As I begin to write this here in Dhaka, the media is reporting a rape every few hours, there are anti rape protests all over the country, there is resistance to the protests, and there is a proposed death penalty for rapists. And a common colloquial phrase keeps playing over and over in my head, “cheledershhaatkhunmaaf”, or literally translated, men can get away with murder, or seven to be precise. Well, can they?
From being offered the choicest pieces of chicken curry, to receiving double their share of inheritance, from having indulgent parents cover up their bad behaviour to having jealous insecure wives forcibly project their philandering onto the other shoytaanchalaakmeyemanush, I do feel that men are a very privileged sex, and that it is no wonder that rape culture exists here.
What is rape culture? It is a phrase that was coined by feminists in the 1970s, and it denotes that aggressive male sexuality is normal, and as a result assaults are inevitable and excusable. In this narrative, the women deserve or instigate rape when they do not display the requisite virtue and when they send out non - verbal signals, such as wearing provocative clothing, which the esteemed Mr Jalil very kindly pointed out to us. Other invitations to being assailed include not having a male guardian present or being sexually active.
Such a narrative does not explain why males then enter into homes and rape babies or why they abuse young children left in their care. Or maybe those actions do not constitute rape? Maybe I am just not understanding that if it is normal for males to be aggressive, then it is normal for females to be sexually submissive.
A bit like the marriage culture then, where the lokhimeye embodies a certain femininity, domesticity, and malleability, and if she does not possess the correct balance of these characteristics then her displeased unsatisfied husband is forgiven for going elsewhere; that, or her shrewish haranguing warrants a multiple perpetrator sexual offence foisted upon her. That would explain why young babies and children are violated too. That they understand the nuances of submission as early as possible, in order for their smooth transition into wifehood and its paradigmatic sustainability and safety.
In rape culture, the men feel entitled they can access women’s bodies in whichever way they wish, and without the fear of consequence. That is why rapists and gang rapists film the “events” and then threaten the victim that if she speaks out, the video will be released. They do not seem to fear that the recording will prove their own complicity in a crime. Instead, they are confident that the blame and shame will be aimed at the victim and not them, after all the videos will prove she was not submissive, and a woman being overpowered by a man or men is the “natural” order in rape culture. This order would explain why often there is no bystander intervention when an act of violation is being committed or that once the act is publicly exposed, the victim is repeatedly revictimized by being harassed or ostracised.
We live in a country which is unique as its Founding Father bestowed honour and dignity upon the Birangona, or the rape victims of the Liberation War, and therefore the rape culture narrative of aggressive men and submissive women is unacceptable. I am hoping the death penalty will send a strong signal that attitudes towards sexuality must change, and that metaphorically speaking, chelederkonokhunmaafhobena.
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