The grandiose celebration of the historic March 7 speech on Wednesday saw a slightly different Dhaka. Thousands marched in rallies, and transports were scant. Under these circumstances, at least four women were sexually assaulted.
The brave women shared their sufferings on Facebook. But their complaints were nearly drowned out by the sea of condemning and condescending remarks and threats. Instead of sympathizing with the victims or condemning the perpetrators, too many social media users blamed the victims and called their allegations lies and fabrications, so as not to mar the garish felicitations of the day.
But sexual assault in Bangladesh has never cared for special occasions. The Pohela Boishakh celebrations in 2015 saw a vicious mob of 30 men surround several women and rip off their clothes. The entire incident was caught on CCTV footage, but nobody was punished.
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A young woman who walked to Bangla Motor from Shantinagar looking for a bus found herself near a rally. According to her, around 15-20 men ganged up on her, tearing at her clothes, groping her fiendishly. Some of the bystanders had the initiative to record the sexual assault on their phones, but not to step in. A police officer intervened, dragged her out of the crowd and put her on a bus.
The second incident took place inside the Dhaka University campus. When a female DU student took a rickshaw from Shaheed Minar to Shahbagh, her path was barred by another group who proceeded to soak her with water, and then pull at her hair.
The third incident is similar to the second – a group of “patriotic” rally members decided that water bottles were not meant to be used for drinking, but rather for drenching women who are passing by.
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A young woman, accompanied by her mother, was going to a hospital to dress wounds suffered in an accident. She wore a scarf wrapped around her head and face, with a shirt and pants. They were stopped several times by similar mobs, who found her attire unworldly.
“Why wear a scarf when you’re wearing a shirt and pants? Where are you going? Take us along.”
On Thursday morning, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told reporters at the CIRDAP Auditorium that authorities have obtained CCTV footage and will identify the perpetrators and take action regardless of their political identities.