Shammi Syera Simin
As protests seem the only option left for Bangladeshi women to even try to seek any justice, another rally left Shahbag, Dhaka City College, Kalabagaan, Manik Mia Avenue at 11:59pm yesterday, led by feminists—Prapty Taposhi and Fariha Jannat Mim, the demands being basic safety for women and justice for the rape victims.
Gender equality has long been a name of frustration and annoyance for the people of this country, something that exists only on paper. The recent rape incidents that came to light added fuel to the already roaring fire, and it is about time a protest like ‘শেকল ভাঙার পদযাত্রা’ (March to break free from shackles) broke out.
According to Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), Bangladesh saw a record 1,413 incidents of rapes last year with an embarrassing conviction rate of 3% in the cases relating to violence against women and children, and this is without taking into account the huge percentage of the victims, who are held back from reporting about the incidents for the fear of social stigma and persecution.
In order to prove a rape case, first and foremost the victim has to prove that she is not at fault herself, not the other way around; meaning, it is necessary to prove that the alleged victim is ‘morally good’ to get justice (See Section 155 (4) of the Witnesses Act).
“If you saw the repeated attempts to oppress women in this society, if you want freedom, if you want rights like an independent citizen, this walk is for you!”
This protest-rally emphasised the participation of women from any sort of background. It urged them to come forth and fight for themselves, as they ask for their demands to the government—to ensure safety of women, the safety they are entitled to and should never have to ask for in the first place.
Their demands are as follows:
1. Those ever involved in rape and sexual violence across the country, must get exemplary and fair punishment as soon as possible.
2. The definition of rape in terms of society and in law, needs to be reformed in line with international human rights standards.
3. All forms of sexual and social oppression against all women in the hill and plain area of the country must be stopped.
4. Sexual violence—regardless of race, religion, caste, age or gender, must be stopped. Attempts to cover up allegations of rape through Grameen Salish / Panchayat should be considered a punishable offense.
5. Sex education (education of Good Touch and Bad Touch, importance of consent, informing about private parts) should be added to the textbook from elementary level.
6. Section 155 (4) of the Evidence Act, 182 should be repealed in case of rape case and the DNA Act of the case should be implemented in case of evidence.
7. As per the directions of the High Court, the anti-violence against women cell should be implemented effectively and fully in all government and non-government institutions including educational institutions. Bangladesh needs to sign and fully implement the CEDAW Charter. All laws and practices that discriminate against women must be abolished.
8. Ensuring the safety of all children, including children in Madrassahs, and ensuring a fair trial to the fastest tribunal within 90 days if a child is sexually abused.
9. Textbooks approved by the National Curriculum should be banned from publishing and disseminating messages that insult women.
10. Unnecessary police and other harassment of women on the streets should be stopped. Zero tolerance policy should be followed for the safety and security of women in public transport.
11. Online and offline insulting speeches in the name of religious discourse must be stopped.
12. A hotline system should be introduced for the convenience of women in marginalised area to prevent sexual violence.
Rape is a national problem and has always been such. Lack of exemplary punishments, old and backdated laws, and delay of trial are some of the many reasons why rape is still a national problem. Whatever figures we are seeing now, it should be kept in mind that almost more than 75% of similar cases remain unreported due to fear, and the victim’s attempt to avoid revealing her identity to the public. Because at the end of the day, it’s the alleged victim who gets marginalised, not the alleged rapist.
The writer is a part of the TDA Editorial Team.