The rape incident at Begumganj in Noakhali has surpassed all other recent crimes. Especially, it shook people's conscience after the video of the incident went viral on Facebook. The 32-day old incident surprised people after it came to the spotlight.
Though people were agitated due to the rape incidents in Sylhet and Savar, the cry of the Begumganj's rape victim in the video, "Babago, Amare Chhaira De" pierced everybody's heart.
The word in the news headlines 'Bibostro' (nude) offends our eyes.
Even law enforcers of the local police station did not know anything about the incident though 32 days had passed. Now as people all over the country are protesting against it, the high officials of the administration are rushing to the spot. All of them, including DIG and UNO, went there on foot as the road was dilapidated. But now all of these are meaningless. The rapists could brutally torture the woman under the shelter of political leaders' power and due to the negligence of the local administration as well as the leaders.
We are stunned to see the audacity of the rapists. They shot the video to take more advantage from it by spreading it on Facebook. But they could not guess that society would react to it so vigorously. They could not take that advantage from the video. However, they showed people the ugly face of power.
Just think, this woman is still alive. But does her life remain like before? There is no way to see her face except her upset, hurt and justice seeker eyes. She is speaking to journalists. She said, "If there was any other woman in my place, she would have committed suicide by taking poison or hanging herself from the ceiling. But I just thought this pain is trivial. The punishment in Akherat (afterlife) is more painful. I think one day I will get justice. People of the country have protested. I am grateful to Allah for that."
According to Ain O Salish Kendra, 975 women had been raped, 43 women had been killed after rape and 1,992 women had gone through attempt to rape incidents from January to September in 2020. Yes, all of them want justice. Apart from them, there are many more victims whose stories are not published in the media. They are also compelled to hide themselves. What more can they do except 'live' under the rule of society? This so called 'living' is not a life, certainly. Those who want to expose the crimes perpetrated on them are unwilling to face rape once again by seeking justice.
Those who rape women somehow possess power. Household owners or their sons can keep the domestic helps' mouth shut after raping them. Rape victims can be made mum in the workplace. Teachers rape students in educational institutions. And at home, the rapists among the relatives are powerful in terms of relations. But the more dangerous ones are the powerful people who are patronised by the police and political parties. Police will do nothing against them. Police will not even allow a case to be filed against them. This is their power.
The rapists are so powerful that they give threats to the victims after raping them, though they know that it is a crime. They do it to show off their power. By raping women, rapists can prove that nobody can do anything to them even after they have committed such heinous crimes. The role of the state is implicit here. These new rapists are directly linked to state power. They know that they are secure.
The state has also proven the assumption of the rapists true. No violence or vandalism is happening in protest programmes against rapes. In the procession with sticks, no protester is beating anybody with a stick. But still, you see how police baton-charge the protesters, injuring many of them. These protesters only sought punishment of the rapists and criticised the failure of the government in preventing the rapists from using power. And that's it. Then why are police attacking the processions and rallies? In this way, the state is itself involved with rape.
Now comes the demands made in the protests. 'Lorai Lorai Lorai Chai, Lorai Kore Bachte Chai' (fight, fight, fight is what we want, we want to live by fighting), 'Fasi Fasi Fasi Chai' (We want death penalty for rapists by hanging), 'Rapists are the enemies of the nation, of society,' 'No mercy to rapists, 'Rape is not apolitical', Raise your voice against rape', 'We want justice,' 'Where is my security?,' 'Women are not a commodity', and 'Form a separate tribunal for the trial of rapists' are the demands and slogans of the protesters.
If we notice carefully we understand that the demand for the death penalty has arisen from extreme resentment. But the main demands are about the dignity and safety of women, the rapists' political affiliation, ensuring proper justice, raising a voice against rape and overall, the call for a movement. But the main demands are suppressed as the media is only emphasising the death penalty.
In this situation, we want the state fulfilling the minimum responsibility of assuring people that women will get security at home and outside of home. Besides, men will not have the unfair power which will make them desperate. The state will play its role in this regard. But these types of steps have not been seen as yet. The government is only giving priority on amending laws to give the death penalty to rapists.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has given the directive to prepare a draft on the amendment to section-9 (1) of the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act. It will be placed at the cabinet meeting on October 12. It means the issue will be resolved very soon
Law Minister Anisul Haque told the media that the government was considering increasing the punishment of rapists from life term to the death sentence. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has given the directive to prepare a draft on the amendment to section-9 (1) of the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act. It will be placed at the cabinet meeting on October 12. It means the issue will be resolved very soon. Perhaps the announcements of the death penalty on one or two rapists will also come.
Now the question is whether it will be able to defuse the resentment of the people. Will the movement come to an end? If the announcement of giving a death sentence to a rapist comes fast, the procedure to execute the verdict has to be maintained. And may be in one or two cases, the procedure can be finished within a short time. But if it is done following proper rules, it will take time. Whereas if the rapists are given other kinds of punishment instead of death penalty, it will take less time to execute the verdicts. In this way, verdicts of giving punishment to rapists can be executed in so many cases within a short time.
We can have a look at the experiences of India to realise that the death sentence is not at all an effective tool to stop rape. Consider the much-talked-about rape incident in India which took place in 2012. When Nirbhaya, a female medical student, was brutally gang-raped on a bus in Delhi, people all over India demanded the death penalty for the rapists. The girl died after fighting for her life for several days.
Considering the gravity of the incident, death sentences on rapists were declared in 2013. But the verdict was executed in 2015.
Nibhaya's parents were satisfied with the verdict. But nobody can claim that rape incidents in India have decreased after carrying out this punishment. In India, 88 rape incidents take place on an average per day, and 30 percent of the incidents are brought to trial.
Recently, four upper caste men gang-raped a lower caste girl in Uttar Pradesh in India. The victim was admitted to a hospital, and died after 14 days. After the Nirbhaya incident, this rape has caused a storm of protests in India again.
There is no such evidence in India and Bangladesh which proves that rape will stop if there is a provision in the law to give rapists the death sentence. In 1995, three policemen were hanged to death in the Yesmin rape and murder case due to the country-wide movement protesting against the incident in Bangladesh. But rape has not stopped. However, people from all walks of life have became conscious. It was a milestone.
Still now, only three percent of rape cases in Bangladesh get verdicts in trials. In India, feminists who work on laws are discussing whether the death penalty can stop rape at all. It is implicit in the increasing number of rape cases that it does not.
Feminists think that if there is a provision of the death penalty in the law, the tendency of killing after rape will increase. Because, rapists do not want to keep any evidence of their crimes. If the rapist is a powerful man, police will not take the case. On the other hand, judges differ in their opinions while giving such an extreme punishment. The upper court sometimes rejects the verdict of the lower court.
Besides, all these things depend on whether the victim has a good lawyer or not. Though women and human rights organisations fight for rape victims in many cases, all victims do not get this facility. If the rapists are socially, financially and politically powerful, they do not get the death penalty.
In most cases, rapists are known faces. Victims fear them normally or they are threatened. So the victims do not say anything about the incidents. The provision of death penalty will create extra pressure on rape victims to prove the allegations. Consequently, it turns into another rape by law. Submitting medical reports as evidence is a kind of rape. Lawyers questioning a rape victim at the court creates mental and social pressure on her. Most women cannot tolerate it.
So to put an end to rape, the power disparity between men and women has to be removed.
Most importantly, the first thing is to demolish the political power which is being used to rape a woman. This issue should be raised strongly by those who are involved in the women rights movement.
It is very clear that the nature of this rape incident of Begumganj is totally different. The root of this incident lies in the power of the state and in the nature of the power. So the movement should focus on the root.
Writer: Executive Director, UBINIG, Dhaka, a policy and research organisation in Bangladesh; Convener of Anti-Tobacco Women Alliance