We're Live Bangla Monday, October 26, 2020

Rape in time of Corona

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Recent incidences of rape have created great social turmoil in Bangladesh. Social media, the carrier of public opinion these days, is exploding with rage. Professional media is feeding audiences hungry for such news regularly. 

Expressions of public anger have crossed national boundaries. The UN has expressed concern about the escalating violence against women in Bangladesh. It's a time of shame for the country. One hopes people will ask why it has gone up and what are the factors which have contributed to the rise.  

Recent Cases 

Two recent incidents of rape ignited the spark. One involved a newly married couple in a Sylhet college. The wife was picked up and gang-raped while the husband was tied up. The campus was locked up but apparently some students stayed on. The husband complained to the police and on its basis, several have been arrested. What makes it so sensational is that all the alleged rapists are members of the ruling party. 

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The other case occurred in a village in Begumganj, in southern Bangladesh, where a woman was stripped and subjected to extreme physical violence. And while all this was on, a camera captured it. Subsequently it was released on social media which caused massive public anger. It transpired that the leader was a gangster of the area, obviously under the protection of the local political biggies of the ruling party. The victim informed the investigating team of the Human Rights Commission that she had been raped by him before.

This is condemned as a crime against women. Clearly, violence against women has been rising in recent years. Public resentment, particularly that of women, is very high on this issue. 

Other Cases

Two other cases had aroused great interest. One is now on trial alleging the rape of a Dhaka University student allegedly by a street vendor. When the news first emerged, many people were skeptical about the identity of the rapist as he was such a down and out person. Plus, the rape occurred in the cantonment area which is a high security zone. However, the case has proceeded with and the victim has identified the accused. Meanwhile, even while the trial was on, the accused tried to jump from the roof in a suicide bid.  

The other case involves Nur, the Vice President of the Dhaka University students body who is also an anti-government activist. He was accused of abetting rape by a student of Dhaka University. In fact, he was even arrested and released twice. He, of course, denied the charge and has said that all cases filed against him are fake and politically motivated. He has even refused to seek bail.

The accuser victim moved the Court asking why Nur was let off. The Court said that the police have the power to arrest such an accused anytime and it's a non-bailable offense and so it will leave the matter to them. Why the Government is not taking advantage of the situation and putting Nur behind bars remains an unanswered question, given the swift action against its political opponents.  

Politics of Rape?

Social media is the dominant social space in Bangladesh and voices there are loud and angry. But protests have taken place on the streets too particularly by Left organizations. They clashed with the police but were dispersed. The once major political party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), has also protested but it has been muted. Retaliation against BNP would of course be severe. 

Leftist leaders have also faced charges of rape by their own activists as a recent case shows. Meanwhile, the leader of the largest religious organization Hefazot has declared that rape could be avoided if women observed "purdah." Social media also have several groups which are into victim blaming. Meanwhile, feminists have demanded a restructuring of social relations blaming "patriarchy" for the crime. 

What comes through is that there is huge social insecurity and anger against the powerful and those linked to power and privileges. What's driving people is their sense of frustration seeing not just crimes rise but also the absence of punishment. Anger is rooted in that sense of helplessness.  

Ruling party members have also protested, particularly its cultural activists. But the political persons are aware of the cost involved, making the government unpopular. That takes the issue into a new space altogether. Social crime, including rape, is not the main priority, politics is. And in that space there is no competition.