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The ugly side of love

  • Published at 04:48 pm February 13th, 2019
At_Feb 19_Special Story_1
Photo: Sydney Sims

When love turns to obsession, someone gets hurt

Love and attraction are celebrated all over the world. But sometimes, the most heinous acts are carried out in the name of love. Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) gives us the numbers. Out of 120, 97 women and 23 males were harassed by stalkers. There were also two cases of acid attacks on women recorded last year on the basis of conflict related to love affairs.

In the context of Bangladesh, women are more vulnerable than men in regards to being assaulted by males, for refusing to marry or rejecting a proposal, or sexual advances from male perpetrators.

In an institutional set up, what we get to see is often women face harassment by male colleagues in position of power. Sheepa Hafiza, Executive Director of Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), said, “Position and power in the society play an important role behind such misconducts.”

Runa Laila, now an NGO worker, is an acid survivor who was attacked by a local youth in 1998 for rejecting his marriage proposal at the age of 17. “Since neither my family nor I accepted his offer, he threw acid to exhaust his anger.” 

Shielded by the law

Due to government initiatives to combat against the acid attacks, both the Acid Control Act 2002 and the Acid Crime Prevention Acts 2002 worked as a fuel to decrease the numbers of attacks, but it is still prevalent. The government’s control over acid supply has certainly reduced the number of acid attacks, yet, similar unpleasant incidents occur in the society in different forms, for example, an increased number of gang rapes or assaults by stalkers.

According to BRAC Gender Justice and Diversity monitoring findings of 2013, 68 percent of female students faced harassment in front of schools and surrounding areas.

Suraya Akhter Risha, 15, an eighth grader of Willes Little Flower School and College in Kakrail, was stabbed in front of her school by a local tailor of Eastern Mollika Shopping Complex in 2016. The perpetrator had been harassing Risha over the phone and stalking her for a few months. She died three days later at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital. 

Even though hundreds of rape cases are gathering dust in court, in 2009, the Supreme Court issued groundbreaking directives to prevent sexual harassment at the workplace and in public places.

While elaborating on the directives on sexual harassment, Sheepa Hafiza said, “Humans harbour such a vindictive approach towards any kind of denial by the other person that people end up displaying violent behaviour. And when any wrongdoing remains out of trail, it encourages others to do the same.” 

The guidelines instructed by the court must be followed in all public and private sectors and educational institutions. “However, till now there is no separate and complete law formulated for the prevention of sexual harassment. Government should focus on this matter to reduce harassments,” she said.

Why women are more at risk

It is not like men don’t get sexually harassed or encounter violence, but there is a dominance of female victims. Farjana Sharmin, Psychotherapist, Acid Survivors Foundation says, “In our context, it is often perceived that women have no right to say no and if it is about love, she has to say yes. Furthermore, the most prevalent way of thinking in the patriarchal society is that men hold power over women.“

In response to rejection, men express their vengeance with the mindset that since they cannot get the girl, no one else can be with them either. 

Sanzida Akhter, Associate Professor, Department of Women and Gender Studies echoed Farjana. She said, “What we observe is that, traditionally, no one really cares about what women think or want while taking any decision. They believe women do not have a say.”

This mindset of the society puts women in a threatening position since they’re born.  

Media holds responsibility too

Media, for example films, drama, music and advertisements, has an immense impact on human beings because, subconsciously, people have a tendency to imitate what they watch on celluloid. In many South Asian movies or dramas, even music videos, the expression of love through stalking or touching inappropriately is romanticized. 

Referring to the song “Chumki cholechhe eka pothe”, Sanzida Akhter said, “This song is undoubtedly a provocative one. This song demonstrates what the opposite sex’s possible take might be when a woman is alone. We have been fighting against eve teasing for years, but when such content is being created, it will only worsen the situation.” 

Psychotherapist Farjana illustrates the psychological approach to it. She said, “The portrayal of different social notions on media has a deep impact on human psychology. Each person has their own way of taking it. It is a common tendency of humans, especially the young generation, to perceive anything done by the hero, even if it is morally wrong, as right.”  

On the other hand, social media platforms, such as Facebook, play a significant role. Social media is a hub where any human being can avail any information based on their taste. And a lot of the content are automatically pops up on the screen by default, based on a the user’s gender or previous searches. “Through these platforms, anyone can get in touch with content or news related to violence. And that might trigger the criminal mind as well,” said Sheepa Hafiza.

However, all these platforms can be employed to disseminate rightful information, and build awareness among citizens. Sanzida Akhter informed that, at present, many contents as such are being created, but the ratio is much smaller than what it should be.  

What should be the family’s responsibility?

As a social institution, the family has a significant role to play in changing the mindset of the society. Farjana said, “When a boy is accused of harassment or stalking a girl, the boy’s family usually doesn’t teach him that he cannot violate someone’s individual privacy; rather, they focus on other issues, like his education.”

In case of a girl, parents, together with the society, blame and mistrust her. “However, blaming the family will not solve the problem. Family participation is inevitable, but most of the parents don’t know what to do and how to deal with the situation. The state has to come forward in this regard by taking necessary steps,” Sheepa Hafiza added.  

Love is not all about exchanging emotions through flowers. It is, however, about understanding our responsibilities and the consequences of our actions.