We are far from having accountable and transparent institutions that protect every citizen
The unnatural death of a young woman in a flat in Gulshan has once again sparked many questions that we have been facing for many years -- some are related to the age-old patriarchal mindset and norms while some are related to human rights. But on top of everything it has exposed a blatant weakness of the different state and non-state institutions.
The victim had barely crossed her childhood. She got little time to know the harsh realities of life. What appeared to be love at first sight with limitless happiness and freedom caused her life to end at the age of 21.
The patriarchal norms took no time in doing a post-mortem of her character and source of her wealth. Soon after recovering her dead body, the press exposed her identity. The fourth pillar of democracy perhaps considered it a sacred duty in exposing everything on her while it initially decided to remain silent toward the most critical aspect ... “who was involved.”
What the press did was a clear violation of Section 14(1) of the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act 2000. The act prohibits presentation of news in such a manner that exposes the identity of the victim. The act further stipulates that for such offenses, the offender can be jailed for up to two years, or fined Tk100,000, or both.
Apart from a few exceptions, the majority of the press not only acted unprofessionally, but also unethically by exposing the victim’s identity. One major media group running several newspapers, online portals, and TV channels went even further by making a concerted effort to malign the character of the victim. The integrity of the press came into question, as it not only failed to uphold the spirit of a free press, but also exposed a harsh reality of favouritism.
But this was just the beginning -- immediately after the filing of the case by the victim’s sister, an alleged conversation between the victim and the accused, intimate photos and video footage of the victim, and her diaries began surfacing in platforms. These were supposed to be treated as confidential elements of investigation. It is almost impossible to access such personal and confidential elements unless someone is equipped with the technology and legal rights of accessing these leaks to any third party. But one thing is for sure, these were leaked with a vested interest in mind, probably to influence the course of justice.
According to Article 43 of the constitution, every citizen has the right to privacy of personal correspondence and other means of communication. Sadly, in recent years, it has become a common practice to leak such private correspondence in the public sphere. The High Court recently observed that recording a telephonic conversation without the permission of the court and the knowledge of the subscriber is unconstitutional. The court reminded the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission and the telephone operators to conform to this constitutional provision.
The observation of the High Court was lauded by the human rights activists and legal experts, as it clarified under what circumstances and which authority could tap such private correspondences.
Sadly, this key observation of the High Court made no difference. The leaks once again showcased a terrible level of unprofessionalism and lack of self-governance within the state and non-state institutions. The country witnessed the same when an ex-army officer was killed by the police in Cox’s Bazar. In a bid to get away with the murder, a concerted effort was made to label the deceased as a drug peddler besides maligning the character of his female companion.
The institutions also behaved in the most bizarre way possible when a radical religious leader was confined in a resort in Narayanganj. They behaved in such a way as if it were a national agenda everyone should be concerned about. What was the source of the telephone conversation that he had with his female companion? Was there any particular intention behind this? Was it ethical? Did it meet the editorial standards of the press?
Now coming back to the unnatural death of the young woman, it is surprising to see that apart from a very few exceptions, women rights organizations, individual rights activists, and the civil society also took more or less a similar stance -- “do not disturb.” Development organizations that consider violence against women, gender equality, and women empowerment as key development challenges in Bangladesh have also remained silent.
The constitution of Bangladesh that we achieved at the cost of millions of lives pledged that it shall be a fundamental aim of the state to realize through the democratic process a socialist society free from exploitation, a society in which the rule of law, fundamental human rights and freedom, equality and justice -- political, economic, and social -- will be secured for all citizens.
It will not be unjust to conclude that many a pledge of the constitution did not go in the right direction. Her death and subsequent events have exposed that society is not free from exploitation, and that we are far from having accountable and transparent institutions that are meant to protect every citizen of the state and treat them equally.
The deceased young woman was an orphan. Therefore, the state has an additional responsibility to find out the truth and do justice to her. This will only be possible if our state and non-state institutions serve the people according to their constitutional mandate and maintain ethical standards and professionalism.
Meer Ahsan Habib is a communication for development professional. Email: [email protected]