Will it be another case of impunity for rape? | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 20, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:09 PM, March 20, 2017

FIRST DEATH ANNIVERSARY OF SOHAGI JAHAN TONU

Will it be another case of impunity for rape?

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The last time anyone involved in investigating Tonu's case gave any real updates was last June. 

Last June when they did her second autopsy. That is nearly nine months. 

The autopsy done by Comilla Medical College and Hospital's forensic department found evidence of rape. This was a confirmation of the DNA tests done by the Crime Investigation Department (CID) earlier in May that identified three separate spermatozoa samples. 

That is pretty much where public knowledge ended - knowing that it's confirmed that she's been raped, and that three different men were involved. This is where we are at. 

The investigators have not provided any update in the past few months - or even issued any general statement about the progress. 

It is of course understandable that for the sake of strategy, a lot about the investigation process will be kept private by the cops. But not knowing anything at all - now that is scary because it hints at impunity. 

Some questions pop into the scene like the elephant in the room - have they, in fact, identified Tonu's killers? Is the discovery of association with the institution why the investigation is being dragged out? 

It is important not to forget that Tonu was after all discovered dead within the cantonment zone. It's an area with guarded borders keeping track of who goes in or out where a majority of residents - if not all - are also associated with a disciplined service. There is enough justification for the questions mentioned above. 

Not knowing anything is scary because lived experiences of the impunity the politically connected indulge in, are quite abundant. 

Even the highly regarded International Crisis Group documented how politicised Bangladesh's criminal justice system is, in a report last year. Quoting directly from the report, it stated that “a deeply politicised, dysfunctional criminal justice system is undermining rather than buttressing the rule of law.”

Doing a comprehensive research across existing literature, the report listed out any and all references to the relationship between politics and law enforcement. One of the examples cited by them was the 2002 Operation Clean Heart, which was abundant with allegations of being politically charged. The report stated that: “In an implicit acknowledgement of abuses, the government promulgated an ordinance indemnifying military personnel against prosecution for casualties, injury, and damage to property caused by the operation”. And of course, while historical perspective shows how systemic and deep-rooted the problem is, the extra-judicial abuses, and politically-motivated operations of the Rapid Action Battalion of today are common knowledge.  

Those same questions were the ones asked by the entire #JusticeForTonu movement. Just on Facebook, there are over 58,300 public posts where the words 'Tonu' and 'army' appeared together (in Bengali). What this shows is that people are discussing and speculating about the alleged conjunction between Tonu's rape and murder, and members of the law and order forces. Mainstream media too - from print to electronic - have been publishing pieces and having discussions cautioning the investigators to not give into the lure of indemnity. 

In fact, it can even be argued that the whole movement was born out of a fear that Tonu too will either be forgotten by the public or be lost in the black hole of impunity. That is problematic. The fact that the general public has to take a stand and demand justice for a crime - justice that is a right granted to them by the Constitution - is disturbing. 

What is even more problematic is that the progression of the case itself in many ways justified the cause of the movement. Tonu's first autopsy found no evidence of rape. Only when civil society and media pressurised the investigators to exhume the body and do a second autopsy was rape confirmed. 

The fear of impunity is not just because of political interference though. The legal gridlock is a long, tiring, expensive process for anyone seeking justice and it is so easy to lose interest. It is a process in which medical evidence of sexual knowledge about a woman is exposed to the public, making it difficult for survivors and victims' families to go through it. The most intimate details of a person's most traumatising moment are dissected in an open court, making all those concerned relive the trauma. 

Recently, statistics provided to The Daily Star by Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers' Association showed that roughly only fifty percent of all reported cases of rape ever make it to the courtroom. Conviction rates are less than ten percent across the years. The statistics came with a caution - that they don't even reflect the scores of rapes that go unreported throughout the country. 

As the year rolled around with no real updates, the #JusticeForTonu movement started losing fire. Save for a few scant voices crying out declarations of “never forget Tonu”, there's no steam in that engine anymore. The old fear is back - will this case too be lost? 

The writer is a member of Star Weekend, The Daily Star. 

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