The rape survivor’s name has been changed to protect her identity
12-year-old Halima hides her slight frame under a heavy black hijab framing her face. Her eyes are bright, defiant, while she tells a harrowing tale of sexual abuse.
“He locked me in a room and raped me for 17 days.”
The incident is horrific enough on its own. A 12-year-old child is taken into the home of the accused, 38-year-old British-Bangladeshi Sarwar Ahmed from Beanibazar, Sylhet, to care for his twin toddlers.
The man puts himself in a position of trust, and then uses it to hold the child hostage and rape her repeatedly, for days on end.
According to Halima’s parents, two other domestic helpers at Sarwar’s home, Imam Uddin and Sufia Begum, were brutally assaulted by him as well and allegedly also sexually abused Sufia.
Sarwar’s family denies all such allegations, claiming that the entire story had been fabricated and politically motivated. According to them, Halima’s family is connected to a man named Moshtaq Ahmed, former UP member of Lakkhiprasad Purbo Union in Sylhet’s Kanaighat upazila.
“He is part of a circle that files false cases against people and then blackmails them,” said Mokhlesuddin, Sarwar’s cousin.
When questioned, Moshtaq laughs off the allegations: “I’m the only one who came forward for this helpless family during their dark times.”
Abused again and again
Halima’s story is full of sexual abuse from an early age. She was gang raped just days before she was brought to Sarwar’s home to work.
“Do you know what they told me when the girl first got there?” asked Sarwar Ahmed behind the grills of Sylhet’s Central Jail.
“She had been gang-raped only a few days before coming to our house.”
This alleged rape was also confirmed by the victim - “They took me to an abandoned house and kept me there for three days and repeatedly raped me.”
The perpetrators in question are her cousin Jamiruddin, and his accomplices Ajiruddin and Mojiruddin. At the time, Halima was living with her father’s brother. Once Sarwar was arrested, these men were taken in by RAB for questioning, but released due to a lack of evidence.
Sarwar also claims that Halima was abused by Moshtaq as well, and he was pinning the case on Sarwar as a means of deflection after being found out.
At this point, conflicting testimonies suggest that during the span of only a few months, 12 year old Halima could have been potentially have been raped by five different men.
[caption id="attachment_73530" align="aligncenter" width="900"]
Sarwar’s residence where the 12-year-old girl was allegedly held captive for 17 days Dhaka Tribune
Not the only victim
Back at Halima’s hometown of Eraligul, her aunt was quick to dismiss all allegations against her son. According to the other accused - Mojiruddin, also a ward member under Lakkhiprasad Purbo Union, Halima and her family are only pawns in a political game.
“I have defeated former UP member Moshtaq in the last election, and since then he has been plotting against me.”
However, the Dhaka Tribune has found that Halima was not the only child to have been raped in the area.
On September 25 last year, 10 year old Sultana Begum came to Halima’s house to play. Halima’s older brother Abul, who had been cutting bamboo with two of his friends, asked his sister to send her friend to them.
Five days later, Sultana’s battered body was recovered from the same location. The child had been gang raped, killed and buried on a ridge.
When police questioned Halima, it was her innocent statement that led to her brother’s conviction. Fearing retribution, her parents ran away, abandoning her to their nearest relatives.
Halima’s brother Abul was apparently ex-UP member Moshtaq’s man, hence his ties with the family. But one interesting fact also comes to light through this revelation - one of Halima’s alleged rapists, Ajiruddin, is in fact the uncle of the deceased child Sultana.
Who did it, and does it matter?
Did Sarwar rape Halima? Did Moshtaq rape Halima? Did Jomiruddin and his accomplices rape Halima? Is it a false case of blackmail, or political rivalry? Is it revenge rape for her brother’s crimes?
We may not know the answer to these questions, but we know that Halima is a victim of repeated abuse. If her version of events is true, she has been subjected to some of the most brutal forms of sexual violence. If the cases turn out to be false, Halima is being used as a pawn by her own family. At almost every step, she has been let down by people in positions of trust.
And in this case, there is one other obvious victim - Halima’s friend Sultana. A child of only ten, raped and murdered - only a stone’s throw away from her house.
It’s hard to imagine such a horrific event in the beautifully remote village of Eraligul, set against Meghalaya’s rolling hills and next to the banks of the Surma river. Even harder still to imagine just how many more Sultanas and Halimas there are in all corners of Bangladesh.