One of the proverbs that I have grown to dislike, especially in the last many years is—ek haathe taali baaje na (you need two hands to clap), roughly translating to, a deed is done only if two or more people come together to do it. It is not possible for one sole person to accomplish something.
Although this proverb has been used to justify ideas of working together for better accomplishments or to admonish children over breaking window panes during cricket matches in the streets, over the last many years, it has also been used to explain why and how rape victims are at fault. It takes two to commit a crime, and in the case of rapes and gang rapes also, women are blamed for enticing the opposite sex—either by smiling too much, being friendly, talking to a man, or most popularly—wearing the "wrong" or "revealing" clothes.
Even though one usually hears these statements from individuals with limited exposure to reality outside of their little world, or from people with little or no education, it was baffling and hurtful to hear someone like Ananta Jalil, an actor and a filmmaker, move along the same lines of victim blaming.
At the time of writing this opinion, Ananta Jalil has released three videos to date—the first one where he spoke against rape and blamed women's attire, a second video where he edited out the part about women's clothing and a third talking about how people are focusing on the negative and not the positive elements of his video.
Jalil's six minute long video, the first one that rightly earned him all the backlash, was curiously posted from actor (also his wife) Barsha's verified page. He had started off normally—calling out the perpetrators, trying to instill fear in them by urging them to think about their own family members in similar helpless positions. However, as the pathetic background music moved towards the crescendo, his voice too was raised as he began to advise women on how not to get raped. The actor was heard addressing women "as a brother," saying "Women (in Bangladesh) wear indecent dresses inspired by women from other countries, cinemas, television and social media. People look at your figures instead of your faces because of the indecent dresses. They make indecent comments (about women) and think of rape," he said. "Do you (women) consider yourselves modern? Is the dress you're wearing modern, or is it indecent? A modern dress means only showing your face and covering your body which will make you look good." He went on to say that any dress that does not cover the whole body makes women look "very bad". "You go out on the streets wearing a t-shirt like boys. And then you're dishonoured and return home… you either die by suicide or can't show your face in public."
In the last month or so, reports have been rushing in about children under the age of six being brutally raped, of boys being raped by their teachers in madrasas, a married woman roaming the city with her husband raped by Chhatra League activists, and the one that shook the country to the core—a group of men stripping off a woman's clothes and raping her while she pleaded for mercy. Yet another video that was also shared on social media before being taken down was of a group of young men trying to take off a woman's burkha, molesting her and kissing her on the mouth while she pleaded for them to let her go. The woman was walking home when she encountered the group of molesters.
How is it that Ananta Jalil feels that women are to share the blame of this heinous crime? How does a commercially important person, considered a highly respected position, especially in a developing economy, dare to speak to women, advising them not to get raped by wearing "decent" clothing? Is he oblivious to the previous cases of rape mentioned here? Or is he simply trying to move with the trend, making videos and disbursing weakly gathered information and ideas? Lastly, why does he not use his space to demand punishment for the rapists instead of advising women on decency?
One might also point out that the world of cinema over decades in Bangladesh has always portrayed women as objects of desire, as beings who are unable to think for themselves and, of course, the ones who end up destroying close family bonds. Female characters have rarely been showcased as heroes, courageous personalities, human beings ready to take on the world or simply take a stroll in the neighbourhood without being sexually harassed or cat called by the young men next door.
With all his resources and finances, why does Ananta Jalil not work towards changing the age-old narrative and make films where women are not treated like sex objects but as equal beings capable enough to fight for love, family and friends? Why does Jalil not create opportunities for female (and male) technicians, actors, art directors, writers, directors to develop and grow in the industry?
It's unfortunate that he would rather choose to create videos with petty messages where women and rape victims are put down.
As Jalil's video went viral within hours of release, social media users were surprisingly divided into three groups, instead of the usual two. While one group of people, mostly men of all ages and individuals holding on to antiquated beliefs, agreed with him wholeheartedly, another group vehemently opposed this thought on platforms, speaking against the actor's illogical tirade about how to protect women from rape.
There was yet another group of people, smaller but influential, who spoke about why Jalil's words and thoughts should not be given any importance. He, after all, according to the third group, has been making absurd storylines for films, gained fame because of his over the top appearances and the nonsensical statements he had been making over the years, giving breaks to many a genius meme maker. In a nutshell, Ananta Jalil is a joke and not to be taken seriously.
But this is where it gets problematic. What the minority group—comprising a small percentage of individuals exposed to global trends when it comes to films, literature, politics and much more—fails to realise is that to the majority of film lovers in Bangladesh, Ananta Jalil is no joke and his words are taken very seriously. Especially in smaller towns and villages, where young women are still blamed by family members and neighbours for being sexually harassed or "eve teased" on streets while going to school, Jalil's words on how women must share the blame of rape simply because of what they wear, have destroyed years worth of work done to empower women in Bangladesh, by policymakers, government bodies and human rights groups.
Art can change one's outlook towards life. Films change lives and stories of long lost lovers coming together have managed to fill people's hearts with inspiration for years. However, it is a shame that in a country where films, music, the arts and stories are still struggling and fighting to stay alive, a Pied Piper like Ananta Jalil pops up from the rubble of his own money, creating laughable content and making a comfortable space for himself. To make things worse, Jalil used this space to spread hate instead of love, as he claims to do.
It is high time to destroy these nooks and spaces built by big time influencers and focus on education, the arts, films and teaching compassion to people—instead of dwelling in the mediocrity that we are so used to.
Elita Karim is Editor, Arts & Entertainment and Star Youth. Twitter: @elitakarim