A woman in hijab was calling out to a local bus conductor to stop the bus so that she could get on. The bus was making a turn on the Mirpur road sometime around 7:30 pm. The evening was rather quiet, given that it was Dhaka's first Iftar this year.
Although the bus slightly slowed down, she could not manage to step on.
As the woman and the bus moved forward, the traffic policeman behind her, snickered and said "ahare thamlo na," in a voice mimicking that of the woman and proceeded to say more that was beyond my earshot. The woman turned back to his words and called him out. I could not follow what happened next as the rickshaw I was sitting on moved past the traffic police box.
That is a "light" anecdote, a random needle picked out of a haystack of examples of what women usually go through on any given day, under any given circumstance, out on the Dhaka streets: unprovoked commentary from men and verbal harassment.
You may have noticed how this little anecdote mentions the woman wearing a hijab, irrelevant, sure. But in a city where culture and religion and what women wear - all mar a woman's experience, it is probably worth mentioning that the hijab failed to spare her from the particular constable's snickering and mocking tone.
Regardless of what a woman chooses to wear, no article of clothing or accessories can shield her from harassment on the streets, at least that much is well-established.
What is our culture?
In less than 10 days, Pohela Boishakh will once again be at our doorsteps. And yet again the religious groups would likely object to the celebrations that they see as a "Hindu" inspired, non-Godly day. And that too, during the month of the Holy Ramadan.
Pohela Boishakh is as much a part of the Bangali culture and experience as is the Holy Month of Ramadan. Both religion and culture are part and parcel of our national identity, a fact gravely lost on so many. And women happen to be served the short end of the stick.
This brings us to the latest attack on a woman because of her physical appearance. On Saturday, Dr Lata, a teacher of Tejgaon College, was verbally abused by constable Nazmul Tareq for wearing a teep. She was on foot at the time, while Tareq was sitting on his stationary bike. When Dr Lata confronted him in protest of his harassment, the constable did not only continue with his slandering remarks (that are too vile to even mention in the General Diary subsequently filed) but he tried to run her over with his motorcycle, injuring Dr Lata.
When the source of abuse belongs to law enforcement agencies, the one and the same who are 'supposed' to serve and protect, the ripple effect is felt more deeply.
And lest we forget, it was just a teep that triggered the man in the police uniform. Who would have thought that a teep could strip this slightly overweight, bearded, most likely middle-aged man, (according to the GD filed) of his inhibitions and shake him to his core so much that he not only verbally abused Dr Lata but used his motorcycle to physically harm her.
The latest update on this incident is that the perpetrator has been identified. Nazmul Tareq was subsequently suspended and a departmental investigation was launched against him on 4 April. Time will tell, to what extent, these actions will make an impact.
It is extremely important that rule of law is reestablished and strongly implemented, as to protect women from such aggressors.
A very weak but the only probable defence of Nazmul Tareq's actions can be that he remains as the uninitiated man who somehow missed the Bangali women's traditional attire.
"I am a Bangali woman. I sincerely believe that putting on a teep is part of my culture," said Shahana Huda Ranjana, Senior Coordinator, Manusher Jonno Foundation, "I saw my mother wear a teep. Everyone in my family wears a teep. I also wear one every day and will continue to do so."
I cannot cite surveys or studies on how Bangali women have always worn teep, but anecdotal confirmations are plenty. For instance, photo albums from all of our households dating back several decades can most likely attest to this fact.
Shahana added, "In the 1980s, when we were studying in the university, almost all the girls used to wear teep with sharee. I have seen the same during my college days. What happened all of a sudden that deemed teep as embarrassing?"
And, what if, for the sake of argument, wearing teep is synonymous to Hindu women?
Does that give any grounds to Nazmul Tareq to harass and physically harm Dr Lata? Reason would dictate, a strong no. Protecting Hindu women, a minority in this country, should be a priority; otherwise, Nazmul Tareqs will continue to go scot-free.
"The constitution gives me the right to dress as I wish. Neither the state nor any force can snatch away that right. [And] my dress and makeup is not point for judgement on whether I am a Hindu or a Muslim or a Buddhist or a Christian," said Shahana, also a women's rights activist.
"Some people say that Muslims don't wear teeps and people who do wear won't go to heaven. But the thing is, who gave them the responsibility to make me a Muslim and ensuring my place in heaven?" explained Shahana, "If you want to save the country from communalism and bigotry then these religious policing must stop. I am a Bangalee. And this should be my biggest identity."
Not just in Bangladesh, but women are constantly told what to wear at home, at work, on the streets, in many cases, even by the state; which, inevitably, is perpetuated by the general mass - be it hijab bans in non-Muslim countries to harassment for not wearing hijab in Muslim-majority countries.
There is no respite from what men and the consensus say about what women choose to wear. Time immemorial it has been contested by state laws and religious doctrines, and imposed on women, even by coercion. Many Middle Eastern countries, to date, continue to impose mandatory hijab laws on women.
One of the more recent trends pertaining to states dictating women's clothing is: hijab bans. We have long seen how European countries moved to pass bills and motions in parliament to disallow women to choose to wear hijab at work or parliament.
More close to home is the example of India. A recent court ruling in the state of Karnataka in India banned Muslim students from wearing hijabs and headscarves in schools. (2011 census numbers the state's Muslim population above 78 lakh, amounting to more than 12.92% of its 6 crore population).
In culture-religion debates, more often than not, women's rights get mangled by the predominantly male pundits and policy makers. What women wear and how they dress always seem to upset men; from uniformed police officers like Nazmul Tareq to prime ministers (like Narendra Modi) and presidents (like Emmanuel Macron). No bars held, it seems.
Thus it is always crucial to put out any and all fire of gender-based discrimination and harassment before it grows into an inferno with ashen women's rights.
Sadiqur Rahman and Zia Chowdhury contributed to this article.