Yet another death in the hands of patriarchy
My eyes were glued at the photo where a 26 year old girl clad in a green saree, red hijab and convocation gown standing in front of Aparejeo Bangla. It was her convocation picture and undoubtedly the best moment for anyone's life, especially for the one who obtained it from the once dubbed as the Oxford of the East. Yes, I am talking about Sumaiya Khatun, a student of Dhaka University, allegedly killed by her in- laws on 21 June. Her only fault was being ambitious in her career. And the aftermath of being professionally aspired resulted in being killed by her life partner and his family members.
I could not take my eyes off her convocation picture. Her green and red attire symbolized her love for the nation. She wanted to join Bangladesh Civil Service (BCS). She could have been a diplomat, a proud representative of her nation or a courageous ASP. What a proud moment would it have been for her mother if she called to let her know that she had been appointed at any of the cadre services! It was her father's ideology to always dream big, he had passed away a few years back. Perhaps, it was the dream triggered by her dad that made her passing her honours exam with distinction. But sadly, she could not stay alive to see her brilliant result in masters.
I was scrolling down Sumaiya's facebook account and found that she was quite a religious person. Her facebook was full of Quranic Verses and mostly about honouring parents. It was quiet visible from her account that she was a righteous human being. Her heart was still heavy with the pain of the demise of her father. However, some of her facebook statuses indirectly hint that her in-laws taunted her in different ways, but she had to endure it as Islam wants a good Muslim to be tolerant.
Apparently, I did not find anything that grabbed my attention and stated that Sumaiya was intolerant, undisciplined towards anything. But what made her a victim of cruel patriarchy? Why did the patriarchal norms and ideology have to kill her? Different newspaper sources reported that Sumaiya's in-laws wanted to have an ideal housewife. If they wanted so then why they did not look for a perfect so called housewife type bride? Or probably they wanted a woman who was beautiful like a showpiece that they could arrogantly display it in their living room.
However, all these scenarios are nothing new. According to a study of year 2014, 32% of women have to bury their dreams to become an ideal housewife. Not to mention, among those 32 per cent, many of them choose it from their own wish and obviously there is no harm in becoming a housewife. In fact, I appreciate those individuals for choosing a tough job like-homemaking. Their whole world revolves around shongshar. But, there are people, who had to choose it forcefully, undoubtedly, Sumaiya was one of them.
Here, I blame Sumaiya a little. She did marry a man of her choice. She knew it before that she would not be allowed to think of anything except household. Then why did she choose someone who would never let her accomplish her dreams? And why did she remain silent when she was being tortured for months? These questions are not easy to be answered. Perhaps a girl with no father understands why it is not so easy to break the shackles.
Social media commentators and patriarchy: I literally was shocked when I came across the comment section of Sumaiya's death news. "Areh thik hoise, Shamir kotha na Sunle Khun to hobe" (If you don't obey your husband, it is quite obvious that you will get killed.) Another FB id of a girl said, "A wife's heaven is under the feet of her husband, as she didn't obey him, she deserved to get punished." My conscience became grief-stricken when I saw these kinds of comments on social media. These mentally retarded people perceive killing as some kind of justice when someone disobeys anything. Currently, I feel like killing women is a new normal and gives ultimate peace to this patriarchal society. And there are some people who are distorting hadith. I fear that someday they will say heaven lies underneath all the members of in-laws for girls!
Sumaiya is not the only victim: There are other victims who were choked to death by the carnivorous patriarchy. Sutopa is a name to remember. Sutopa had to study in the bathroom to hide from her husband. On September 19, 2009, Sutopa was found dead at her husband's residence. Her family alleged that she had been tortured and killed. More than ten years later, the case has reportedly still not been resolved. Note that Sumaiya's husband and in-laws were also arrested on 25th July. It is initially good news that those culprits are now in custody. But how long will it take to punish them? In our country justice is delayed and denied. And that is the reason crimes happen happily!
Now the question is, how does a nation deal with gender-based violence that is so relentless and dishearteningly, where patriarchy is so deep-rooted? The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2010 is considered by most legal experts to be comprehensive, but as with most of our laws, implementation is the biggest challenge. This applies to the Women and Children Repression Act as well, which has awfully low conviction rates. How can laws be applied if trials take years, if victims cannot afford proper legal counsel, if cases don't even make it to court because law enforcers are not willing to diligently pursue them? As human rights lawyer Salma Ali once stated in an opinion piece-- "We need to create a circle of protection around the woman, starting from counselling, legal aid, speedy trial, and alternative livelihoods in the future-something that unfortunately does not yet exist in full form for the women of Bangladesh." Indeed, we need to create more awareness among the girls first. And it is worthless to note that without justice for the victims of gender-based violence, these crimes will continue with impunity.
However, there is another crucial yet difficult step we should take--changing social mindsets so that a woman can get out of a violent situation before the worst happens. But is this even possible? In a country like Bangladesh, probably, justice for women is still a far cry.
The writer is
The Daily Observer