The tagline was very simple yet relayed a crucial message: “Ga Gheshe Daraben Na” (Don't stand so close).
Wearing t-shirts with this tagline printed on them in the front and the back, young women in Dhaka city have been trying to jumpstart a movement to protest rampant sexual harassment of women and girls in public transport. A photo showing two young women sporting such t-shirts while riding a bus went viral on social media.
It's a movement that we should all support, a movement which we expect everyone to support. And that is where it should have stopped.
But what happened after the release of this photo was simply distasteful. Some individuals decided to edit the tagline and replace it with some objectionable words laced with profanity to malign the peaceful campaign. Many people have criticised the movement using indecent language. I would like to ask these people: have you ever seen your face in the mirror? Do you have any idea what kind of trauma female passengers face while travelling in public transport, often on a regular basis?
We are all well-aware of Dhaka's public transport crisis; be it getting on a bus, tempo, or Laguna, it's always a struggle. The scenario is the same everywhere. People stand at the designated or undesignated stop hour after hour to simply catch a bus. When a bus arrives, everyone scrambles to get on it; some manage to get on the bus, and some simply hang on to the handle and go all the way to their destination standing.
The first unpleasant “touch” a female passenger faces when getting on the bus is of the helper of the bus. In the guise of “assisting” her, he nonchalantly touches the female passenger. It is also quite common to see a male passenger slyly groping a female passenger, sometimes using his elbow or hand to get some sort of twisted, perverted pleasure out of this despicable act. This is very common, and it's a painful scene to witness.
The fact is that female passengers have to travel by bus at a huge cost—all the while fighting a huge battle. The public transport system in Bangladesh is so poor and insufficient that travelling by such means can be a traumatic experience for a woman.
For those who are confused about why young women have chosen such an innovative way to protest sexual harassment in public transport, let's look at the numbers. A recent study by Brac revealed that a whopping 94 percent of female passengers faced verbal, physical and other forms of sexual harassment while commuting in public transport. So in a scenario as dreadful as this, what would be the most “decent” and peaceful way to protest sexual harassment in public transport?
Women have to travel and get around the city for education purposes, to earn a living or carry out daily errands for the household. This point, along with the fact that there are very few options of transport available to women, seems to have been lost on many who are asking, “Why do women get on buses if they don't want to be touched?” First, women don't owe anyone an explanation as to why they are using public transport. And second, they know the difference between an intentional and unintentional touch.
The “Ga Gheshe Daraben Na” tagline strategy is not meant for those who do not engage in indecent, perverted behaviour such as groping female passengers in public transport. But those who have directly or indirectly criticised or simply disagreed with the idea of this movement should consider what women go through when they are randomly touched by strangers and are disrespected.
Those who are busy editing this simple tagline and replacing the original text with unsavoury, vulgar words on social media are basically showing their true colours—exposing their ugliness.
The point is simple and straightforward: look at women as fellow human beings, and treat them with the respect they are entitled to.
Mohammad Al-Masum Molla is a senior reporter at The Daily Star.