The woman at the centre of an anti-rape photo which went viral on Monday has said there will not be any justice for the women victims of Bangladesh until everyone acknowledges that rape is a crime.
The powerful image of Afsana Kishwar Lochan holding an anti-rape poster atop footbridges in Uttara quickly spread from Facebook to mainstream newspapers and portals.
For Afsana - who works at a private bank and describes herself as a “mother, writer and activist” - it is a matter of concern of how the gravity of a rape can diminish in the public eye by the time activists are able to organize a protest or movement.
“The issues that surface on Facebook are temporary – one gets traction for a while and then people move on to the next one,” she told the Dhaka Tribune.
“Social issues are the same, so I thought that I could not let this issue [of rape] get trumped by any other issue. I thought what happened to Beauty and Nusrat should not disappear from the discourse of concern and with that consciousness, I stood in protest.”
Afsana staged a one-woman protest against rape on Monday. She stood on the footbridges at Uttara’s Rajlokkhi and Azampur areas with an anti-rape poster which read: “It is only possible for a man to put an end to rape. #Be_A_REAL_MAN #STOP_RAPE.”
“Rape is rape, it’s a crime,” she said. “Until everyone acknowledges that it is a crime, there won’t be any justice. Everyone should admit that it is not a matter to make light of; it is related to people’s lives.
“What I meant by ‘real man’ is a real human being who lives without causing any harm to others and society.”
Afsana and her activist friends are part of a Facebook platform called Women-Safe Network which began in 2016 to raise awareness of rape crimes.
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Afsana Kishwar Lochan is an official of a private bank, a mother, an activist and a writer Saikat Bhadra/Dhaka Tribune
“We started interacting with each other about what we could do to spread more awareness,” she said. “Later, we felt we should look at the continuity of reporting, investigations to bring the perpetrators to book, and the public discourse on the matter.
“We, activists, don’t monitor the incidents enough… the stories [of the raped] lose public attention. This is what we realized.”
When asked about how everyone reacted to her bridge protest, Afsana said: “Everyone has been asking me why I decided to do it, and for what reason … It is not something I have done for myself, I did it on behalf of everyone.
“If more people stood with me or elsewhere the visibility [of anti-rape awareness] would be more. I did it so that the movement goes forward, so that everyone thinks if an ordinary person like Afsana can stand in protest alone, so can we.”
Afsana said she had been inspired by the recent movement on gun-violence in the United States.
She said: “Around 800 marches came together and all of those protesting were young people of 18 to 19 years. The only question that I asked myself was: ‘Where are our 18-19-year-olds?
“I am a middle aged woman, why do I have to do this movement? I asked myself, ‘Where are our 18 to 19-year-old young voices?’ And to evoke this consciousness in people, I stood on the footbridges with a poster.”
When asked what else could be done to spread awareness, she said: “I think we can build up spreading awareness online but that does not reach 17 crore people. I doubt it reaches 1% of the population.
“To spread awareness we – those who are working on it – need to go to the grassroot level. If we could start working with schools and get the mosques and temples involved, then it will be easy for us to increase awareness.”
When asked how she decided the handwritten text for her poster, she said: “I did it whimsically on that particular day. But my friends and I realized if we don’t get the men involved with this [anti-rape awareness] then it will be difficult to put an end to rape. Nothing will happen, women alone cannot do anything about this. So the idea came from there.
“After dropping my daughter to school, on my way back I thought I have a child who is a girl and there are girls like her around us. I asked myself: ‘Who would fight for them?’ I came home and I wrote the text quickly and within ten minutes I stood in protest.”