As far as legal positivism is concerned, the law- making process is an open-ended process, which develops through different socio-political and cultural phenomena. To guard against all possible occurrences harming human existence on earth, laws should be made, altered, and implemented in keeping with the flux of matter, space, and time. Moreover, the creation of law is not enough in itself to ensure its effectiveness. The total success depends on how effectively it can be enforced. Only for the lack of proper implementation, people are not fully enjoying the fruit of law in many respects. However, if people cannot have any means within the law to get legal cure or if there is no specific law for certain things, what would they expect from judicature? Improper implementation of law makes things bad but no law makes them worse. Mental torture on women in Bangladesh is such an issue with no specific law about it, and hence the victims are the worst sufferers. It is however time for the issue to be seriously addressed. Circles relating to our law-making and enforcing processes have got to play a key role in this regard.
The position of women throughout the world is more or less fragile. From the cradle to the grave, they are subject to myriad problems, and vulnerable to numerous physical and psychological exploitations. Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm rightly remarks: "The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says, 'It's a girl.'" With the rise of human rights awareness and feminist movements, the overall condition of women is gradually improving. That is much below the expectation line, especially in countries like Bangladesh.
The position of women in Bangladesh is doubly fragile, first, for being a woman and second, for being a Bangladeshi woman. Most of them are in a pitiable condition. They are prey to many physical and mental tortures. The condition of the women in the villages is worse. Like the sitting ducks, they are easy targets for the male hunters. The shattering blow to their womanhood first falls down upon them in the guise of dowry. Although a penal offence, the dowry system is rampant in the rural Bangladesh. Daughters are liabilities to the family while the sons are assets. The parents feel relieved of their liabilities by marrying them off for dowry in cash or kind. The full payment of this dowry sometimes takes longer time or the venal husbands grow greedier for more. Both cases lead to tortures on the wives that range from physical punishments to mental torments. They are routinely abused and beaten. The beating sometimes stays suspended, but mental torture is a constant companion. The bruises on the body caused by beating disappear in course of time, but the marks of mental sufferings are ever lasting and more excruciating. The women grin and bear it. They cannot protest because they have to live with their tormentors under the same roof. The US journalist Evelyn Cunningham precisely puts it: "Women are the only oppressed group in our society that lives in intimate association with their oppressors."
However, how long can flesh and blood endure these years of mental torments? They sometimes give up completely, and seek refuge in suicide. There are numberless suicide incidents resulting from prolonged mental torture. When the burden of torture becomes unbearably heavy, the victims kill themselves by hanging with their sari around their neck or by taking poison. Following things are the routine procedures. The forensic analysis of the dead bodies testifies to the suicide, and they are laid to eternal rest. Although their men are the root cause for their abnormal death, the long arm of law cannot touch even a hair of their head. The men however, shed crocodile tears to the deceased's near ones, but do not forget to wear the wedding crown once again even before the funeral rites are properly observed. This time the rate of dowry is lower than before. However, it is there. They are males and therefore the 'golden rings', which are better even if curved. This is the popular belief to the compatriots where are rooted the seeds of all forms of women exploitations. The society is always forgiving of men's behaviour towards women and therefore the 'curved rings' tend to gain the upper hand. The author Raine Eisler agrees: "For the most recorded history?men's violence against wives was explicitly or implicitly condoned."
Anyway, if any physical violence is meted out to a woman in the society, our legal system at least takes cognizance of it. However, cases of mental violence are usually outside of the province of the prevalent law. There is no direct legal management as such to impose effective sanctions against the mental tormentors. The victims of mental tortures cannot justifiably bare their soul to the law-enforcers, and get legal cure. If anyone tries for legal justice indirectly, they fail to produce adequate evidence of their mental persecution. Therefore, the blind law does not hear their cries from beyond the absence of concrete evidence. Finally, they come back home with empty hands and sore hearts. The torture multiplies, and justice cries in the wilderness. It beggars belief how things could be that bad.
But how long will this continue? How long will the silent cries of these helpless women go unheeded? The buck stops here. It is time to take it into serious account. Women constitute the half of our total population and take equal part in the overall development of the nation. How can we expect a perfectly developed nation without a perfectly developed woman population? Napoleon Bonaparte shows women development as an essential prerequisite for national development. To quote: "Give me good mothers and I will give you a good nation." Abigail Adams, the first Second Lady and the second First Lady of the United States clarifies: "If we mean to have heroes, statesmen, and philosophers we should learn women." The former U N Secretary General Kofi Annan echoes the same view:" When women thrive, all of the society benefits and succeeding generations are given a better start in life." So, there is no room for underrating women's role in social development. We should not turn a deaf ear to their sorrows and sufferings any longer.
But how can we help it? The laws relating to the trial of women oppression in our country should be enforced fairly and squarely. New laws should be made to try the mental torture cases in particular. The government, the lawmakers, and the members of the civil society should come up with the introduction of specific law regarding mental torture on our women. That is sure not going to be the panacea for this problem. As a matter of fact, the problem is related to the very culture of the community. So, there should be efforts to change the cultural attitudes towards women. American author and activist Charlotte Bunch agrees. In her words: "Sexual, racial, gender violence and other forms of discrimination and violence in a culture cannot be eliminated without changing culture." Above all, women should not only be hanging on the charitable favours to be extended to them from time to time as 'the second/weaker sex'. They should learn to stand on their own feet, and detect their real enemies, and wage fight. An eminent contemporary feminist Betty Friedan points out: "Men are not the enemy, but the fellow victims. The real enemy is women's denigration of themselves." Friedan also shows the way to emancipation. In her own words: "The only way for a woman, as for a man, is to find herself, to know herself as a person.(not as a woman).There is no gainsaying Friedan's prescription with regard to Bangladeshi women in and world- women in general.
Dr Rashid Askari writes fiction and columns, and teaches English literature at Kushtia Islamic University. Email: [email protected]