To root out rape, alongside better laws, our culture needs to change
Due to a spike in attention that rape cases have been getting recently (I say spike because rape cases have been happening in this intensity more or less for years now), but then something disturbing like the Noakhali gang-rape comes along which draws everyone’s attention to sexual violence suffered by women, for at least a few weeks anyway.
After that, the rapes continue and, in cases, notch up the intensity, but we are busy with another issue by then. But, at the moment, people from all across the country have come out with their age-old arguments about why rapes happen and how to prevent them.
Some of them are needed -- the demands for justice and the calls for reformation of the penal code are things that do work to mitigate rape in some capacity or the other. Others are just regressive, counterproductive, and are symptoms of the real reasons of rape, such as the argument that “parda” has to be made mandatory, free-mixing needs to be banned, women should be kept inside their homes, etc.
Then there are the more problematic solutions that are symptoms of the real reasons for rape -- such as blaming the girls for their lifestyle, blaming an adoption of foreign cultures, etc. The last two solutions are of the same kind and they are made by the same sect of people, ie the overly-conservative and religious.
While a lot of them might mean well with these statements as their indoctrinations only allow them to see the world through the lens of their particular religion, intentions really don’t amount to much when their words are directly contributing to patriarchy and the rape culture that pervades our society, reinforcing these trends of rape in the first place.
And when they stand by while their cohorts justify sexual violence against women as a form of retribution for the victim’s non-compliance with their ideologies, the idea that they had good intentions becomes blurry.
In a patriarchal society
Problem is, a majority of the country is more likely to agree with the second and third groups of people. A majority of the people have grown up in a patriarchal society with the same ideological indoctrination, and it is only natural that they would accept information that reinforces their philosophies and world views. It also isn’t helpful that the second and third group of people actually have “stats” to back up their claims.
So everything I have written so far is part of a Western agenda, and I should be sentenced to the eighth circle of hell for my lies and treachery.
But the thing is, the stats these people use are false. A popular rhetoric people like to use against these extremists is the fact that women get raped regardless of their age, dress, or religion. The conservative society then retorts saying that there are a lot of girls that go around wearing Western dresses in order to flaunt their sexuality.
As a lot of men can’t do anything against these girls, they assault the women they can. Keep in mind that the extremists themselves admit to an element of power here, which should come in handy in a later section of discussion.
The extremist defense
The extremists then point to countries like Saudi Arabia, saying that the country has virtually zero rape cases due to their strict adherence to Sharia. But in reality, the procedure for getting justice in their country is so strict and patriarchal that even reporting a case is a hassle. Once reported, you will need four male witnesses to back up your case, meaning that the one who has been raped can’t even testify to support their own case.
The whole process is steeped in other regressive ideals and procedures which can persecute the women any time. It won’t be the male that will suffer from this, it will be the women.
As for when the case does get proved, if the rapist is willing to marry his victim with keeping God as his witness, they will be married off and the whole case will be dropped.
And even without that, the tales of sexual abuse suffered by Bangladeshi migrant workers in Saudi Arabia should be enough evidence for the fact that Saudi Arabia’s claim to be a safe haven for women is a lie.
Problem is, most of the extremists would deny this truth, saying that this is made up by the so-called “Jews” and Illuminati fanatics that are always trying to undermine their faith. And there is a subsect of these extremists that maintain the fact that Saudi Arabia is not even following real Sharia, and we can’t use that as an example to look at the failings of their ideology regarding rape (even though they would have continued to use Saudi Arabia as an example for Sharia had these facts about Saudi Arabia not come out).
While the stupidity of their claims makes it hard to counter them in an effective way, a post that has been making headlines in social media works as a fine counter to them. It talks about a war that commenced 50 years after the death of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), where followers who were covered from head to toe were raped.
Invariably, a lot of the women, who practised the heights of modesty that can only be dreamed about nowadays, were captured, beaten, raped. This was a society that was established under a proper Shariah, and yet, violence against women still existed there. A lot of people would start arguing that the women were raped as an act of war, and would then claim that this is an outlying, random incident.
While I would not agree with the second part of this reason, I would agree with the first part. Yes, the women were raped as an act of dominance, aggression, and war. And if you are willing to concede to that, we can move forward with the main parts of our discussion.
Throughout the years, women were kept indoors. They weren’t allowed to do anything that asserted their own individualism. They were married off sooner than their male counterparts, and unlike their male counterparts, they weren’t allowed to choose their partners.
The father of the girl and the husband-to-be would meet up, discuss the terms of marriage, and when they would reach an agreement, they would sign up the papers. It would eerily resemble the transfer of some inanimate object, even though they would be dealing with a living breathing human.
It stands to reason that women were treated as property then, just like they are often treated the same today.
Fast forward centuries, and focus on Bengal in the 20th century, the “golden age of modesty and culture” according to the conservatives and rape apologists that live throughout the country. We are told about how peaceful those times were, about how marriages would last, about how rapes would not take place. Well, if any of your grandmas are alive, ask them this -- were they truly happy with your grandpas? And did they ever abuse them?
You will be surprised by the number of awful stories they would tell about your grandparents, and the amount of physical and sexual abuse they have been subjected to. The only reason they would stay was because that was their role to play. Like the slaves of old, it was simply their “place” in the universe, and even though they suffered, they didn’t have the power to fight back.
Then we come to the Liberation War of 1971, and how women were raped left and right during that time. Mind you, this was a war fought between two factions of Muslims, and the so called “corruption” of the West hadn’t taken away the modesty of Bengali women yet. Still, they were raped mercilessly.
And if you take a look at the information regarding these rapes, you would see that this was a tactic used to cripple us Bangladeshis, to rob us of our “shame” and bring us down to our knees.
Even here, the issue was not the clothing, but dominance and the show of power. And even then, the dominance was applied to women, ie the “property” of men. Because you can kill a man, you can even desecrate him. But striking at the very source of his “manhood” is always more effective.
And this is where we talk about the root cause of rape. Rape doesn’t happen due to provocative clothing and sexual urges. For example, there’s a large portion of the population that is poor and hungry, but you would only see a fraction of them stealing food from stores. And compared to rape, the number for such crimes is negligible.
Women have always been looked at and treated as property, and due to centuries of religious, cultural, and historical conditioning, women have continuously been viewed as the property of men.
And a man can use this property however he wishes. And since women are no longer tolerating being used as a property, the rape that would happen indoors, through contracts, and in the forests are happening right in front of us, in broad daylight.
Again, let’s look a relevant example to illustrate this point.
During the start of the 21st century, acid violence against women had skyrocketed. It would normally unfold in the sense that a man would come with some kind of a proposition to a woman, either romantic or sexual. When the woman would refuse, the man would throw acid at the woman’s face, as both revenge for the rejection and as a measure to ensure that no man would ever want the woman ever again.
Even here, we see the power dynamics at play. The woman is violated as her rejection of the man is perceived as an insult by the man, and the woman is violated in a way that she loses her value in terms of her “appeal” to a man, further confirming the fact that she is an object that lives to solely please men and nothing else.
Again, there is no provocation here, and according to conservatives, things were better then. But still, something like this did happen, and this continued to happen until these criminals found better and deadlier methods.
And these brings us to the discussion of the conservative excuse that “covered” women get raped due to “uncovered” women. Again, women get raped regardless of their age, clothing, or religion, so this statement from the outset is false.
But do notice the claim that “scantily clad women can’t be raped, so kids and old people are raped in their place.” A lot of the time, the more free-spirited girls do come from backgrounds that make them powerful to an extent (even though the high-profile rape cases of DU students makes it clear that the power here is only slight).
By making these assertions, these potential rapists corroborating the fact that the assertion of power happens on the weak, not the strong. And since, in a patriarchal society, women are termed as the “weaker” gender, it becomes clear that rape is a function of power, not frustration.
Coming to the current trend of rape, you can see that all of these crimes have been committed by men in positions of power. From the student wing of the ruling party to the elakar hedom, all of these men hold positions of power. And that combined with the power they hold due to the patriarchal structures of society, it becomes evident yet again that rape is a function of power, not sexuality.
And since homosexuality is considered to be outside the norms of sexual attraction by the conservative sect, the rape of male students by madrasa teachers should not even happen. But it still happens here, because these teachers can exert power over their students.
Now, what about the solutions? We have already established that clothing is a non-issue here. What about the service of justice here? While death is a strong deterrence against rape, losing 10-20 years of your life would not be any small feat as well. You would be the slave of the prison, and once you do get out, your life would never be the same. You would be socially and economically ostracized, to the point where you would turn into the living dead.
Then should we not enact stricter laws and ensure justice? We should, most definitely we should. But unless we acknowledge the roots of rape and work together to solve it, it’s not going to make much difference.
In short, if we want to stop this heinous crime, we need to acknowledge that rape is an exercise of power, a crime bred from the very fabrics of our cultures and societies themselves.
And as such, if we don’t change our cultures and societies, nothing, and I repeat, nothing can be changed, and the women of our country will be worse off for it.
Nafis Shahriar is a freelance contributor.