The ‘harasser’ doubles down on his act
A woman who had sued a man for sexually harassing her on a moving bus is now facing a case filed by him under the Digital Security Act.
She had to spend six days in jail last month after being arrested in the case.
Talking to The Daily Star recently, she said Shah Paran, a lawyer, groped her thighs while she was travelling back to Dhaka from Cox's Bazar on the night of December 4, 2020.
She asked the driver to pull over, dialed 999, and then filed a case for sexual harassment with the nearest police station in Chattogram's Lohagara.
"The lights were turned off so that passengers could sleep. The man sitting next to me kept falling on me. Initially, I thought it was unintentional, so I asked him a few times to sit properly.
"At one point, I was dozing off. Suddenly, I felt his hand rubbing against mine a few times. I put my handbag between us but he did not stop."
She said she then felt his hand pressing on her thighs. She looked at the man and saw his face hidden under a blanket.
"I called the conductor and asked him to turn on the lights. At this, the man whispered 'sorry' into my ear. But when the lights were on, he got angry and said things like this happen in buses. He then asked me to sit in a seat at the back if I had any problem."
After she called the national helpline, members from Lohagara Police Station appeared at the scene and arrested Paran.
On February 8, 2021, police submitted a charge sheet in the case, mentioning that the accused "touched the woman inappropriately twice".
The police officer who investigated the incident said in the charge sheet that he interviewed witnesses and found circumstantial evidence against the accused.
Contacted on Wednesday, Paran said it was a "sub-judice" matter, so he wouldn't make any comments.
His lawyer, however, told a Dhaka court that it was only a tussle over a seat, according to documents of a court order delivered on March 10.
While he was still undergoing trial for allegedly sexually harassing the woman, Paran was recruited as an assistant judge by the law ministry, much to the dismay of many rights activists.
Several rights platforms, including Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, protested the recruitment, while a private TV channel aired a report on the matter.
The ministry then scrapped the appointment.
Talking to The Daily Star, Law Minister Anisul Huq said, "We talked to him [Paran] about the case. He confessed to being accused in a criminal case. We then took the decision [of cancelling his appointment] following consultation with the Supreme Court."
After the appointment was scrapped, the woman shared a message on a Facebook Messenger group, which prompted Paran to file the DSA case against her.
According to the case statement, filed on December 7 last year, the message, translated verbatim, goes, "How can a sexual harasser ensure women are getting justice?"
Attached with the message was a post from a Facebook page with details of the sexual harassment case.
Paran on Wednesday told The Daily Star: "Whoever will share the post will be made an accused."
In the DSA case, she was accused of defaming Paran and disrespecting the fairness in recruitment in the country's judiciary.
The woman, also a lawyer, had sought anticipatory bail in the case, and was granted bail once for a month. But when she went to a Dhaka court to surrender on March 10, a magistrate ordered her jail sentence. She was bailed out six days later.
She now faces a new challenge -- either she has to settle the sexual harassment case or face the risk of jail time again.
A copy of a court order says the woman was released on bail under the condition that she will withdraw her case. In return, the DSA case too will be withdrawn.
"When I appeared for my hearing on April 3, 2022, I found that the other party filed an application seeking cancellation of my bail if I don't go for settlement. Following this, the magistrate gave us 30 minutes to settle the matter through arbitration," she wrote in a letter to the chief justice.
After she turned down the offer and was called into the magistrate's chamber two hours later, she wrote. "There, the magistrate again asked me to settle the issue through compromise."
Paran said, "She was released on condition that she will settle this. So, this must be done."
While talking to this correspondent before a hearing recently, she said, "I am mentally prepared to go to jail again".