DISTURBING postings that did the rounds mostly on social networking sites in the evening of Wednesday — just after the ruling Awami League finished holding a rally in Suhrawardy Udyan marking the March 7 speech of Bangladesh’s founding president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman — narrated how some people, supposedly on their return from the rally, sexually harassed some girls. Such harassment of girls is unpalatable.
At least 10 of the girls, who were harassed, ventured in public Facebook postings to describe the incidents — how they came to be molested, taunted and teased. They described what they wished to do and what they could, and did, not do because of their helplessness or because of the persuasion by others standing by. One of them narrated how the marauding few, while harassing her, tried to video the incident and how a police officer saved her from a group of molesters and how she was sent to safety in a bus. Severely traumatised, the girl, who later took away her posting from public view to avoid nuisance, said that she would not stay in this country.
Although she said that she could return home safe in a public bus, a recent study shows that pubic transports in Dhaka are even not safe for girls and women. About 47 out of 50 women who travel in public transports in Bangladesh are found to have been sexually harassed, verbally, physically, or in other forms.
While the sexual harassment of women continues to happen and continues to be under-reported mostly because of the social stigma that goes, illogically though, with it, more so in a patriarchal society such as ours, the issue seems not to have been adequately attended to, by individuals, by society or by the government, which is grievously at fault being the manager of the state.
Yet, the most disturbing of the incidents in recent past 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 were severely roughed up. Yet the investigation fell through.
Women coming to be sexually harassed was also reported when revellers had roaring celebrations of Bangladesh’s winning the ICC Trophy in 1997, which was the biggest push for Tigers on their way to beat Pakistan and Scotland in the 1999 World Cup. A few of the girls, thus harassed that time, standing in the middle of the road swore at the revellers, cursed them and wished, loudly, so that such a win that could mean indignity to women would never happen.
Events, or crimes, such as this have been taking place, all along, on a large, or small, scale. Every such occasion invariably whips along a furore, a public outcry, which dies down after a short or a long while. And the crimes recur again.
The public outcry, which now generally does the rounds on social networking sites, has failed to stop such crimes just because, as is the case with social networking sites as it is with the media, new issues surface, new crimes take place, offering something new for the media — print, electronic or social — to remain busy with for some more days. The public outcry has almost always been not loud enough to make the government stop such crimes, to make society feel bad about such crimes for long and to make individuals repent in the pain of not being able to do enough.
Whenever such crimes take place, the knee-jerk reaction of the authorities, supposedly in charge of looking after the issues — the government, the law enforcement agencies, society, family and, even, individuals — is to find fault with the people who are wronged. Instituting the cause of the crimes in the people thus wronged gives an easy way out for them. This also allows the authorities to wash their hands of the matter and mind other business of theirs.
In cases of the sexual harassment of girls and women, it is the girls or the women who first come to be examined, in how they dress, how they walk, how they talk and if there are any elements in them to lure the boys or men to indulge into such acts that they think are wrongly called crimes. This attitude is typical of the all authorities and is a great obstacles to resolving the problems.
Crimes must primarily be viewed as crimes, without any bells and trinkets. It is almost impossible to stop crimes as long as crimes are not singularly viewed as crimes. Any other considerations bring in justifications, which a justice dispensation system cannot afford. And if it so does, it does injustice to the system and humanity.
Authorities not acting adequately against such issues over the years has brought in a culture of impunity, which is buttressed more by the class of the powerful — political, economic or majoritarian — rather than the patriarchal mentality that society has yet to slough off. But patriarchy is no less to blame. Or, so to say, patriarchy and the culture of impunity borne out of political, economic and majoritarian power have always been hand in glove as all evil powers are.
There is another issue that has also been at play — viewing women as women and not as humans, often referred to as the weaker or the fair sex. below the vainglorious masculinity, although recent research, by Duke University in North Carolina, has shown that in times of famine, epidemic and hardship over the past 250 years, women, who may not be as strong physically as men are, have consistently outlived men.
The problem becomes grave enough even after this when society, family and individuals collectively start accepting such propositions about any impropriety that women may have in crimes of sexual harassment and the glory of masculinity. A remedy to such mentality, an opposition to such crimes and an antidote to such a situation must come from within the state, society, family and individuals.
But when will that happen? After every family may have at least one woman to have thus been harassed? It is better to make noise, louder enough to have a lasting effect, against wrongs at others being wronged in the slightest rather than after, or until, being wronged. The pain, the scar and the fearful situation that crimes of sexual harassment push women into have always been there. Only people have never been louder enough about this. It is, therefore, not time, for the government, for society, for family or for individuals who constitute family, society and the government, to walk dully along, and away, with every such incident taking place within the reach of conscience.
Abu Jar M Akkas is deputy editor at New Age.