Women in Bangladesh have always been warned not to go out late at night, because it is unsafe. They have always been taught that women staying late outside perpetuates rape culture as men apparently go berserk at night. If that was not enough, after the Pahela Baishakh incident, we have also been asked to avoid going to crowded public gatherings, to safeguard ourselves, of course.
But last week, after what happened to 23-year-old Khadiza Begum Nargis, a student of Sylhet Government Women's College, we were left shocked, one more time. Khadiza, now struggling to survive at the Neuro Intensive care unit of a hospital in Dhaka, was hacked by Badrul Alam, a fourth-year student of Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (Sust) and also senior assistant secretary of Chhatra League unit at SUST. This brutal incident makes many of us wonder - will we now be asked to avoid going to schools and universities as well?
In a country where a girl is attacked with a machete in public, in broad daylight, where a girl has to pay with her life for daring to stand up against a romantic proposition, nothing seems absurd anymore.
What is the most disturbing element about this incident is the fact that it was carried out on the campus of Murari Chand College (MC College) where the victim had gone to take an examination; a place where she deserves to feel safe. What makes us nauseated is the fact that it happened in front of many other people who watched in horror, but did not come forward to save her.
This incident bombarded me with so many questions. Why cannot men take rejection as an answer? When do we start deeming stalking as a more serious crime in Bangladesh? Where are we safe? Are we safe anywhere at all?
It is worth thinking about how these incidents of stalking, of which many are unreported, have become a day to day experience for us, making us curtail our everyday access to public space. How these cases of everyday street harassment, through gawking to stalking, make women alter our plans and decisions regarding education and work choices- going home early, avoiding going anywhere alone, taking a different route or changing the way we dress.
We know of many parents, who after the Risha incident, are having a hard time overcoming their personal fears regarding their daughter's access in public spaces, so they accompany them wherever they go. After the Tonu incident, we know of many women who could not ignore the dangers that are involved in going alone to work, so they depend on their male counterparts for safety. It is very unfortunate, but very real at the same time.
Because no matter how much feminism has helped us gain equality with men in the workplace and at home, we still have to come up with a number of tactics to cope with the patriarchy around us on the streets, and protect us from getting scarred- emotionally and physically. It does not make us any less strong. It does not shake our belief in becoming independent and conquering the world.
So today, as we, the students, teachers, rights activists and common citizen, are waiting for justice for Khadiza, we need to understand that justice means not just punishing the perpetrators; it also means abandoning our cavalier attitude towards stalking and harassment against women. Because not only does it lead to more heinous crimes like those witnessed in the case of Tonu, Risha and now Khadiza, it also makes us feel unsafe in public spaces – whether it is too late at night, or not, whether we are alone, or not, whether we wear head scarves or not.
Because we, the Bangaldeshi women, don't know how to put our trust on a system that limits rickshaw movements in places to control terrorism but fails to control men, backed up (or not) by powerful authorities, who commit crimes against us in broad daylight. Is this also not a form of terrorism? Because we do feel terrorised.
This morning as I opened my Facebook, I found Facebook wishing me safety and health for the International Day of the Girl Child, celebrated on October 11 every year. As I scroll down a little further, Khadiza's news pops up, as I find someone wishing Khadiza a speedy recovery on the video
which showed her being hacked mercilessly.
Oh, the irony!