I was a woman travelling alone,” she wrote.
She had also enclosed screenshots of her mobile's call records.
“There would have been more calls but I put my phone on airplane mode for a while to stop the ringing,” she stated in the complaint.
With a little help from locals
Local journalist Ali Ahsan, who had been working with Joyce on a story, went to the hotel immediately after hearing from her. They checked out and searched for a suitable hotel on his motorcycle, following a rickshaw that carried her luggage.
At 3am they went to Rose View Hotel but Joyce was refused a room.
“They refused to accept me as a guest as I am a woman,” she said.
Police are now verifying this allegation.
With Ahsan's help, Joyce finally managed to get a room at an NGO dormitory at around 4:30am.
Initially, Joyce did not report her experiences to police and was more concerned about spreading word of the incident.
Her Facebook post, however, soon drew the attention of her friends, many of who reacted with horror and disappointment. Some Bangladeshis also apologised to her or promised assistance. Another poster advised her to take legal action, describing the incident as “a disgrace for the people of Kushtia and the nation’s image.”
A broader network of students, cultural and human rights campaigners and legal experts based in Kushtia soon came together through Facebook, rallying around Allison’s post. As the news spread, people started demanding the punishment of the alleged perpetrator.
Buoyed by the show of support, Joyce wrote to OC Shahabuddin and Awami League leader Sufi Faruq Ibn Abubakar on March 9, demanding an investigation.
“Please tell me, how much do women in Bangladesh need to put up with? The incident with Mr Saha and the Rose View Hotel need to be looked into and I trust that you will take these incidents very seriously,” she said in the email.
After receiving a copy of the complaint on Sunday, the Deputy Commissioner of Kushtia Md Zahir Raihan ordered an investigation into the matter.
‘How much do women in Bangladesh need to put up with?’
Joyce told the Dhaka Tribune that she has felt uncomfortable while travelling alone in Bangladesh before.
“There have been dozens of instances where hotel guys have lingered too long in my room or knocked frequently to ‘check if I need anything’,” she said.
“I had a guy use a key to get into my room to spray for mosquitoes when I was half-dressed. These stories are not rare. They are common to all women who travel here. The difference is that I posted on social media. Most women do not.”
Joyce observed that Bangladeshi women are hesitant to report harassment because of social pressure and that they do not travel alone as much, which she feels is a “huge shame.”
“I hope this can start a conversation and that more women will speak out when they encounter harassment like this,” Joyce said.
A tough place to leave
Joyce first came to Bangladesh in 2010 and has been travelling between Dhaka and Mumbai regularly over the past couple of years, visiting many towns and villages to pursue stories.
Her “most bittersweet trip to Bangladesh yet” was in October last year, when there had been “many tearful conversations with friends regarding recent events, but there was even more laughter, joy, smiles, surfing, music, and dancing.”
Sharing a photo of Dhaka city taken through the window of a plane when returning to India “reluctantly” on October 11, Joyce said: “Dhaka, you are a hard place to live in, but an even tougher place to leave.”
Hopeful about the country’s future, Joyce added: “Bangladesh has a long road ahead, but I am filled with hope for the future because this country is filled with the most gracious and kind-hearted people I have ever met.
“Bangladesh, ami tomake bhalobashi [I love you]. Abar dekhe hobe [see you again].”