Cover Story

Stories of resistance to sexual harassment

Nahid Riyasad | Published: 00:00, Jul 15,2018


On April 2, 2016, Pritilata Brigade demonstrated with wooden sticks demanding punishment of rapists in the country. — Banglajagoronia

Sexual harassments, stalking of school girls or assault on young garment workers taken an epidemic turn in Bangladesh, but women are not always silently enduring the violence. Increasing number of young women and men are raising their voice against sexual harassment, because they believe resistance is the only answer. Nahid Riyasad writes about the growing resistance.

When you cannot turn the pages of your newspaper without reading a story of sexual harassment or rape, when young women protesters are publicly threatened of rape, when victims are blamed for sexual assault, the stories resistance is where hope lies. Young women and men, all over the country are seen taken a stand. Although, they are small in numbers, but they made their position against such violence loud and clear.

On April 21, 2018, a female student of Uttara University was sexually harassed by three workers of Turag Paribahan, a private transport operator of Dhaka. She sustained injuries and got down from a running bus fearing further harms. Following the incident, her fellow students have raised their voice and took to the streets in great number. With cumulative effort, they detained 40 busses from the same company and held them overnight, forcing the authority to take actions. Within days, the alleged perpetrators were captured by the law enforcement. The university authority and the teachers were seen co-operating with the students.

On April 29, 2018 a student of Jahangirnagar University was verbally abused by a roadside vendor in Shyamoli, Dhaka. She protested at once which drew further abuse from the perpetrator and he was then joined by other abusers including a woman who terrorised the victim further. The victim, wrote in her social media post that she then called her brothers and they came, as well came the police. Later, it was discovered that the accused had previous allegations of similar incident. Here, locals were seen persuading the victim not to file reports with the police and she did that anyway. Police, in presence of the victim’s family members, had no other option but taking the report. 

On May 20, 2018, a group of student from University of Dhaka captured five busses of Trust Transport Services, a project of Army Welfare Trust, protesting at sexual harassment of a female student of the university by a staff of the transport company at Kawran Bazar intersection. Students, first, captured one bus accusing misconduct of their staff and sexual harassment of a female student. As the authority paid no attention, they farther captured four more busses. However, police sources said that no formal complaint was filed in this incident. ( may 21)

Before going into the issue of public voice raising, the authority’s indifference towards such incidents as well as clumsy scenario while dragging those incidents to the court need some light shedding. In November 2017 New Age published a study, according to it, about 29–35 per cent of men sexually abused women to take out their anger or to punish them, while about 57–67 per cent did it just for fun. According to a UN study, 95.1 per cent of the perpetrators experienced no legal consequences.

According to the UNFPA/Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics study, more than 10 million Bangladeshi women experience physical or sexual violence every year. The Report on Violence against Women Survey of 2015 by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics BBS has found that 50 percent of the women were physically tortured while 27 per cent said they had been sexually abused. Another statistics, unfortunate though, might open up another discussion- from 2010 to 2012, according to media reports, Bangladeshi police received 109,621 complaints about violence against women. However, the police determined that only 6,875 of these complaints were 'genuine' and should be further investigated.

These discussions show two sides of the story- on one hand, women are being victimised in different forms of sexual harassments and on the other hand, law enforcement are worryingly indifferent towards such incidents. The statistics showing the complaints turning into formal charges are extremely low posing another grave question-do police have the authority of judging a crime on its merit? Is it not their duty to file a crime or misconduct in any occasion? Police stations, in our country, in gross words, are no friendly place, even more for a woman who has been sexually victimised. Now, how safe a woman would feel to go to the police station to report such crime? After all, police force is dominated by male members and at the end of the day, they too, are members and in cases, advocates of this male dominated society.   

In this scenario, youth are becoming united protesting at the injustice, if not nationwide. This is creating an alternative space for the victims and concerned people to protest at such issues. However, another point to be considered here is the class specificity of these protests. More or less, the raised voices against such incidents are centered around the urban educated youth, which raise voice on certain incidents. The victims from the economically marginalised class, however, stay under large looming threat with no promise of justice.

Here the role of Students’ Community against Rape and Sexual Violence is noteworthy. They are a group of young students who came together in 2015 in order to raise social awareness among young minds to combat this social stigma against women. They mainly provide support to the victims and the family, connect them to legal aid providers and raise voice against such crimes. They also provide aid to the victim and the family while dealing with the law enforcement.

On September 20, 2017, students of Brigadier Khaled Mosharraf Bir Uttam Girls School and College in Islampur, Jamalpur brought out a procession to raise awareness against sexual violence.         —SCARSV

Their most interesting initiative is organising rallies with school students at upazila level with the banner, ‘Rise Human, Rise Woman’. Shiblee Hasan, the convener to SCARSV told New Age Youth that they have already worked with students of 400 schools in Mymensingh, as well as a number of schools from Netrokona, Manikganj and Sherpur. In these districts, they have covered most of the upazilas thus creating a network which is deep embedded into non-urban societies.        

Mainly, they arrange rallies with a number of students after successful completion of seminars which promote social awareness among young minds against rape and other sexual violence. In these rallies, thousands of school students participate with spontaneity thus forging a strong voice agsist such crimes. They have launched another programme ‘Red Card’ which will also focus on such issues and engage students from different schools. In this, uses have uploaded their photo with ‘Red Card’ indicating their zero tolerance towards such gender biased crimes.

‘Recently we worked with a case in Oshtogram of Kishoreganj, where, a school student was raped by a politically influential person. Presumably, local police did not take any case and we intervened. Our local members along with support from local people forced the police to take the case,’ Shiblee told during the conversation. ‘Now, we are working with another teenage victim in Munshiganj, where, we had to implement the same strategy to make the police file a case. We have already connected the family with legal aid provider’ he added.

On April 22, 2018, students of Uttara University holding a press conference after a student of the university was sexually harassed by transport workers.                 — Collected

Shiblee later described their work process, ‘we have a hotline number +8801778024624, anyone can call and report any such unfortunate event. Our local team will reach to the victim and provide initial support. The legislation process often seems timid in such incidents because in most of the time, the perpetrators are locally power and politically influential. In this scenario, the victims often feel intimidated in seeking legal help. Here we come, we go to police stations and do everything to file the incident. We have, in at least seven cases, successfully forced the police with help of local people where they did not want to file the incident’.  

SCARSV’s signature campaign are now running in all educational institutions which report will be sent to the United Nations as a form of petition. They also publish monthly tabloid about women rights. Theatrical performances, roadside drama and other performances are always running aware people about Rape and sexual violence.     

Their future goals are also looking promising as Shiblee narrates, ‘As we got tremendous response from the locals now we are planning to move globally. We might spread our work to other South Asian countries because women are comparatively vulnerable to such crimes in this part of the world. We want to create a youth platform against all kinds of violence against women.’

Important factor of this group is that they are working with school students, meaning, they want to address the problem from the root. SCARSV hits in the root, they are working to undo the socialisation process that upholds this eschewed, objectified vision of women.

Simialrly, after the tragic rape and murder of a young cultural activist, a women’s alliance was formed — Pritilata Brigade.  Drawing from the courage of Pritilata Waddedar, woman warrior against British colonial power, young women with this platform took the oath to protect themselves. Pritilata Brigade provided young women training in martial art. They are trying equip women all over the country with skills of self-defense.      

Young men and women involved in this movement made it evident that there is no alternative to resistance. It can be in any form. When Tanu was murdered, there were organised protests against it. Women formed groups to provide self-defense trainings. Now, a women participant of quota movement after being sexually harassed allegedly by the members of Bangladesh Chatra League and police, in her act of resistance chose to tell the world what has happened to her. For her, despite social and political pressure, breaking the silence is resistance.

State managers must know, these voices of resistance are growing louder.

Nahid Riyasad is a member of the New Age Youth team.






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