The Banani rape case at the Raintree Hotel, amongst other incidents, has made it imperative that Bangladesh take a good look in the mirror and sort out a veritable existential crisis that it is going through.
Especially when it comes to the way it treats the women who are part of its burgeoning population, contribute to its economy, inhabit the 147,000 square kilometres or so of its land.
It has become necessary, at least, to have a conversation, amongst the very people who take space in this country, from you and I in the middle, to people perched on the topmost rung and the ones clinging on to the lowest.
Apples and oranges
Conversation has, however, erupted out of the remnants of the case. From opinion pieces to Facebook statuses, everyone in the country has something to say. But much of it isn’t new.
But that’s no surprise. Some of it does bear repeating:
1) Women’s sexual history does not matter.
2) What they wore doesn’t matter.
3) No one “deserves” to be raped (yes, even the rapists themselves, but I suppose that’s another argument, for another portal).
These are some of the basics. In keeping with the Abraham traditions, when the forbidden apple is bitten, blame it on Eve. It seems, in many instances, Satan works through the female of the species.
Why do these thoughts persist? Education? Sure. Impunity? Definitely. A majority that believes in the way certain sexes are supposed to be?
Much of this has been said, and it has been said plenty. In fact, maybe too often?
Why? Because these words get limited breathing space. They are heard by people who already agree, or by those who’ve heard it enough to not pay any heed.
Not that words aren’t powerful. Maybe a mind is changed. Maybe two. Through the pathos of the incident, there must be someone who decides to tread the path devoid of victim-blaming.
But far too few, far too rare.
Going back to the issue of Bangladesh’s existential crisis, it would be a mistake to think that victim-blaming is a solely lower class, previous generation issue. Even the progeny of “educated” upbringing hold on to such thoughts.
Much of it one may never find out, unless one is a trusted friend. Having experienced the overwhelming arguments against rape culture in their social strata, they hide behind well-veiled pseudo-sympathetic statements of agreement.
This is something I’ve experienced first-hand (and I think many have too, and have not spoken up because, like me, they did not wish to break the status quo with the individual in question). As a person worthy of trust, they will reiterate common adages: “Of course, what did they expect would happen?” and “In these parties, these things are common, and the girls know that things like that are expected to happen,” and “I don’t mean to be sexist but clothes like that do trigger assaults.”
Sometimes it’s evident in the way they boast of their sexual prowess, and how long they can last in bed. They’ll move with ease through the social ranks, their so-called masculinity on display, but without consequence.
What do we do? We sit back and listen. Maybe not all of us, but some of us. I, myself, will not shy away from the blame.
Much of it has to do with the fact that, otherwise, these people are “good” in most senses of the word. How do you define good? Do they harm others? No. Do they care for their parents, their friends, their husbands and wives, their children? Yes. Are they religious? Most of the time.
Let it be, we say, they’re not harming anyone. They would never change their minds. These thoughts are ingrained.
I suppose when Hefazat has to come out and issue a statement, we are scraping the bottom of the barrel. But why do these thoughts persist? Education? Sure. Impunity? Definitely. A majority that believes in the way certain sexes are supposed to be? Of course.
(We must also understand that we, too, believe in “supposed to be’s.”)
A lot of the things we do may prevent a certain generation of people from a certain class from attaining the same mindsets as that of sexual predators. But what of the rest?
What of the husband in that unnameable village who rapes his wife every night? The rickshaw-puller who stares at the sleeveless-kameez ladies on the street? The huzur who teaches your kids Arabic but believes the word of God to a T?
To delude ourselves into thinking that there isn’t a conversation to be had between you and these people, because you are somewhat on the same page, won’t fly. Bangladesh is no Eden, least of all for women.
A lot of it stems from the villainisation of the culprit, the dehumanisation of his being, the extrapolation of his actions from all context. Rapists are not born out of a vacuum; they are bred, either by circumstance or influence.
This, if anything, we must understand.
There is little as disheartening as living in a country where the very act of being a woman on the street is an act of rebellion. The system itself believes them to have been borne out of shame, guilt, and wrong-doing.
The Banani rape case is newsworthy. The countless others are missed statistics, invisible stains on the bedsheets of violent oppression. What do we do, in this state? With our overlords giving the likes of Hefazat, and what they believe, more and more of a platform, are we merely, with these words, consoling ourselves?
Or is there, through better understanding, a way out of this hell?
SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune.