These last few days have been marked by protests – online and on the streets in Bangladesh – against sexual violence, misogyny and dominance of patriarchy. Ever since the barbaric video footage of a rural woman being tortured by several men was uploaded on the social media, we see huge discourse about abusive attitude towards women in society.
The motivations and demands of the demonstrators may differ greatly, like those of any other unorganised protest. While some simply demand justice for all rape victims, others want nothing short of capital punishment for rapists and abusers, as deterrent act for future.
Sexual violence, mostly directed towards women, has been an undying social evil in Bangladesh. However, a steady rise in the number of rape cases in recent times portrays how severe the problem is becoming with every passing day. The country has seen at least 13 rape incidents a day in the first four months of this year.
Rights activists say most rapes in the country go unreported. This is certainly the case for the woman who was tortured and raped in Noakhali, whose case did not reach the ears of the law enforcement people until the video footage was made public by none but her abuser, yet almost a month after the incident had actually taken place.
The recent protests started on October 5 but the people’s anger have been brewing since the MC College gang-rape report surfaced.
Even though the government has established 95 Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunals to deliver swift justice, a culture of impunity remains almost undisturbed. That’s ‘encouraging for perpetrators, and utterly frustrating for the masses. But the aforementioned video gave the people a sense of urgency to raise voice.
The first day’s protest demonstrations were largely peaceful. But on Tuesday, a procession, when it was trying to move towards Ganabhaban, was stopped by the police personnel. Student leaders claimed that without any provocation the police beat mercilessly and harassed the participants. They brought out another procession in that evening to protest against the police brutality.
There is a strong sense of discontent as protesters feel the state has failed to protect the women and deliver justice that creates peace and social confidence. Muaz (single name), a Dhaka University student, said, “Nobody feels safe anymore. Women are constantly afraid of being molested, assaulted or raped. Their families are worried about their safety. This cannot be the climate of a civilized society”.
Women’s rights activists have been saying for years that the abuse of power is one of major causes of the culture of impunity for rapists and abusers.
This protest has also generated discourse on misogyny that exists in society. Many feel women are objectified by their own families and communities. They are often denied the chance of growing as a person, of attaining education and of gaining financial independence. Such a practice makes them more vulnerable to both domestic and sexual abuse.
Moreover, stigmatisation of rape stops women from reporting instances of abuse, thus the culprits go unpunished. The constant victim-blaming does not help either in addressing the issue.
So, the protesters expressed outrage over how rape is often justified by blaming the crime on the victims’ outfits, their lifestyle, socioeconomic status, religious beliefs and so on.
Hundreds of thousands of women have taken part in a virtual “Female Blackout” to show solidarity with the protesters, to demand justice for the victims and to stop misogynist practices. Some of them are sharing their stories of being objectified, molested, violated and abused to show that sexual violence is part of a woman’s life. Some protesters call for introducing sex education in the school curriculum, more social welfare and employment opportunities for women and making reproductive health products more affordable and accessible.
People have been talking about stricter laws and proper investigations for cases of rape and sexual abuse for some time. Some have suggested that capital punishment for such crimes can act as deterrence. Others think the capital punishment will not make potential criminals afraid since the conviction rate is surprisingly low.
This demonstrates that the investigations are not being handled with proper care, professionalism and fairness. As of 2016, only 575 convicts were serving sentences for rape, according to the prison population statistics.
The protests are gaining momentum and spreading all over the country, to Khulna, Narayanganj and many other places. One wave of protest may not cure society of this plague, still, it is opening up new windows for activists, victims and others in society to contribute from respective unique positions to making changes in society.
Readus Shalehen Jawad is a first-year student at Department of Economics, the University of Dhaka.