A year and a half into the incident of sexual assault on women during Pahela Baishakh celebrations on Dhaka University campus, Police Bureau of Investigation (PBI) pressed charges against a lone arrestee in the case.
Investigation officer (IO) Abdur Razzak said that the names of seven others identified in the video footage would be included in the charge sheet if police could arrest them.
It is tough to put into words the frustration and hopelessness we feel. Despite substantial footage of the incident that shows hordes of men assaulting women, only one man has been charged, that too after more than a year has passed. It is yet another brutal blow for the rights of women in this country who continue to face physical and sexual violence in all spheres of life.
In the evening of Pahela Baishakh on April 14, 2015, more than 20 women were sexually assaulted for over an hour by groups of men on the DU campus. Although at least 27 CCTV cameras and several police checkpoints were installed in the area to ‘ensure security’, it is incomprehensible as to how this despicable act was allowed to happen in the first place. The inaction of the police personnel standing nearby and their subsequent denial of having identified the attackers— even though a police officer released two of the culprits who had been caught and handed over to him by public— are shameful to say the least. The memory of the incident which led to an outcry on social media and protests in the streets seems to be eroding, as is usually the case, sadly, with such crimes in the country.
The public nature of this specific incident makes it all the more nauseating. It was a display of one of the worst kinds of mob mentality. Hordes of men not only felt unafraid but also emboldened to grope, gnaw and tear off women’s clothes— if this isn’t a testament to the repulsive mentality held towards women in this country and an indicator of the utter incompetence of our law enforcement personnel, then I don’t know what is.
The irony of the matter is that this disgusting act happened on Pahela Baishakh— a day that encapsulates the beauty of our cultural heritage, spirit of secularism and unity amongst the people of the nation. This act of violence is yet another symptom of the dangerously shrinking space for women in the public realm.
As a country on its way to attaining middle-income status, we need to ask ourselves what exactly ‘development’ entails because ensuring security for women does not seem to be a goal policymakers and law enforcers seem to be taking seriously. In no civilised society can criminals get away with what we saw occur on Pahela Baishakh last year. Given that law enforcers so miserably failed to prevent the sexual assault of women on that unfortunate day, they must leave no stone unturned in arresting and punishing the seven others who have been identified so far. That’s the least they can do.
The writer is a member of the Editorial team of The Daily Star.