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Hiding behind empty words

  • Published at 07:23 pm May 8th, 2017
Hiding behind empty words

On March 28, two young girls in the city went to a birthday party at the Raintree Hotel. What was meant to be a fun night out turned into a night of violence, perpetrated by the sons of some very influential members of society, who held the girls at gunpoint, raped, and videoed them.

Let’s get one thing straight -- this is not unusual in Bangladesh, and there is no point pretending otherwise.

In the last week alone, an 80-year-old woman was raped in Narayanganj, a 15-year-old boy was detained for the attempted rape of a nine-year-old, and a 60-year-old man raped a mentally-challenged woman in Madaripur. Last month, teenagers as young as 13 raped a seven-year-old child in Shariatpur.

According to Ain o Shalish Kendra, from January to March 2017, there have been 93 recorded cases of rape in Bangladesh. These are only the recorded ones, and there is still no database recording the sexual abuse of boys and men.

This is exactly how insidious rape culture is in our society.

A break in the silence

What is unusual about the Raintree Hotel case is that the young women decided to step forward, despite initial police resistance to taking their case because of the influence of the men involved, and despite the threats they received.

Once this news gained traction, social media exploded with demands for the perpetrators’ arrest.

What is, sadly, not unusual, is the amount of victim-blaming that happened in the aftermath.

I don’t want to go into the tired old argument of why “decent” girls from “good” families still have the right to go out by themselves. What is plain as daylight is that we still live in a society where even its educated and well-off members do not believe in our inalienable right to do what we will with our own bodies.

Let’s not even talk about how abortion is still illegal and marital rape is still very much legal in our country -- we live in a society where people genuinely consider behaving in an “indecent” or “unwomanly” way a worse crime than using your power to brutalise another human being’s body.

Just to put things into perspective, last week, a teenage rape victim from Norail gave birth to a baby outside of wedlock. After going through such a traumatising ordeal, what do you think the young mother did?

She literally flushed her baby down the toilet and ran away.

Can you imagine how much fear and shame a person would have to feel to do such a thing?

But before you shake your head at the ignorance of the poor, please, look at your own families and your own friends.

We live in a society where people genuinely consider behaving in an ‘indecent’ or ‘unwomanly’ way a worse crime than using your power to brutalise another human being’s body

How many of you are more worried about your children having sex before marriage then say, them growing up to be respectful and kind human beings?

How many of you teach your daughters to be demure and respectable, and give no such lesson to your sons?

How many of you have heard these stories and called for revenge, without stopping to question the toxic masculinity that you yourself employ in your everyday life?

The wrong response

Even the way we protest says a lot about the values we hold dear. One of the most common responses to sexual violence is calling for castration of the perpetrators -- a clear symptom of the fetishisation of human bodies that we constantly employ to dictate to young women what they should or should not be doing.

We also compare them to beasts, but dehumanising rapists cannot change the fact that we are the ones who collectively create our gendered society that allows the trivialisation of rape, and makes some women more “rape-able” than others, like sex workers and women from minority groups.

Listening to well-meant advice and respecting your family and elders is one thing. Allowing them to treat you like property, using your virgin body to measure the extent of your family honour is completely different.

A lot of people have discussed why the families of the victims allowed the girls to go the parties in the first place.

It’s a sentence women from our social strata hear all too often: “Your father has given you a lot of freedom.”

But enough is enough. My freedom is my own, not a commodity to be handed down to me by the men in my life.

The only time it was given to me was in 1971, when a lot of men and women of this country gave their lives so that we all, not just men, could be equal citizens in a free and democratic nation.

We will no longer allow you to hide behind empty words like honour and tradition and take our freedom away from us.

Shuprova Tasneem is Deputy Magazine Editor, Dhaka Tribune.