The year 2019 starts with trauma in the socio-political sphere of the life of ordinary citizens when we witnessed brutal gang rape of a mother of four by 10-12 unruly ruling party men in Subarnachar of Noakhali for voting for the sheaf of paddy in the just concluded national polls. The audacity violating a female voter and threaten to kill her husband and children for political choice is heinous, deplorable and unprecedented. All forms of sexual harassment, including rape and gang rape, to women, girls and children have become estrus in the recent times for the political shield of offenders, politico-economic clouts, sure impunity, and lacks moral, religious and familial teaching, and nonexistence of effective judicial system.
Where the law enforcement agencies stumbled to arrest the alleged rapists and the judicial system mired in a lengthy procedure, the mythical Hercules— nobody knows who is, or are Hercules– pulls off the alleged who were supposed to stay inside police custody or jail, shoot them leaving a note.
Print and electronic media throughout January and February became preoccupied with the news of rape, gang-rape and sexual violence though right campaigners say what appears in the news media is just the tip of a large iceberg. In most cases, not more than two per cent of the incidents are reported nationally while data from Dhaka metropolitan areas paint even a grimmer picture—just 1.06 per cent cases saw convictions between 2002 and 2017.
On January 3, we horrendously observed that a class-IV girl was raped by a trader when the beast found the girl alone in her residence in Moulvibazar. The very next day a 22-year-old mentally challenged woman was gang-raped by three men in the same district. The men picked up the woman by a CNG-run auto-rickshaw and violated her in an abandoned building. On January 7, an eight-year-old girl was killed after being “raped” in Satkhira district. On the same day, two 5-year-old girls Nusrat and Dola were murdered after two rapists failed to rape them in Dhaka. The accused confined the kids to a room and pretended that they would keep the promise. In the meantime, they took Yaba and played songs on a speaker. At one stage, the men tried to rape the victims who started screaming. At this, the culprits strangled them to death. The newspapers of January 11 come out with headlines— “4 women confined, raped for months” and Mother of four raped in Cumilla”. In the first case, four women aged between 19 and 26 allegedly confined and raped at a house in Rampur area of Feni town for around six months. Police rescued the victims but the let the rapist escape. In the second case, police arrested two suspected rapists after the victim filed a case with the police station nearly three weeks after she was gang-raped. Rights campaigner Ain o Salish Kendra reported that at least 74 women and children were raped in January and 32 were between six and 18 years old. In February, we see police arrested two policemen in allegation of rape of a 22-year-old girl who said she had been held captive for two days last week and repeatedly raped by the sub-inspector ranked policemen. In 2018, 732 women and children were raped from January 1 to December 31 last year. Of them, 203 women and children were gang-raped.
In this milieu, mythical Roman god Hercules appeared to take revenge on behalf of victims by killing at least three alleged rapists escaping judicial procedure. Where the law enforcement agencies stumbled to arrest the alleged rapists and the judicial system mired in a lengthy procedure, the mythical Hercules— nobody knows who is, or are Hercules– pulls off the alleged who were supposed to stay inside police custody or jail, shoot them leaving a note. The method of wiping out the rapists, despite being lauded due to the failure of judiciary and law enforcers, is not a good sign that ultimately put distrust of judiciary and helplessness of police. The note hanging around the neck of the killed rapists’ reads, “… this is the consequence of a rapist. Be aware rapists…Hercules.”
On January 14, a madrasa-student was allegedly gang-raped by two men when she was on the way to her grandparents’ house. Her father filed a case with Bhandaria Police Station accusing Sajal and Rakib. On January 24, police recovered Sajal’s bullet-hit body in Jhalakathi’s Kathalia Upazila, with a note hanging around the neck. On January 17, police found the body of Ripon, 39, a key suspect in the gang rape and murder of a female garment worker, in Savar with a similar note hanging around the neck.
The Hercules might have an honest instinct to warn the social criminal who violated women by setting exemplary punishment but neither constitution nor the religion put such responsibilities on any group other than the State and the judiciary. When any government fails to protect innocent including women and children, revolutionary dogma or militancy get hotspot to grow up as they offer alternative solutions. But in the end, such extra-state power challenges the state and its organs. The government is in the dark who is Hercules?
A 2013 UN multi-country study on male violence found that the majority of the perpetrators faced no legal consequences for raping a woman or girl in the country. It appears that the vast majority of rape victims are precluded from accessing justice, which in turn creates a culture of impunity for rapists.
The legal definition of rape in section 375 of Bangladesh Penal Code which itself discriminatory and lessen the scope for justice. It defines rape as gender-specific and does not address sexual violence against men or transgendered persons. At the same time, Section 155(4) of the Evidence Act 1872 allows a rape complainant’s sexual behaviour to be raised in court to prove she is of a generally immoral character, often resulting in defence lawyers victim-shaming in courtrooms and deploying archaic and stereotypical notions of consent to deny victims justice.
It is unthinkable that less than two per cent of rape cases filed in the country over the last five years have ended in conviction. Legal experts point out that because the legal process is so humiliating, the bulk of cases end in out of court settlements. According to police data, 18,668 rape cases were filed during the last five years (2012-2017) and there were only 22 convictions. The bulk of rape victims shy away from pursuing cases because it is simply too embarrassing.
Though the High Court in last April banned the controversial use of “two-finger test” conducted for the rape victims to prove the rape, due to lack of medical equipment, training and knowledge and arrangement, the humiliating test is still exercised. The two-finger test or virginity test allows doctors to inspect the hymen of women who have been raped. This is also supposed to test vaginal laxity and decide whether the victim is habituated to sexual intercourse. Undoubtedly, the two-finger test and its interpretation violate the right of rape survivors to privacy, physical and mental integrity and dignity. Thus, this test, even if the report is affirmative, cannot ipso facto, gives rise to the presumption of consent.
What’s behind for the sharp rise?
The free intrusion of foreign culture and flood of adult contents through high speedy cheap internet have already disarrayed the social mosaic, family bonding, moral barometer, while education cannot put any restriction and to respect opposite sex.
Many researchers in the West have found that men who are already predisposed towards sexual violence are further encouraged after watching pornography that seems to justify those acts. There is also enough research to show that watching adult content does have significant effects on men and boys regarding women’s role in society, sex, rape etc. Donna Rice Hughes, an internationally known internet safety expert, in her research, has found that boys’ (14 years or younger) frequent exposure to pornography may result in their involvement in sexually deviant acts, especially rape. The study Hughes cites, of convicted child molesters, has found that 77 per cent of those who molested boys and 87 per cent of those who molested girls admitted to the habitual use of pornography in the commission of their crimes.
The method of wiping out the rapists, despite being lauded due to the failure of judiciary and law enforcers, is not a good sign that ultimately put distrust of judiciary and helplessness of police.
A study conducted by Manusher Jonno Foundation in 2009 reveals that many school-going and out of school children are exposed to pornography. The research also made some frightening discoveries – around 77 per cent of respondents to one of the studies said they get involved in pornography as viewers, while a significant number of children have turned into performers and sellers of porn clips. Sometimes, shopkeepers of video stores, relatives and pimps convince children to take part in child pornography.
The growing trend of violence to women and children is the sheer example of hollowness in the stringent women development and gender parity narrative of the government based on statistical data. The diminishing social values and religious practices, easy availability of porn are the social causes behind the rising number of rape incidents in the Muslim majority country. The society which itself become corrupts for the absence of rule of law and inexistence of social protest could not console the sexual violence as we become habitual to see such crimes where laws bent in favour of power.
Functions of State
There are two facts that contradict each other but between those, the real facts come out. First, a woman’s attire, alcohol intake, marital status, and education level do not contribute to sexual abuse – abusive men do. Second, sexual abuse doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Every level of society – social norms, media, and Government – is complicit in promoting the rape culture that perpetuates sexual abuse.
Social norms demonize a woman for speaking out, victim-blaming her by asking what she was wearing, whether she gave signals inviting abuse, or asking why she didn’t speak up sooner. How can we rely on the government when 97 per cent of rapists never see a day in prison, judges punish rape of an unconscious college woman with a measly three months in jail, award rapists with equal custody of the child born from a woman they raped. The fact is that states are not moral actors—people are. But when people let bad behaviour go unchallenged we inch closer to societal anarchy. In truth, any expectation that we can simply pass a law to stop sexual abuse is foolish.
Realistic Principles to prevent sexual crime
This is where Islamic teachings and Prophet Muhammad’s example provide a solution that no state truly can. Islam implores accountability to the creator, but rather than preach empty dogmatic theories, Islam instead prescribes a proven model.
The Quran further obliges men to provide for a woman’s every financial need, while holding that anything a woman earns is hers alone – preempting financial abuse. And when it comes to the Islamic concept of Hijab, it is men who are first commanded to never gawk at women and instead guard their private parts and chastity, regardless of how women choose to dress – pre-empting sexual abuse. Prophet Muhammad himself illustrated this point. In a famous incident, a woman described as strikingly beautiful approached the Prophet to seek his guidance on some religious matters. The Prophet’s companion, Al Fadl, began to stare at her because of her beauty. Noting this, the Prophet Muhammad did not scold the woman for her attire, but instead, he “reached his hand backwards, catching Al Fadl’s chin, and turned his face to the other side so that he would not gaze at her”.
Accordingly, the Prophet Muhammad by example demonstrated that the burden of modesty, respect, and combating abuse of women rests on men. Indeed, men must take the lead in stopping such sexual abuse. After all, while the Quran obliges women to dress modestly as a covenant with God, Islam prescribes no punishment whatsoever for women who choose to dress otherwise.
On the contrary, on numerous occasions, Prophet Muhammad punished an accused rapist on the testimony of the rape survivor alone. In this environment of gender equity, women in Islam rise to the rank of legal scholars, warriors, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists while lovingly embracing identities as mothers and housewives.
Sexual abuse of women will markedly decrease when men stop abusing women and when men stop thinking that just because they haven’t personally abused women, they have no further obligations. According to Islam, every man is accountable to stop the abuse of women—by their word and by their acts. Many abusers like Weinstein walk our streets, terrorizing our neighbours. Together, we can employ a proven Islamic model that will stop this madness, and re-invoke gender equity today.
If we are to be truly committed to ending sexual violence, and ensuring that women not only get justice but have the scope of asking for it, the state must set examples by finishing the trial in time. Otherwise, the delay will be exploited by the accused to their advantage.
Abdullah Zobair is a teacher, journalist and social activist. Follow him @azobair