A rational look into this horrific aberration is much needed
As per newspaper reports, within the first eight days of the year, seven people were physically violated, of which five were minors. State of Child Rights in Bangladesh reports that in 2017, 593 children were raped, which was 446 in 2016.
This means that in one year, rape of minors has risen by 33%.
Obviously, the real number of violations that take place are much higher, and many do not get reported simply because society in general, has a perverse nature of often shaming the victim or looking at the victim, if she is an adult, with askance.
In countless reported cases, we have found that the perpetrators were given the chance to marry the victim, reportedly to save her from being stigmatized.
The question is, why would a girl have to get into a marriage with a person who used brutal force and other abominable tactics?
We are told that in a recent case, a child was lured from her home with the promise of a lipstick, violated, and then killed.
There are several ways of looking at rape. We can either be emotional, raising a hue and cry, or approach this grave aberration from a rational angle.
The core reasons need to be found instead of relaying a vague message -- blaming it on a growing unease in society.
The pink demons and rising rape
When minors are molested and physically violated, there will be outrage, naturally, though simple anger won’t help us find the root of the problem.
Social scientists have identified addiction as a major cause. In fact, it’s the ubiquity of the pink demon, yaba, which can be pinpointed as a cause because many abusers start taking yaba initially as a libido enhancer.
These users want an aphrodisiac that will work miracles without realizing that yaba not only provides instant boost of energy/stamina, but also diminishes considerably the ability to differentiate between right and wrong. In simple language, yaba brings out the beast in a person.
The main fear from yaba is that it decimates a sense of ethics. Too many modern-day criminals are hooked to the drug, with many grisly crimes linked to criminals who take the drug to increase a sense of invincibility and reduce a feeling of guilt.
When yaba first appeared in the glittering fashion and entertainment circles in the early part of the millennium, disguised as a party drug, tablets were distributed with the promise that they elevate the mood and provide sexual energy.
That belief still lingers, overshadowing the other macabre side effects.
The government’s crackdown has taken many peddlers from the roads, but the kingpins still remain, and unless the masterminds are nabbed, houses searched, yaba-fuelled rape cases won’t fall.
The necessary evil
In the 60s, 70s, and 80s, the country had several brothels which operated as legal spots for sexual relief -- putting aside the hollow moral argument, these establishments served a purpose.
In the name of preserving the moral fibre of society, the brothels in Narayanganj and English Road in Dhaka were demolished without providing for the sex workers, who became victims of exploitation and disease.
In reality, prostitution in Bangladesh operates with a peculiar double standard: Sex workers operating in cheap hotels are often arrested with the establishments busted, whereas in five-star hotels, the same trade goes on, although this time layered with opulence, ostentation, and adequate security.
Common sense dictates that, instead of uprooting brothels, there can be strictly regulated ones where the government will offer necessary health and hygiene facilities, with provision for education, skill development, and a chance to take up a different trade based on individual choice.
The abolition of the English Road red light area did not end prostitution; in reality, when the area existed, sex workers lived as a community, looking after the needs of one another.
This is not to say that exploitation was absent. However, they had a place to live and stay safe from outside persecution. On the other hand, people needing intimate physical companionship had an option, albeit for a price and without emotions.
The sole purpose of the brothel is to ensure that social harmony is not disturbed and, when needed, people can find relief without having to break the law or commit a crime.
From the current situation, it seems that this vice is only permissible for the wealthy and not for the average person. Reminds me of Oscar Wilde: “The poor cannot afford anything but self-denial; beautiful things, like beautiful sins are the privilege of the rich.”
Forced puritanism hardly works since without a proper establishment, sex workers mostly operate in circumstances of grave risk. One wonders what can be achieved by adopting a pseudo-moral façade when reality demands certain necessary evils to be present.
Interestingly, within 5km of Elephant Road, there are six licensed bars which have thriving business in the evening and yet, they never seem to trigger a furore about values being eroded -- the outcry over virtues being diminished only arises in the case of prostitution.
A rational look into rape is needed instead of preaching absurd lines like we must all live within a framework of religious values. Because in reality, this may not work for many, and coercion will only lead to deviant behaviour.
In the end, innocent children will be victims while we foam at the mouth asserting a preposterous and quixotic social creed.
Towheed Feroze is News Editor for Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.