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The rot within

  • Published at 06:06 pm March 2nd, 2017
  • Last updated at 06:10 pm March 2nd, 2017
The rot within

My mother called me, near tears, the other day.

Apparently she has faced a situation just about every woman in the country with access to a phone has faced at one time or the other. It goes a little like this: Random guy calls you and asks for a random name, or asks where he has called.

It becomes clear that it is a wrong number, and you try to end the call. The guy calls back, and tries to initiate a conversation. When you make it clear that you are not interested in talking to him, he turns abusive, hurling everything from gross sexual innuendo to threats of physical violence.

Having grown up in an age where even telephones were rare -- forget smartphones -- my mother doesn’t know how to block calls, or report unwanted callers, or any of those things.

“But I am so old,” she kept telling me. “Why would he do that?” Swallowing down that same feeling of anger and helplessness and disgust that is pretty much bread and butter for women in Bangladesh, I tried to soothe her, telling her to ignore him and ignore the calls until I can get to her and block his intrusions.

By now, that awful Bunty Mir video has even managed to hit the newspapers. In case you are one of the blessed few who have not seen it, or missed out on the news altogether, I apologise for breaking it to you. A US-based Bangladeshi man recently made a video rant slamming Shaon Ahmed, the wife of the late Humayun Ahmed.

It is a value system where a girl cannot take a selfie with her brother without inviting lewd and lascivious comments, where wearing a hijab cannot guarantee immunity (not that it’s supposed to -- and if you remember, the late Tonu was a hijabi), where even inanimate objects can instigate a self-righteous lustful wrath

What one may surmise from the first few minutes of the video is that he objected to the fact that Shaon was apparently seen dancing with another man at a party, not five months after the death of her husband.

Whether she was right or wrong to do so -- assuming the allegations are true – cannot justify how, towards the end, the man was actually calling on people to strip her, and beat her up, and parade her in the streets.

With yet another March 8 coming right around the corner, we are tired of asking why it is that it takes so little for so many men to jump to thoughts of sexual violence.

There is something very rotten about our value system that makes sex a taboo and represses desires to the point where a woman cannot participate in the Pohela Boishakh celebrations, or any public celebration for that matter, without fear of being molested.

It is a value system where a girl cannot take a selfie with her brother without inviting lewd and lascivious comments, where wearing a hijab cannot guarantee immunity (not that it’s supposed to -- and if you remember, the late Tonu was a hijabi), where even inanimate objects can instigate a self-righteous lustful wrath, as evidenced by Hefazat’s umbrage at the “indecency” of the Lady of Justice statue.

It was high time we stopped asking wherefore and why, and started doing something.

It is high time we stopped criticising what other women are wearing, stopped making rape jokes about sports events, and stopped normalising sexual violence.

This is a problem big enough and insidious enough to require institutional intervention, and yes, it is truly shameful that even with women occupying the highest seats of authority in the country, so little has been done to make the country safer.

In fact, by weakening laws against child marriage, by relenting to extremist demands by allowing textbooks to be changed, the government is only making things harder.

The effort has to come from all of us, starting from the little ways in which we think, speak, and act.

These little things can snowball into real change.

And that will be a Women’s Day worth celebrating.

Sabrina Fatma Ahmad is Features Editor, Dhaka Tribune.