A few days ago, one of my ex-colleagues, Ms Judi Rozario, faced an incident that shook me to my core.
She was looking for a CNG on her way home from the dentist. All of a sudden, a man approached, punched her in the face, and knocked her down.
She cried out for help when she realised she was bleeding profusely, but no one around her responded.
It was almost as if the entire incident were a scene from a TV show that they were watching from the comfort of their own homes, and they were finding entertainment in her misery.
She eventually managed to contact her dentist and was rescued from there. She couldn't open her eyes for 4/5 days and returned to work a week later with a black eye.
She went to the police after she had recovered. She was asked if she knew the man. However, because she did not know that person, her FIR was not registered, on the basis that it was too late to find the man.
When the news spread via social media and a few television reports, the police finally offered to assist.
From what I have seen and heard thus far, I can say with conviction that most women have experienced disgusting catcalls, abusive language, groping, and inappropriate touching in crowded places and on public transportation almost everywhere in Bangladesh.
The situation in Dhaka, a city that was once referred to in a favourite song of mine as "Jadur Shohor," is so bad that it beggars belief.
How safe are women on Dhaka's streets? If you ask this question to anyone you know, the most likely response will be "not at all safe."
But what happened to Ms. Judi is horrifying beyond words. Are we really that vulnerable that such a random act of monstrosity can happen to anyone in this city? Anytime? Anywhere?
The Business Standard published an article of mine titled "What was she wearing?" a few months ago. It was based on the findings of a survey of women's experiences regarding sexual harassment.
I took another quick look at the survey results and discovered, to my dismay, that approximately 61 percent of the women who participated experienced harassment on the streets of Dhaka.
Someone named Abonty stated that a random stranger once hit her on the back of her head with a wooden stick and then ran away yelling in delight.
In a quavering voice, Hamida described an incident in which some unknown men yelled "women without a head scarf are sex workers" and spit on her from a bus while she was riding in a rickshaw.
Niharika claimed that while passing her in a microbus in Mirpur, a group of men suddenly stopped and yelled, "women like you should be raped and acid should be thrown on your private parts" because she was wearing a regular salwar kameez.
Sharmin's hair was pulled and she was violently pushed at Ramna. The man who did this was cursing in an offensive manner, saying, "these women are the ones who are destroying society."
On her way home, Nishi was stabbed by an unknown man who yelled, "You deserve to die for being a woman." She ended up needing 11 stitches on her hand.
Groping and inappropriate touching on public transportation, on the other hand, are common occurrences, and so are stories of women having their dresses cut from behind in public transportation.
Often, women standing in line at a bus stop late at night receive indecent proposals from men, either directly or indirectly.
These are hate crimes against women. I can confidently state that these are not ordinary mishaps, but hate crimes, because they are committed solely against women, in the form of assault, harassment, or property damage, because of their gender.
The victims (including those mentioned in this story) are commonly found to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is a psychiatric disorder that can occur after experiencing or witnessing a distressing event.
These traumas can result in flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, fainting spells, and even strokes. Most importantly, these instill fear in women and their families, causing difficulties in their daily lives.
Few days back in a television report, Dhaka City women have expressed their fear boldly. One woman stated – "fear begins as soon as we step outside the home and continues until we return home. Nobody deserves to live in such fear."
For women, the Bangladesh Police have a Quick Response Team and 01320042055 is the phone number. 999 can also be saved in the quick dial list.
CCTV cameras should be installed throughout the city so that victims like Judi are not told that it is too late to identify her unknown assailant.
This city belongs to us as much as it does to men. We need to go out for work, education, and to live a normal life. This will require, to say the least, safer streets.
(Except Judi Rozario – every name are pseudonym )
The author is a development practitioner working with Gen Lab.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.