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Dhaka Tribune

Rape in Subarnachar: Where looms the spectre of sexual violence

During an investigation into three cases of gang rape in Subarnachar, Dhaka Tribune found they were linked to several other rape cases.

Update : 31 Aug 2019, 01:04 AM

They were sleeping when a group of men barged through the main door, tied up the husband and took turns raping the wife at gunpoint. It was the first prolific incident of violence in the immediate aftermath of the national polls.

And just when the gang rape was about to turn into another statistic, reports of another gang rape, this time of a sixth grader, from the same region, caused a little commotion. Fast forward another month, and between January 1 and March 31, a total of three cases of gang rape had been filed with the Subarnachar police station in Noakhali. By August 30, the number of cases went up to eight – almost one a month.

In this desolate strip of land by the Meghna, born of the river’s silt, sexual violence serves as a potent weapon. When used as a threat against women and children, it is terrifying. But investigation has revealed that it has found an additional use in Subarnachar. Taking into account the pariah status surrounding suspected rapists and social pressure to act against perpetrators of sexual violence, some residents of the char find that filing a rape case against an opponent is an effective detractor.

Chars in Bangladesh have always been chronicled as contentious battlegrounds, with feuding factions fielding hordes with rudimentary tools turned into makeshift weapons. But physical confrontations have given way to legal containment. 

During an investigation into three cases of gang rape in Subarnachar, Dhaka Tribune found they were linked to several other rape cases.

What brings the charges?

In this fertile char, rape cases have been filed for numerous reasons. Police sources and locals say that reasons range from family disputes, refusal to marry after physical intimacy, and domestic animals eating crops, to land disputes and political rivalry.

The same plaintiff could be found filing multiple rape cases against several people. And in some cases, the plaintiff was also accused in rape cases by other people, sometimes the accused in their own cases.

Eighty-five-year-old Aminul Haque moved to Subarnachar before the 1971 Liberation War.

Also Read- In 8 months, at least 8 rapes in Subarnachar

He said: “These things [rape accusations] did happen before the war, but they have become alarmingly frequent these days.”

Inspector (Investigation) Ibrahim Khalil, who has been posted in Subarnachar police station for years, said: “Most cases are filed out of frustrated relationships. When a couple break up, the woman often feels betrayed and file a case. In my experience, I have found an alarming number of cases filed by women who are married to brick kiln workers. When their husbands are away for months, they find paramours, which ultimately lead to rape cases getting filed, either by the husband or the wife.”

The police and locals said the tendency to file and settle rape cases insinuates that the cases were filed for other motivations.

Humayun, a 49-year-old from Char Jabbar, said: “Sometimes people do not repay their loans. What do you do? You file a rape case.”

Wali Ullah, 65, a long-term resident, said: “People used to file dacoity cases in the past against their opponents. Now they use rape cases, because they know the government [police] focus on these cases more.”

A cobweb of cases

The latest gang rape took place on the night of August 15 in Alauddin village inSubarnachar’s Mohammadpur union. Dhaka Tribune found three additional rape cases connected to this.

A 14-year-old girl on her way to visit her ailing sister was gang-raped around August 15 midnight. According to the girl’s father, she was asked to visit her older sister by Jamal Ali, her brother-in-law. 

Jamal filed a case against six people, naming four.

During the visit, 15 villagers told Dhaka Tribune that they believed Jamal, with the help of his wife, had set up the incident. The four accused in the case live within a few miles, and have tangled with Jamal.

Jamal has a past history of filing rape cases, according to locals and the police. His father-in-law says the two have not spoken for over a year, because “Jamal is a bad person, he has two wives and gambles throughout the year.”

According to locals, Jamal is also involved in running a prostitution ring in his own house.

The girl’s father also said he has not spoken to his daughter after she was raped. He tried contacting his older daughter, Jamal’s wife, who did not respond to his calls.

One of the accused, Sohel, is the older brother of a girl whom Jamal was accused of raping in 2015. Jamal served a few months in prison and has been out on bail ever since. The girl said Jamal had threatened to take action against her brother for sending him to jail.

Jamal had also accused his neighbour Abdul Haque Kabir of raping his daughter. 

According to Kabir, he had leased his land to Jamal. Afterwards, Jamal filed the rape case and Kabir fled the area to evade arrest. With Kabir out of the picture, Jamal laid claim to the land.

However, when the police submitted their investigation reports to the court, Kabir was declared innocent and he returned to his home. The land continues to be under Jamal’s control.

Jamal claimed he had bought the land from another person and denied the allegations.

In 2015, Jamal and Sohrab Hossain contested over fishing rights for a stretch of the river. Sohrab said Jamal had instigated a woman to file a rape case against Sohrab and three others.

However, the woman withdrew the case immediately for unspecified reasons.

Dhaka Tribune tried contacting her to no avail. However, it has been learnt that she has been married since.

The latest case filed by Jamal is set to go to trial in court soon. Dhaka Tribune has learnt that the medical report, which is yet to be officially submitted to police, has found “signs of sexual intercourse” on the teenager’s body, but no “signs of forcible sexual intercourse” were found.

On August 4, a 25-year-old mother of one was raped in her home allegedly by three men in Char Mojammel. She had been living in her father’s house after her husband died two months ago.

She accused her neighbour Nurul Huda of rape, and two others, Delwar and Nur Uddin, of aiding him.

She said the accused had longstanding land disputes with her family.

The medical report obtained by Dhaka Tribune said there was evidence of sexual intercourse, but no sign of “forcible sexual intercourse.”

The police investigation found that since her husband’s demise, the widow had grown intimate with a local named Noor Alam, who had land disputes with the accused.

Dangers of trivializing rape

By throwing around rape charges, it not only induces a situation where aspersions are cast on genuine cases of rape out of exasperation with ill-motivated rape cases. Given the frequency of sexual violence incidents that occur in Bangladesh, and an outdated definition and punishment of rape in law – adhering to The Penal Code, 1860 – it is an alarming symptom which may make it difficult for the real victims of sexual violence to receive justice, and be imitated by others to frame their opponents.

Dhaka Tribune correspondent Ranajit Chandra Kuri in Noakhali contributed to this story

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