On January 8, 2021, the English dailies here in Dhaka reported an alleged rape and subsequent death of an “O-level Student” in Kalabagan
I have many a chinta on the matter. It is January 12 today and having already published a rant about rape culture less than three months ago, here I go again. This time it is not so much about the act itself, but about the language and perceptions surrounding it.
Firstly, based on the reports, and please note that details of the case are emerging as I am writing, I wonder why the victim is referred to by her academic qualification, and if so, then why not the alleged perpetrator(s) as well. The papers could have stated that an “A-level Student” or “students” is/are accused of raping a younger associate instead of “O-Level student raped”. On the one hand, the media decries attacks on women, on the other, it loathes to take an active voice and firmly state that men do sexually assault women. In this case, it could be that boys educated in the English medium stream are thought to be more eligible for the job and marriage market and less capable of crime, but that does not justify the finger pointing at the victim and not the self-confessed culprit.
Secondly, how does the language the victim was gaining her academic qualifications in, bear any significance to the rape itself? If girls are educated in English medium schools, they are considered “smart” because their English might be better than those in other educational systems. As such schools are co-educational, the female students allegedly have more interaction with boys out of their familial networks. The implication then, by referring to the victim as an “O- Level student”, is that what occurred may not be a transgression because she was familiar with the accused and that she was bold enough to visit his home unchaperoned, of her own free will.
Thirdly, usually, the papers refer to victims by their age or developmental stage or status, but in this case, her maturity became debatable as the suspect who took her to the hospital claimed she was 19, while her parents said she was 17. The girl must have identification with her date of birth as she has been enrolled in academic institutions, and that should not take much time to uncover. It is astounding that the suspect is being given credibility about the victim’s age, even if they knew each other, or, that an autopsy is required to determine it when her parents and documentation are available. Furthermore, what difference does her age make if she has been assaulted? It is still an act of brutality, whether she is 17 or 19 or younger or older.
Fourthly, why is the event less of a crime if the girl voluntarily went to the alleged rapist’s home or more, if she was tricked or coerced into doing so? The fact remains is that she was alive before she visited him, as evidenced by her call to her mother, and dead when the suspect took her to the hospital, as corroborated by the duty doctor. The autopsy revealed that she haemorrhaged to death because of violent intercourse, that it was not an act of suicide. Then why are her agency and intent factors to consider? The undertone is that if a girl chooses her own comings and goings, that she is somehow responsible for her own misfortune, but if a boy chooses to rape, the girl was asking for it.
Fifthly, it has been reported that the suspect’s family have distanced themselves from him and the crime, bemoaning that the public is unfairly holding them responsible for what occurred. They may not be directly involved, but they must be aware of his personal history, whether he had mental health issues or a tendency to be violent. They may not be answerable for the incident itself, but they are complicit in concealing his character traits and the significant events in his development. Also, if a victim’s family is liable for her whereabouts, then a suspect’s family can be accountable for his wrongdoings.
Once again, as with all the rape cases, I am observing the double standards, the hypocrisy, the reluctance to admit that this was a crime of a brutal nature, and the greater effort to absolve the boy or boys of their guilt, then to secure justice for an innocent girl. Unless we address our underlying biases regarding gender, power, class, and agency, such instances will be relegated to the annals of media sensationalism, with the women in this society remaining vulnerable and exposed to exploitation and abuse.
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.