SEVERAL cases of rape and sexual assault by the ruling Awami League’s associate organisations have shocked the nation in recent times. The Bogra town Sramik League convener, as reported in New Age on Tuesday, abducted a 16-year-old girl and raped her. The violence did not end with the rape. The family of the victim was evicted from their house. When they looked for redress, they were further subjected to torture in the presence of Sramik League activists in the house of the local councillor, another Awami League leader, who was, in fact, was asked to look into the matter. This is not the first instance in which leaders were trying to cover the crimes of the ruling party’s associate organisations, especially the Chhatra League and Juba League. On July 13, a 22-year-old newly married bride is reported to have been raped by group of a Chhatra League leader at Banaripara in Barisa. The local Awami League knew of the incident yet it made no intervention. The case of a BCL leader hacking a student of Sylhet Government Women’s College after months of stalking is another instance of partisan inaction. A cursory look at daily newspapers will make the list of such incidences longer.
The only reported action on part of the AL wings is to expel the rapist and the stalker and take them back into the party fold, in many cases, after days. The situation is not only reflective of the Awami League’s duplicitous position on sexual violence but also of the moral, ideological character of the party. While the ruling party’s student wing is infamous for its history of sexual violence, the tendency of political activists committing gender-based crime is not specific to the Awami League. In its term, activists of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party behaved no differently. Scholars and researchers investigating reasons for the institutional tolerance of rape in Bangladesh suggest that in addition to low conviction rate of rape trial, the political culture is dependent on and encourages male aggression. When political parties use masculine aggression and violence as a means to remain in power, it takes the risk of encouraging gender violence. The cases of violent attack on women by men in political power prove this point. In what follows, the demand for a radical change in the mainstream political culture of Bangladesh is on point.
It is evident that behind the rhetoric of women’s empowerment of the incumbents, there remains a reality in which all concerned failed to ensure women’s safety and lacked political commitment. The party in power should, therefore, immediately abandon its politics of duplicity in which it rhetorically commits to ending sexual violence yet tolerates the crime in its party structure. It is not the political parties alone that are tolerant, there is also a general lack of societal commitment. There is no alternative to historically situated women’s movement to take the government to task and bring perpetrators of gender violence to justice.
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