Rape as a tool of political intimidation?
The impossible obstacles that women in this country face while standing up for their rights and attempting to take their rightful positions in society have once again come into focus after yet another gruesome incident of sexual violence. On September 7, a female Zila Parishad member candidate was returning from an election campaign when she was waylaid by five men and raped at gunpoint in Bagmara upazila's Mahmingram village. The victim, while speaking to a correspondent of this daily, said, "They raped me to stop me from competing in the election."
What does this incident say about the rights of women seeking political inclusion and representation in the country? What does this say about the rights of women in general?
While we commend the local authorities for their speedy arrest of the perpetrators, who have already confessed to the crime after primary interrogations, we do not have the words to sufficiently express our horror at the fact that sexual violence was used in this instance as a tool to intimidate a political candidate. What does this say about the rights of women seeking political inclusion and representation in the country? What does this say about the rights of women in general?
Incidentally, The Daily Star published reports on four rape-related incidents in its Monday issue alone, including that of the Zila Parishad member candidate, which speaks volumes about the unequal and unsafe conditions that women have to navigate every day. The other reports involve the gang-rape of a woman in Savar, the murder and rape of a seven-year-old child in Chattogram city, and the lack of action against a police officer accused of raping a 10th grader in Lalmonirhat. If anything, this last report shows how the quick arrest of the member candidate's rapists is an exception rather than the norm.
However, simply arresting the perpetrators is not enough. A woman was raped, reportedly as a method of political intimidation. This is not an issue to be taken lightly – it goes not only against the fundamental rights of women but against the very essence of democracy as well. The authorities must investigate the involvement of others behind the crime, and the Election Commission must take a strong stance against violence being inflicted upon political candidates and activists everywhere, especially those with the opposition camp, something it has so far failed to do.
There is ample evidence to suggest that the road to justice for survivors of sexual violence can often be a long, painful and seemingly endless one. This was corroborated in a recent media report that said that more than 43,000 cases lodged under the Women and Child Repression Act have been left hanging in the justice system for more than five years. It is not enough to make arrests or change laws to deal out the highest punishment, if survivors of sexual violence are kept waiting for justice. If the authorities are sincere about ensuring the rights of woman, and ending the status quo where rape is continuously used as a tool of power and repression, then every case needs to be handled with the utmost urgency and sensitivity.