Mohila der dosh: ek matro chinta
On June 26, one Rifat Sharif was attacked and assaulted with a sharp weapon by a group of men in broad daylight outside the Barguna Government College in Barisal, in the southern part of Bangladesh.
Bystanders captured the spectacle on camera, and the video clip clearly shows Sharif’s wife Minni desperately trying to protect her husband from being hurt, while people watched on. Rifat subsequently died, due to the severity of his injuries, at a local hospital.
I have been following the case with its twists and turns, its accusations and counter-accusations, and I have been completely horrified by society’s craving to find a female ‘fall guy’ so to speak, or a woman to implicate as being primarily responsible for the murder.
It began with terming Minni the “key” or “chief” witness, almost as if she was the main observer. Well, it occurred in a relatively crowded area, and unlike the many lay witnesses, she jumped into the fracas trying to fend off the attackers, and could have been hurt herself. Others, who watched and filmed the horrific attack taking place, made no attempt to intervene to save Rifat, but somehow it was Minni’s character that was later dissected, and not theirs.
From witness, she then became the accused, and the following are the “evidence” that indicated Minni was guilty:
- When the attackers suddenly pounced on Rifat and began dragging him away, apparently she walked behind them at a normal pace. That was for a minute, or maybe two; and as she was filmed from behind, we were unable to see her face or her expression.
- After the attack, when the blood-covered Rifat walked away by himself, she did not immediately follow him, and she was not in the ambulance when he was taken to the hospital.
- The sensational revelation, without any proof, of her brief marriage to the “chief attacker” -- a young man of great disrepute who called himself Nayan Bond, and who was stalking her. If anything, that gives Nayan motive to avenge the failed marriage and not Minni. Why would she collude with her ex-husband to kill her present husband?
- A statement made by her father-in-law to the media saying that she had been involved in his son’s killing, about ten days after the two main perpetrators Nayan and Rifat Farazee were allegedly killed in a crossfire by the police.
It is disturbing that Minni is considered guilty of murdering her husband without motive, without clear evidence, and without even a trial. It goes back to the cliched narrative of a shoytan meye being the undoing of a bhodro chhele.
The unspoken general consensus seems to be that if Minni had not been who she was, had she succumbed to Nayan’s harassment and had she not married Rifat, then, of course, none of this would have occurred, and therefore she is guilty and therefore she ought to be put away.
This is the part that is the most worrying. Minni demonstrated agency by choosing which man she wished to be with, and also by trying to stave off the attackers. And usually, if young women have agency, society deems them chalaak, and once they are chalaak the unfettered chalaaki will abound and cause destruction. Till date, Minni stands guilty by speculation and gender bias.
Chintamoni grew up in Dhaka, where she will always belong, but never quite fit in. She is an enthusiastic traveller, a compulsive procrastinator, and a contumelious raconteur.