BACK TO THE DARK AGES
In the last few weeks, there seemed to form a large divide between people, both offline and online. While one group essentially blames women for being sexually harassed and physically attacked on streets, criticises their 'free' expressions and their apparels, another group, comprising mostly of females of all ages, spend their time defending their gender, the choices they make in their daily lives and of course look to authorities for justice.
It has been exactly one month since the horrifying Pahela Baishakh incident, and not one culprit has been arrested, let alone identified. On April 14, 2015, the Dhaka University area was crowded with thousands of people celebrating Pahela Baishakh or the first day of the Bengali New Year. The TSC area was abuzz, as always, with families, students and friends. All of a sudden, a mob of men began to corner women, molest them, strip them off their sarees and physically assault them. Moreover, the men trying to protect the women were attacked and beaten up as well. TV Channels, newspapers and Social Media groups showcased the faces of the assaulters for a whole week or so. Some were also reportedly taken in by the law enforcers. However, the men arrested were let go the same day. In fact, the authorities went through a whirlwind of decision making for the week afterwards – was there any sign of sexual harassment at all on the footage? Finally, they came up with a 'No.'
The aftershocks of the Pahela Baishakh incident left scars in other areas of the city as well.
"Haven't you learnt your lesson yet? Why are you wearing that?" screamed two young men to a female colleague on the foot over bridge on way to work. Clad in a shelwar kameez and orna, the ferocious colleague was stopped by a policeman when she tried to run after the men.
Posts on Facebook by men of all ages were creeping up as well, in defence of manhood, warding off the witches trying to cast spells on them. "If it were up to me, I would have raped those 'prostitutes'," referring to the Pahela Baishkh incident, posted by a random facebook user. In fact, many such posts by men were celebrated and supported by other men for weeks.
Last week, law enforcers swooped down on protestors, speaking out against sexual harassment. It was sudden and atrocious. Protestors, mostly young students, political and youth leaders, were beaten to the pulp. One young woman was beaten up and dragged on the footpaths by the law enforcers. Reason? The activist had hurled a flower pot at one of the police armoured vehicles. The flower pot had, of course, shattered beyond recognition. The same, however, cannot be said about the police armoured vehicle.
Why do certain groups in the country suddenly feel that it is all right to attack a woman, be it in the streets or on social network? Where is this pent up rage coming from? In a country with a female for a prime minister for decades together, where women have been encouraged to step forward and to lead a team, why does it suddenly feel like we are all moving back to the dark ages?