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In the land of women

  • Published at 08:40 pm August 3rd, 2015
In the land of women

In this land of men, all is not well.

On Thursday, August 30, a 17-year-old girl was gang-raped in Uttara. One of the men who raped her was her colleague, who had been accompanying her home. He, along with two other men, took her to an under-construction site and took turns having their way with her and, when their undying thirst had finally been quenched, they “let her go.” Most merciful.

And who could forget the gang-rape of a female constable by four men, one of whom was her ex-husband. This beatific incident happened over the course of four days between June 10 and June 13. The victim eventually managed to finally escape and come to a one-stop crisis centre. If there is one thing we can take away from this incident, it is this: The Bangladeshi people are resilient.

And on another Thursday of this year, April 2, a schoolgirl was being raped (gang or otherwise) by three men. Male chauvinism be damned, for there came to her rescue two knights in shining lungis (one presumes), saving her from the hungry clutches of the rapists. They, having heard the cries of the 16-year-old student of class IX, beat up the attempted rapists.

Justice was done. But a good story must have a good twist, for these knights shed their honour to steal the honour of the girl themselves, taking her to a house somewhere in Taltola, and then raping her.

Irony, thy name is Bangladesh.

But these are discrete incidents, and don’t speak of a greater, uglier socio-political identity that is plaguing the nation. Or some may say, and do say. But let us leave the intensely morose subject of gang-rape behind.

What about when Nasir put up a picture of himself with his sister, a picture that was as innocent as they come, portraying a much-loved cricketing star and his family, only to be treated to comments which, like a multitude of cockroaches tip-toeing across our collective skins, make us shiver in disgust and shame? The sophisticated comments included things like “maal ta pochhondo hoise” and “chakranir moton lagtase maiadare.”

The online sexual harassment of women is far from uncommon; any girl on Facebook will be privy to this information. Their inboxes are flooded with the stench of the lusty and lewd, the repulsively closeted virgin who wants to do nothing more than have you, and eat you up. A monster in human form. No judgment intended, of course.

Also: Who doesn’t have a relative or a friend who, while shopping in New Market or Gausia, or just travelling by bus, been groped and whistled at?

And conversations with friends and relatives are common regarding women. With friends, in a group, you see a pretty girl, or one is even slightly on the curvaceous side, and one is treated to the eloquent, “uff,” and two cupped hands going up and down. Or something along those lines.

And with relatives, perhaps a slightly conservative aunty or uncle, whose berating of the clothes that girls today wear is typical conversation at family gatherings. When you’re wearing these tight-tight jeans and these short-short skirts and showing off your hot-hot body, how can men resist? Followed by the oft-repeated sentence of ridiculuousness: They had it coming. After all, the natural state of man is rapist, right?

What can a nation do, if our collective nojor is kharap?

Let us not also forget that, in a test for “Islamic religion,” students of Holy Cross Girls’ High School were treated to this very poignant conundrum: “Sanjida’s manners, the way she dresses, and the way she speaks are in good taste, and everyone treats her well. On the other hand, her colleague Rumana is in the habit of wearing tight clothes. She puts on T-shirts and jeans … her behaviour lacks restraint … boys of her locality tease her.” Sanjida goes on to advise her to wear decent clothes in the story.

One of the questions that follows: “Explain why Rumana should take care for the decency of the clothes she wears.” Forget climate change, this is what we need to be discussing in schools.

In a study conducted by One Degree Initiative over the span of four years, 2012 to 2015, 65% of sexual harassment victims were wearing salwar kameezes. “Western” clothing averaged at about 15%. Perhaps burkhas and hijabs would be the final wall that prevents the hot-blooded, uncontrollable urge of men from bursting out from zipped-up trousers, but even they were not left to their devices.

Saris, which show more skin -- navels, arms, shoulders, neck -- “scored” (pardon the pun) lower, roughly about 12%, in some years below 10%. Hijabs and burkhas, however, fluctuated between 15% to 20% in failing to protect the women that they hid underneath. It seems the eye-slit is no less welcoming than the cleavage.

In Bangladesh, the problem is so ingrained into the mind-set that this is far from a feminist problem. This is a humanist one. We, as a nation, are allowing half of our population to be treated as if they have a very specific role to play, one that allows them to be violently treated, physically and verbally. And that, in turn, forces the other half to also don a specific role, one which hungers, hunts, destroys, and consumes.

In a land of people, of humans, of individuals and communities, of Bengalis and Bangladeshis, in a land of equality, of men and women, this cannot persist.