A few days ago, a Garo woman was abducted from a busy street in Kuril in the capital while she was waiting for transport and was gang raped in a moving microbus. The ghastly incident that has shocked the nation comes only a month after a string of assaults on women that took place during the Bangla New Year festival, where organised goons sexually harassed a number of women at the heart of Dhaka University campus and that too under the very nose of some close circuit television cameras.
There are reports on Facebook and Twitter of women being abducted from Pahela Baishakh celebrations across the capital, news that cannot be independently verified. As the photographs of the perpetrators of the sexual harassment went viral in the social media, a couple of alleged offenders have been identified by the general public and their photos and identity were published. No arrest has yet been made for the crime which has tainted the most secular celebration of the Bangalis.
To make matters even more grievous, the police officers who were patrolling the area on the fateful day of Pahela Baishakh did not intervene even after the victims cried for help. A procession protesting police's failure to nab the culprits was brutally suppressed later with women protesters kicked and manhandled by truncheon-wielding male members of the police force.
Let it be--it is as though this is what the government is telling us to do about the Pahela Baishakh assault. Be it the gang-rape of the Garo women or the mass molestation of women in the Dhaka University campus, the epitome of our secular progressive movement, the police's way of handling of cases of sexual harassment leaves a lot to be desired. This is no less than shocking, for the person at the helm of the country is a woman, and there is no questioning her unwavering and unreserved stance when it comes to establishing women's rights in the country.
There is no denying that the government alone can do little to fight this social malaise. But it can make stringent laws against portrayal of women as sexual objects in the media. Media's role in the spread of sexual harassment and rape is undeniable as it is what moulds our collective psyche. This is especially true for television advertisements where a woman's body is displayed as a commodity that is being used to sell a certain product. A certain angle of the camera or a particular lighting effect is created to expose certain physical attributes that are completely irrelevant to the product for which the commercial advertisement was supposed to be made in the first place.
Domination and subjugation of women are relentlessly aired on TV. It is as though a man can get a job (in some cases a much-sought after cricket match ticket) through hard work and intelligence, but in the case of the woman, she needs to be pretty and must be of fair complexion. The advert of a famous ballpoint pen can be a case in point. A girl child is singing in the background where she says that her father uses the pen (a man is seen working in some office), and the girl says her mother also uses the pen (a woman is seen making a list of groceries). The message is loud and clear. The advert clearly defines the roles of the two genders. And we grow up watching on TV how a woman can show some skin to compensate for whatever lacking she may have in other aspects of life.
Then there is the evil of pornography. Some of the widely accessed websites from Bangladesh cater solely to the viewing of explicit adult content. While the state can do very little to stop its citizens from viewing porn online, it can always be on guard to stop in distribution. It can also make some online filters and raise campaigns among young students to make sure that children do not fall prey to this monster. There are instances where unsuspecting women were videoed by their male lovers in a compromising position, which were later published online. Some famous cases have been reported, and a few arrests have also been made. And yet the government did little to warn the young women in the country about such traps. Of late all young adults in Bangladesh have been given some sex education at the secondary level, but it misses to teach something very basic: how to respect the fairer gender or to see women as an equal partner in life.
Instead we have a generation of men who have been taught the use of contraceptives but do not have any outlet to make use of their sexual awakening. On top of it all, these young men have access to television and the internet which falsely show a fantasy world where women are apparently 'dying' to be noticed and loved by men. Add to that a culture of impunity and an erosion of moral values and what you get is indeed a recipe for disaster.
The writer is Head of Daily Star Books. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org