We must do a better job of protecting the young women of Bangladesh
The recent arrest of a serial rapist called Ridoy, a young man in his late twenties, accused of luring and abusing young girls with promises of stardom, is proof that visions of glamour and fame have not lost the capacity to cloud common sense.
Ridoy, who had a sizeable following on TikTok, reportedly presented himself as a model plus a social media celebrity, and then spread out an elaborate trap for girls craving a tantalizing piece of social media glory.
But Ridoy’s transgressions are but an evolved format of an age-old swindle which has its roots in the 80s.
Perhaps in the current context, celebrity status can be found by being present on countless social media platforms but 30 years ago, the trick was to seduce young attractive women from rural Bangladesh with promises of roles in movies. Many of these women were later sold to brothels.
The sad truth which never gets the right attention is the fact that for every girl who made it in the film or modelling industry, there are hundreds who either became clandestine sex workers with severely jarring experiences, or went back to their villages as their dreams of hitting it big ended in a whimper.
Modelling with a macabre ending
In the case of Ridoy, the girls were rescued by the law -- undoubtedly a lucky escape since many women who have been entrapped by such promises regularly end up in a sordid world of drugs, illegal money, mobsters, extortion, and addiction.
The murder of Tinni, a promising model, whose mutilated body was found tied to a pillar in 2002, is still vivid in memory.
The seduction of the glittering world of fashion, film, and modelling is so overpowering that it’s not a difficult task for an unethical person(s) to dupe starry-eyed young women.
In many incidents where the women are/were manipulated, the aura of celluloid popularity was/is cleverly used to create a feeling that whatever is taking place, no matter how dodgy, is actually a step towards a dream life under the spotlight.
One method of exploiting women aspiring to enter the world of celluloid is to dangle the proposition of a role in a dance video, usually between three to five minutes, or a short film. The women are made to believe that these small roles are a precursor to bigger parts in full-length movies.
In reality, the entire enterprise has a sleazy objective, either to use the video production unit as a cover for transporting/selling drugs or to use it as a safe cover for commercial sex work.
The women find that they have to perform some dodgy or immoral deal after they arrive at the shooting spot, usually far away from their homes. In such situations, they are compelled to do as asked as they are made to believe that such “favours” are expected in the world of razzmatazz.
In most cases, the persuasion to be involved in something dubious is done through a series of intimate discussions topped with smooth cajoling. Naturally, at one point, the women relent.
At the back of their heads, it’s the dream to be a star that eclipses all other thoughts. For some breathtaking glitter, a little bit of murkiness won’t matter -- they reason.
With the same diabolic objectives, full-length movies are declared and the unveiling program held, though the films never see the light of day because making the movie was never part of the plan.
Once there is a public promulgation of a film, known in Bangla as Maharat, the enterprise gets its legality. With an official stamp on a production, few questions are raised when the shooting units travel to remote areas or secluded spots.
Such convenient covers can be used for a wide variety of unlawful acts, from drugs to abductions to money laundering to sexual exploitation.
Think before taking the leap
A universal truth is that the young are impetuous, driven by whims and governed by trends. Impetuosity sows seeds of rebelliousness and the young all over the world have a penchant to challenge convention. At a certain age, something seems like the only goal in life, just like the victims of Ridoy, who wanted to be models.
Unfortunately, the young also have the habit of excluding elders in their plans, feeling they will pour cold water on their desires. Again, it’s true that if the parents of Ridoy’s victims had known that the girls would have to stay in a house for several days, they would not have allowed it.
But, there has to be someone whom the young can trust and ask for advice. Parents will always be very orthodox, puritanical even, but if there is a social media counselling site on such matters, many women can be saved from predators.
There is of course the inescapable murky side of exploitation, where the women know beforehand that they have to be part of some illicit operation. Whether we want to accept or not, the tendency to plunge into the world of sleaze to make a swift profit or gain instant fame has become an accepted norm among the young.
This is again the corollary of a very mercenary zeitgeist that instils in us a thoroughly decadent ideology.
Investigate dance academies
The police should investigate all the dance academies in the city which purport to be centres training young women. The plans for videos, telefilms, or short movies are laid through such organizations with an anonymous sinister party providing the funds for making the charade seem as impeccable as possible. Obviously, this “party” remains behind the curtain.
Owners or the instructors of such dance troupes act as the middlemen, coaxing the girls to get involved in depravity.
Not too long ago, a national award-winning male dancer was caught for his alleged role in taking women for brothels in the Gulf countries. It won’t be shocking if it comes to light that the small dance/modelling agencies were the conduits for the women who were eventually sent overseas to serve as sex workers.
The truth is, Ridoy is but one diabolic dimension to a very complex operation of filth.
Towheed Feroze is a journalist and teaches at the University of Dhaka.