Dr Rashid Askari
The awful nuisance called eve teasing with suicide in consequence is still on at the time! The other day, a girl in Shariatpur called Nahida Akter reportedly saved her face by killing herself with drinking insecticide (The Bangladesh Pratidin, 22 January 2015). Nahida had to do it after being sexually harassed by a wayward youth of the same locality. Having suffered prolonged physical and psychological abuses perpetrated by the headstrong stalker and having no support from the family, friends and neighbours, the damsel in distress could not but opt for suicide. I, however, do not want to reach a hasty conclusion that eve teasing is rampant in Bangladesh. I know that one swallow does not make a summer, but I also know that all the swallows are not always seen. Many a summer-making swallow may go unnoticed for being preyed on or otherwise while flying to the northern countries for summer. So, summer would be there made by a few swallows or even no swallows. Similarly, in the backward societies like ours, social ills like eve-teasing do always exist, although many of them do not receive the media coverage or are hushed up by people with vested interests.
Therefore, the Nahida case is not an isolated incident. As a matter of fact, lots of girls and women every year fall prey to eve teasing or sexual harassment and many of them die by it. Who could forget the Faridpur housewife- Chapa Rani Bhowmik, and Bogra- girl Rupali Rani, who had been the worst victims of eve-teasing in 2010? Those killings had caused quite a stir across the country, but finally died down as usual with the passage of time. The teases/stalkers kept carrying on their operation by greater or lesser degrees and the bereft sufferers would grin and bear it in the forlorn hope that one day they would get the justice. However, the hope does not come true. Eve teasing always remains a real teaser of the day.
As far as the term 'eve teasing' is concerned, it has gone farthest from its denotation in the context of Bangladesh over the years. Doing it was just about excusable in the past. However, the proportions it had assumed afterwards called for renaming. Even the HC (High Court) saw eye to eye with this, and returned a verdict (25 January 2011) on the change of the name of this sexual offence from 'eve-teasing' to 'sexual harassment'. What the learned court felt has become a tangible reality. What we are used to calling 'eve teasing' no longer means, "to laugh at or make jokes about somebody in order to annoy or embarrass them". Rather it starts with provoking the girls in an unkind way, and may end in putting them even to
To rid our society of this growing public nuisance called 'eve-teasing' is not a piece of cake. Punitive measures taken against the accused could only scratch the surface of the problem. Its crux lies at the root. It is not, as such, a stray occurrence falling off the sky all on a sudden, and can be remedied cataclysmically. It is related to the overall law and order of the country. With its breakdown erupts this social teaser along with other acts of violence. If law and order is maintained in deadly earnest, the depraved youths called eve-teases would not dare use their muscle to win hearts. They would rather kneel in supplication to the girls, and beg love from them or treat them with big-brotherly attitude. Really, a cat in a mesh calls the mouse its brother! However, unfortunately for us, prolonged social and political instability in the country has become a perennial problem in the maintenance of its law and order. Among other reasons, it is an inevitable effect of the extreme political polarization. The bigger political parties are using their political muscle causing serious inconvenience to the smooth sailing of the country. With the change of the power, only the beneficiaries are changed. The health of law and order remains almost the same or changes rather insignificantly. And when rule of law is at stake, provoking the girls in a playful way may lead to the extent of sexual harassment or even to suicide or homicide. Our legal enforcement system has been so lax on the lawbreakers that we seldom see the criminals going punished. They slip through the net for money or political muscle. Justice cries in silence.
Our long-borne attitude towards women is another reason for eve teasing in Bangladesh. Ours is a male-dominated society where women are subordinated to family interests. They are the proverbial 'necessary evils'. Something profoundly immoral and wicked, but something we cannot go without! Our societies, our cultures, and our religions have suo motu prescribed their province by which is determined their social position. The families still feel encumbered with female children and fortified with male ones. The girls are subject to lesser care while the boys enjoy preferential treatment. The head of the fish hardly goes to the daughter's plate. The load of the marriageable daughters is the heaviest load on the father's shoulder. He is the most unfortunate man whose daughter's hand is not asked for. If the stalkers take advantage of this vulnerability of the women's social position, how can we stop them by administering the law alone?
Despite our women's being the prime minister or the opposition leader or the speaker of the parliament, the total scenario has not changed expectedly. Women are still the most vulnerable creatures in the society. They are the sitting ducks, the easiest tease-hunt, and all too easily obtainable sex objects. They are the weaker sex. So, the stronger ones tend to tease them. Stalk them. They do this primarily for fun and flirtation. If allowed they forget to mind their p's and q's, and leap over the boundaries of decency. And if not allowed, the fun turns into irresistible anger that arouses the beast in them, which unleashes its primordial impulses upon the innocent prey. The angry beast may reach the point of killing them.
So, to keep the beasts in fetter, our old and rusty attitudes towards women ought to be changed hook, line, and sinker. Women are the right equals of their male counterparts. We should shrug off all the stereotype views of women as inferior beings. This could be achieved through a wholesale awakening. And the process should begin at home. Every home should be a fortified abode for the women. We should equally value the male and female members of the family, and equitably treat our mothers, sisters, daughters and the corresponding in-laws. This is especially applicable to the female guardians of the family.
Some, however, suggest that the women should stay away from the stalkers, and go back to the zenana for seclusion. They may come out occasionally with burka or niqab or hijab or the like. Screening women from men or strangers by means of clothes sounds absolutely preposterous in the highly progressive world of the 21st century, especially in a secular-democratic country like Bangladesh. Besides, this conditional security measure is antithetical to human rights and sartorial liberty and would sure lead the women to a retrogressive return-journey towards the dark Middle Ages. What the women will do, what they will wear and how they will interact with men, should not be guided only by scriptural orders. They should also be left to their own sweet choices and be guided by good reasons and practicality. Women's right to clothing has also been endorsed by a court order. Besides, being unveiled does not necessarily mean female seduction of their male counterpart and justify eve teasing. If it does, that is not a civilized society.
We believe, we are in a civilized society. Women in Bangladesh shall enjoy equal rights and liberty with men as enshrined in the highest law of the land-the Constitution. As per the law of the land and civil codes of conduct, women in Bangladesh must be protected against all sorts of sexual harassments. It is time to do away with this euphemistic term 'eve teasing'. It must be termed 'sexual harassment', which amounts to a criminal offence. New laws should be made and enforced to try the offenders. Social and cultural movements for attitudinal change with regard to gender relations should go alongside the enforcement of stringent legal measures. A harmonious development of rule of law and gender equality campaign can cure the crux of the matter.r
Dr Rashid Askari writes fiction and columns, and teaches English literature at Kushtia Islamic University, Bangladesh.