Has the Noakhali gang rape shaken us enough?
By now, many people have already watched the video. Others could only stomach the transcript, also shared on social media. For most normal people, the details of the gang rape of a woman in Noakhali by nine men, who used a stick to sexually assault her while laughing and jeering, are enough to make them feel sick at the depravity of these men, and from the sheer anger and pain at the thought of the victim's ordeal. The woman's helpless appeal to her attackers to let her go, calling them Baba (father) and Bhai (brother), will haunt us forever. Or will it? Will we forget this when another equally horrendous story or video or transcript makes the rounds?
Gang rape has become yet another way to flaunt power. There is something uniquely despicable about gang rape. As the name implies, it reflects the herd mentality of a group of individuals who have a shared predilection to sexual perversion and cruelty, each member becoming an enabler and instigator of the crime. Committing the crime in a group provides justification for it and becomes a way of "having fun", no matter how reprehensible the act.
In the Noakhali gang rape case, the rapists are members of the Delwar Bahini—the main accused Badal, the gang's leader Delwar, and two others have been arrested. The gang's power is evident from the audacity with which they went to the woman's house, tied up her husband in a room and then raped her, videotaping the incident and leaving the scene with no one daring to stop them or reporting them to the police. The incident happened around a month ago, after which the gang started making indecent proposals to the woman and when she refused, they threatened to release the video, which they did on October 4. If they hadn't released it, the woman would probably not have filed the two cases that she did at the thana, nor would the police have arrested them, although many people in the victim's locality knew of the incident. Obviously the woman, her family and the locals were too terrified to report this horrific crime and that is why Delwar and his co-rapists were so confident about getting away with their crime that they flaunted it on Facebook. After the release of the video, the woman and her family left the village because the rapists had threatened to kill her if she reported the incident.
Terror is, of course, the most potent weapon for these gangs, whether they are yaba traders, affiliated with the ruling political party (as in the case of the Chhatra League members accused in the gang rape of a woman in a college hostel in Sylhet) or just neigbourhood thugs who stick together and have convenient connections with law enforcers or influential individuals.
There are so many disturbing revelations in the Noakhali case. Would we, for example, have been so outraged if we hadn't seen the videotape or read the transcript? Why does it take the public humiliation of a rape victim to wake society up, for the police to take action, for a case to be filed? The gory details that we wish we could un-see would be similar to many other rape or gang rape cases that have reached unprecedented levels in recent times. The mercilessness of the attackers, the helplessness of the victims, are the same. So why do we not act as passionately when we read about those reports?
The normalisation of rape has something to do with these blunted sensibilities. Everyday there is news of rape – of minors, schoolgirls, homemakers, university students, working women, elderly women. We seldom dwell on the fear and anguish on their faces or what trauma they go through afterwards. It is only when something so horrifying as a video of a gang rape is shoved in our faces that the enormity of the crime becomes real.
Now that it is clear what a victim of rape and gang rape goes through, will we wake up and put a stop to it? Every single one of us has a responsibility to end this curse by addressing all the factors that contribute to the impunity of rapists. It is the predominant ways women are perceived by the majority—as sex objects, reproductive machines and servers of men. It is the easy access to pornography that promotes the idea of sexual violence as "pleasurable" and "fun". It is the contempt and disrespect rape survivors are treated with by loopholes in the law and the law enforcers, by the medical staff who examine them, inside the courtrooms and within the community. As if justice for rape is only possible if the rape victim is dead, so that society does not have to see her or somehow accept her. It is the irrational shame that sticks to the rape victim for life while being erased or absent from the rapist. It is male entitlement in the vilest form, enabled by patriarchy and toxic materialism, where greed motivates law enforcers to look the other way as horrific acts of sexual violence are committed.
There are many layers of hypocrisy and double standards that will have to be unraveled before we can get to a point where we will not have to read a report of a rape or gang rape on such a regular basis. Of course, this will take time and enormous effort, but at this point we can no longer sit passively while our daughters, sisters, wives, mothers and we ourselves, are under constant threat of sexual violence.
The rape survivor in Noakhali, who not only went through the worst kind of physical and mental trauma imaginable, but also the humiliation of having that trauma exposed in public, deserves our unstinting support and protection, as well as justice from our legal system. Whether they work in diabolical packs or as individuals, rapists must be stripped of the impunity they enjoy from godfathers, corrupt law enforcers and a society that implicitly condones male aggression.
Aasha Mehreen Amin is Senior Deputy Editor, Editorial and Opinion, The Daily Star.