Monday, June 17, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

In solidarity with the unnamed

Update : 12 Dec 2017, 07:20 PM
The cropped elbow on Time magazine’s cover photo for 2017 Person of the Year has created a lot of buzz lately. According to Edward Felsenthal, editor-in-chief of Time magazine, the cropped elbow belongs to a woman who chose to remain anonymous while sharing her story of sexual harassment. He added that she is meant to represent everyone who endures sexual harassment and assault in silence -- the ones who fear coming forward publicly because of social stigma, lack of support from family, loss of employment, and other reasons. The decision to include her in the picture without revealing her identity carries a profound message of solidarity with all those who choose not to share their plight publicly. It rejects the notion held by those people who label women choosing to suffer abuse silently as weak, or those who criticise women for not speaking up immediately. It assures women that their allegations do not become implausible just because they feel that they need time to speak up. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), roughly two out of every three sexual assaults go unreported and that out of every 1,000 rapes only six perpetrators go to jail. A study by Ain O Salish Kendra in Bangladesh has found that out of a total of 493 rape cases between January and October 2017, only 312 cases have been filed.
It is unfortunate that our country, which is working toward its vision of a Digital Bangladesh, has still kept a colonial practice like the two finger test alive
On the other hand, only 48 of a total of 89 attempted rape cases and 119 out of 177 gang rape cases have been filed. The reasons behind the statistics above and why rape goes unreported include social stigma, mental and social restraints, lengthy court proceedings, and many more. The infamous two-finger test also prevents rape victims from breaking their silence. The notorious test has been deemed unscientific, and has no forensic value according to esteemed medical professionals, law enforcement agencies, and government officials. In fact, such a test can be a traumatising trigger for rape survivors. It is also a grave violation of their fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 27, 28, 31, 32, and 35(5) of the Constitution. In light of these facts, Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), after months of research and consultation, filed a writ petition along with five leading human rights, women’s and development organisations and two medical experts. The petitioners argued that the “two finger test” violates the physical and mental integrity, and dignity of women and girls. The High Court Division had issued a ruling asking the secretary of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the government of Bangladesh, secretary of Ministry of Home Affairs, director general at the Directorate of Health Services, and the inspector general of police as to why the test should not be declared unlawful. The Court also issued an interim order to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to set up a committee so as to develop a comprehensive guideline for police, physicians, and judges in violence against women and children tribunals on the assessment and treatment of rape victims. The current status of the writ is that the case is pending for hearing before the High Court. The Ministry of Health has also formed a committee to comply with High Court’s order. Nevertheless, we are still in need of legal reforms and a more effective criminal justice system in order to encourage rape survivors to speak up. It is unfortunate that our country, which is working toward its vision of a Digital Bangladesh, has still kept a colonial practice like the two-finger test alive. In fact, it is not only the two-finger test that is a remnant of our colonial legacy that we need to do away with; we are yet to eradicate provisions like S 155 (4) of the Evidence Act 1872 -- which allows questioning the character of a rape survivor in order to determine the credibility of their claim. It is of paramount importance that we take measures to eradicate the obstacles which force the victim to remain silent. This can be done through funding the training and monitoring of forensics, providing therapeutic treatment, and emotional support to rape survivors and those who have experienced sexual harassment in any form. While it is important for us to realise that there are existing obstacles that need to be removed, it is equally important for all of us to stand in solidarity with those who hesitate to come forward publicly. We must send the message that all women are strong in their own ways, be it the silence-breakers or those who choose to remain silent -- behind every moment of silence there is an untold story of pain or sadness, and it is crucial that we understand that.Tahsin Noor Salim is a Researcher at BILIA.
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