THE furore has died down. The furore about the harassment of some girls, dozen of them or more, on March 7 that featured prominently everyday discussions, that made headlines on pages of newspapers and that did the rounds on the social networking sites has died down. One of the incidents that has rolled to legal proceedings, with a very uncertain future, and others have gone down under the heaps of new happenings as days rolled.
But the incidents of sexual harassment of girls, and rape, keep happening. After a dozen girls or so in their Facebook postings narrated how they were harassed, assaulted and disgraced, one or two incidents keep freshly coming, doing the rounds on the social networking sites every other day, in a hushed manner.
Many other incidents, understandably, die down, like the furore about the harassment, before they come to notice or are made public. The harassment issue not being properly attended to and the incidents not being fully reported have their reasons lying with society, the society that is patriarchal and is unwilling to view women as it views men.
Whenever any incident of sexual harassment happens, society — the males, or men, living in it altogether — tries to point finger at the victim, the wronged, and makes an issue out of the harassment, the wrongdoing, to further intimidate, socially, the wronged. The wrong-doer, in almost all cases, goes scot-free, without being blemished.
This is an issue that holds back incidents of such harassment being properly sorted out and coming to public to live in everyday discussions for long, leading to proper remedial measures. Society makes fun of the wrongdoings and the wronged rarely dare to come up with the incidents, to seek redress, for fear of being further intimidated and scarred.
This is exactly what needs to be changed. Society must learn not to point finger at the wronged and must start questioning the wrongdoer. In almost all cases of sexual harassment, people, both men and women, often seek to find fault with the wronged, the girls. They start questioning how they behaved, how they walked, how they laughed, how they talked and how they were dressed. Because it is the easy way out — point finger at the wronged, keep them intimidated and malign them socially for any opportune moment for the incident to repeat while the wrongdoer is let go unblemished.
When society starts accepting, in its knee-jerk reaction, that there must be something wrong in the girls so as to court harassment, redress of any kind remains far away. People in society who are in no way related to or affected by the incidents also love to play the role of on-lookers. In some cases, most of them try to convince the wronged not to make any noise about the harassment — a social stigma is at play, further intimidation is at play, but more than this, their sense of personal security, or insecurity, is also at play. This fear is born out of society’s general weakness, people’s non-thinking selfishness and law enforcer’s criminal inaction.
An attitude like this is largely also typical of the law enforcement agencies, which are part of the society they live in where they try to keep law. This is nothing unusual that the law enforcement agencies would be thinking the way society thinks. And when society, its members and the law enforcement agencies think the same way, there remains no space for any wrongdoing to be treated without any bias. Crimes such as harassment, sexual harassment of girls, legally recognised as crimes though, are in practice not viewed as crimes but are considered away as social vice, which not only lessens the gravity of the crimes but also perpetuates them, further deep in society so as not be rooted any time in future.
Whenever any girl reports being harassed to the police, still a male-chauvinistic agency, the personnel try to find fault with the girl first to stop her from going against the males in society. They keep coming up with questions about how she walked, how she was dressed and how she behaved, which the girl, wronged to a dangerous degree, finds humiliating to answer. Even if the police take cognisance of the harassment, there it mostly ends. Investigation hardly moves down to prosecution. Even if there is prosecution, offenders are hardly arrested and charges are hardly brought against them. An expeditious trial, leading to conviction, remains far away.
No, poor, delayed or incomplete action by the law enforcement agencies in cases of sexual harassment and rape mostly has over the years helped a culture of impunity to set in, more in the offenders and less in society. The police inaction, in many cases, has reasons such as muscle power, financial clout and political influence to be at play. But this, in the process, has only exacerbated the issues to the point of helplessness of citizens, the wronged, the family and society.
A social movement is required to make changes in society and all the people living in it. Society must learn to see crimes as crimes and wrongs as wrongs, irrespective of the wronged and the wrongdoer rising above patriarchy and their class positions. Crimes should also lie in the hands of the perpetrators. Any way out is difficult unless society learns to see issues in perspective. The wronged may have committed hundreds of crimes but the wrongdoers must be held to account for any wrongdoing irrespective of the crimes of the wronged.
Democratically thinking people in society must learn to continue making noise whenever any wrongs happen. Continued noise is for certain to make changes some day, slowly but firmly. But what seems to be achievable in a very short time is training, or retraining, the law enforcement agencies in what they must do in case girls come up with allegations of sexual harassment or rape.
Proper police response for now is key to stopping crimes such as sexual harassment and rapes, which society and its police so far view as either social vice or delinquency. The police, who are mandated to discover, deter, rehabilitate and bring to justice people who stand in breach of the rules and laws that govern society, must view crimes as crimes, not as social vices committed by some delinquent men having political and financial clout, as men having high social status, or men having been on good terms with local society leaders. Law is said to be blind and so should be the keepers of the law.
But for the March 7 incidents of sexual harassment of girls this year, the most disturbing of such incidents in recent years was the sexual harassment of about 20 girls and women by some 30 to 40 rowdy young people near the gate to Suhrawardy Udyan at the 1422 Bangla New Year celebrations of Pahela Baishakh in 2015. There were witnesses to the strings of incidents, there was video footage and a few venturing out to protect the girls and women who were severely roughed up. Yet the investigation fell through.
Celebrations of another Pahela Baishakh of 1425 Bangla san are around. Another such occasion means further chances of similar odious happenings lurking. This is time the government proved its commitment to allowing girls to be women with the freedom of movement that they are entitled to. The government, as the manager of the state, must look into that.
Abu Jar M Akkas is deputy editor at New Age.