ONCE again we are confronted with the news of yet another incident of mob violence. CCTV images showing a young girl being tugged and pulled by a group of 30 or so men has gone viral on the internet. Ironically, this happened when the Pahela Baishakh celebrations were in full swing. Even before we can come to terms with what happened to blogger Avijit who was murdered around the same area, we are confronted by this. We are shocked. But we are not surprised.
Actions such as these do not take place in a vacuum. There are many factors that go into its creation. We see incidents like this becoming more daring and brazen, like an unashamed banner of widespread impunity. We see the twin blades of apathy and fear gripping the society. It is a fear soaked in indifference that has gone marrow-deep – the cumulative result of wrongs gone unacknowledged and un-redressed for far too long and creating a monster called impunity. It is impunity that allows murders to take place in the midst of throngs and in front of law enforcement officers in broad daylight. Some will remember the incident on Ekushey February at the Shaheed Minar of Dhaka University back in 1973 or '74 when the lights were cut out deliberately and women were attacked. Had timely, appropriate and exemplary action been taken back then, would the Boishakhi incident have taken place? Most likely not.
This particular offence during Pahela Baishakh festivities was not an accident. It was the action of a collective, twisted psyche. It was done by design and it was deliberate. When a state falls short of implementing its rhetoric on protecting all citizens, we see the outward manifestation of impunity being projected onto those who are considered weak, vulnerable and have traditionally been victims of violence: women.
In 2011, the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics stated that 87 percent of women experience some kind of violence by her spouse. Violence against women in the public sphere is a spill-over effect, stemming from incidents of abuse and injustice within the domestic sphere. The public cannot be divorced from the private. If the state will not look to ensure justice within the home, how do you ensure justice out on the street?
It is all very well and good to talk about economic progress, and we certainly have made great leaps as a nation in terms of GDP growth rates and achieving targets on social and health indicators. But economic progress without concurrent protection of human rights, basic dignity and rule of law, renders the vessel of national development hollow and empty. Substantive growth is much more and beyond GDP digits, where human choices and voices are not muffled by the ding of financial markets.
I am yet to hear what candidates in the upcoming mayoral elections of Dhaka have to say about this terrible incident at the University of Dhaka. I hope this will provide them a sharper lens to look at what ails our public sphere. A strong indicator of a healthy public sphere is how safe women, children, the elderly, disabled, and minorities feel in their city. What about the millions of women working in our country's readymade garments industry? Do they feel free, safe, and secure to and from work? What will be done to ensure their freedom of mobility? They must feel we have a right to take back our city.
The writer is the Director of Human Rights and Legal Aid Services at BRAC.