Rupa -- her name literally meaning “silver” -- was a golden girl. An independent young woman who took the reins of her fatherless family from an early age.
But, just as she was about to take full control of her life and that of her family’s, by finally getting a job, her life was ended brutally -- not by a traffic accident, nor an incurable disease.
Perhaps I’m wrong here. Maybe it was a disease that took her life -- a disease that still ails our society.
Rupa was the victim of a brutal rape and murder by a gang of monsters. The driver and helpers of the bus she was on were supposed to protect and guarantee her safe travel to her family. But instead they became the perpetrators of a heinous crime.
How many girls must be raped and killed to awaken our society and the government and deal with the epidemic of brutalities against women in a determined and robust way?
In the little over two weeks that I spent in Dhaka in early August 2017, I read newspaper reports on the rape of a college girl in Bogra, a northern district, by Tufan Sarker, a thug who doubled as council member at the local government.
Taking advantage of his political connections, Sarker ordered his underlings to kidnap the college girl from her home -- his savagery not limited to his act of rape.
When the girl reported the crime, she and her mother were hauled out of their home, had their heads shaved, and then paraded in public.
This was a sheer spectacle of the power of Tufan Sarker, because, through that not-so-subtle message, he let everyone in the community know the consequence of going against his might.
The government took swift action in arresting the miscreant with the ruling party expelling him from their ranks. Time will tell if and when he is going to face the full force of law. So far Sarker and certain members of his family are in custody.
A four-year-old girl in a Dhaka squatter settlement was raped and killed by a 35-year-old ex-con as reported by the Dhaka Tribune on July 31. Victims of rape are not limited to a certain classes either, as a teacher was raped by six men after school in a classroom as she was preparing to return home with her husband in Barguna in mid-August.
In societies such as ours, rape is a show of male power. The rape and death of Sohagi Jahan Tonu, a student of Victoria College within Comilla cantonment, is still under investigation. The snail’s pace of ensuring justice for the raped further emboldens perpetrators.
However, the examples cited above are only the tip of the iceberg.
Not just harrowing statistics
According to Ain-O-Salish Kendra, a human rights NGO, from January to June 2017, 280 women were raped, of whom 16 were killed, five of them committing suicide in order to save their “honour.” Of the 280 victims, 20 were children aged below six, and 64 were between the ages of seven and 12. Of the 280 victims, 74 were gang-raped.
According to Sishu Adhikar Forum, 1,301 children were raped between January 2012 and September 2016. According to Bangladesh Mohila Parishad, in 2016, 1,050 women and girls were raped, which included 166 gang rapes and 44 being murdered after they were raped.
In some countries, rapists are publicly punished. The public nature of such punishment maybe unacceptable to our civilised sensibilities, but they do send a clear message
The number of gang rapes in 2015 was 199. According to a study conducted by BRAC, 1.7% of all children were raped in Bangladesh, on an average, in 2016. What can we do to tackle this epidemic of violence against women and children?
Basic tools against violence against women and children
First, drop euphemisms such as “eve-teasing” -- harassment is harassment. It is a violation of a person’s rights and should be dealt with as such.
Second, we often talk about the best practices ranging from governance, improvement in education, and sports. Law and administration of justice should not be exempted from such topics of discussion.
The law in countries such as Singapore, where punishment for sexual molestation includes caning, should be considered -- because, in many cases, punishment works.
Third, raising social awareness and bringing out the good in people through public education can be an ideal path.
But, at the same time, harsh punishment is something that people like Tufan Sarker or the perpetrators of the Rupa rape/murder will understand better. In some countries, rapists are publicly punished. The public nature of such punishment maybe unacceptable to our civilised sensibilities, but they do send a clear message, and can be considered as a short-term deterrence.
Moreover, a national commission should inquire into the epidemic of rape and publish a report -- and based on their recommendations, the laws should be amended. Implementation of the law, and ensuring fair trials are also areas where we need to focus.
According to NHRC Chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque: “88% of the accused in cases linked to violence against women, including murder, rape, and torture are being acquitted.”
If Bangladesh wants to be a middle-income nation, young women like Rupa first must have the freedom to travel by themselves, regardless of the time of day, and not be raped and murdered.
Habibul Haque Khondker is a sociology professor at Zayed University, Abu Dhabi.