Ms shabash takes on sexual harassment
Four years have passed since at least 20 women were sexually harassed during Pohela Boishakh celebrations at Dhaka University’s (DU’s) Teacher Student Centre (TSC) on April 14, 2015. While the sordid memory is dredged up ahead of the Bangla New Year every year, there has been no progress in the trial of the case filed over the incident. The Ain o Shalish Kendro puts the number of reported rapes in 2019 between January and May at 479. The actual number of incidents is likely to be much higher, as the majority of cases go unreported. Needless to say, our country has a pretty bleak track record when it comes to protecting the fairer sex.
There have been many opinions aired on how to tackle such a problem. There has also been tremendous pushback, as seen in the case of the madrasa student Nudrat, who was immolated for protesting rape. The protests continue in various forms – through articles and music, and art and awareness videos.
Ms Shabash, the mango-powered super hero who made her Mighty Punch debut on Women’s Day in 2015, has been fighting the patriarchy alongside all the local activists since the very first issue. After taking on the fairness industry and a jealous stalker, she turns her gimlet gaze on sexual harassment.
Issue #3 opens with Shabnam Sharif, the ‘real-life’ avatar of Ms Shabash, participating in the alpona painting on the eve of the Pohela Boishakh with her friends. She even slips away to switch to her alter-ego and speed things along in secret. As the new year dawns, she gets into celebration gear and joins her friends and colleagues at Ramna. Unbeknownst to them, a small gang of perverts spots the group and follows them around throughout the day. Things come to a boil just when the crowd is at its thickest, and the gang, blowing vuvuzelas to distract attention, swoop in to attack what they think are their hapless victims. To find out how it all goes down, you’ll have to check out the issue yourself.
What is impressive about Samir Asran Rahman’s story is the sensitive way in which he presented the story. There are light moments that don’t take away from the gravity of the situation, but it is not a heavy read. He creates a supportive, empathetic feminist ally in Shabnam’s male best friend, showing the contrast between toxic masculinity, and a strong, sensitive male who doesn’t lead with his ego. The comic makes it clear that the problem is far more complex than one group of miscreants acting out in one isolated event. The beautiful artwork by Asifur Rahman, which includes what is arguably the best Ms Shabash cover so far, brings the story to life.
At a time when young people are tired of heavy-handed moral and ethical lectures, comics like Ms Shabash, which deal with serious issues in a way that is more accessible and palatable are just the ticket. Ms Shabash #3, which has been sponsored by bbq Bangladesh, Country Natural and Eon Foods Limited, is now available at bbq Bangladesh restaurants, Meena Bazar outlets, PBS bookstore and rokomari.com