In My View
Feni attack reminiscent of those in Ayub-Monem era
The recent attack on a peaceful rally in Feni which was held to protest the rising incidence of sexual assaults against women and children was shameful, reprehensible and provocative. The totally unnecessary attack on the protesters raised a number of critically important questions.
In every democratic country of the world, holding peaceful demonstrations on any issues affecting the lives of the people of those countries is constitutionally guaranteed. And being part of the democratic world, Bangladesh's constitution too has full endorsement for holding such demonstrations or rallies anywhere in the country.
Article 37 of the Bangladesh Constitution is completely clear about that: "Every citizen shall have the right to assemble and participate in public meetings and processions peacefully.." Therefore, under this provision of the country's constitution, Bangladeshis have the right to hold peaceful rallies on any issues affecting their lives or the nation.
In addition to the sanction for such rallies under the national constitutions of all democracies around the world, "everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association" in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. "The right to peaceful assembly shall be recognized under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well.
Why is the right to hold peaceful assembly so important? Because this is the right that draws a clear line separating a democracy from dictatorship. So, this right to hold peaceful protests and demonstrations is central to the survival of the system of democracy. In the absence of this right of the people, the government will have no accountability and it may turn itself into an authoritarian regime.
No dictatorial government ever allows their citizens to hold any kind of peaceful assembly or protest in the country. And no one knows better about this than the sons and daughters of Bangladesh who lived the regimes of military dictators like Ayub and Yahia Khan. None of the dictators ever allowed the freedom-loving people of what was then East Pakistan to hold any kind of peaceful assembly to freely ventilate their grievances.
This deprivation of fundamental human rights by the Pakistani military dictators actually led us to choose between struggle and compromise and between freedom and captivity. So, we chose struggle and freedom and began to disobey the long-running dictatorial rule of the Pakistani regime and prepared ourselves for the movement of self-determination known as the historic "Mass Upsurge" and eventually participated in a war that brought our independence.
And we liberated our country at the cost of much sacrifice to enjoy all kinds of freedom-the freedom to express, the freedom of the press as well as the freedom to hold peaceful protests and rallies on any issues affecting our lives or the society or the nation like in every free country in the world-which we never had under the military dictatorship General Ayub and Yahiya Khan. But if we cannot hold peaceful assembly and demonstrations in our own free country, then the very purpose of our liberation will be defeated.
The recent attack on a peaceful rally in Feni which was organized in response to the rising incidence of violent sexual offences against innocent women and children across the country is a troubling development. Being a former Chhatra (Student) Leaguer, I remember vividly that we experienced exactly this kind of attacks by the thugs of the then National Student Federation or NSF, an infamous student group that was directly patronized by Ayub and Yahiya Khan during the Pakistani military rule to do their dirty work.
As reported by the local media outlets-both newspapers and television channels-the role of police in the Feni incident was controversial as well as condemnable. Instead of protecting the peaceful protesters, police reportedly sided with the attackers and rather acted against the demonstrators who were exercising their constitutionally guaranteed rights. Interestingly, during our pre-independence days, police also used to act exactly in the same fashion siding with the NSF thugs and against the peaceful students and Chhatra (Student) League workers.
Whoever attacked the peaceful demonstrators in Feni while they were exercising their constitutional rights to protest against the sexual predators and rising incidence of violent sexual assaults against women and children including the on-again off-again mass-rapes in different parts of the country showed one thing quite clearly that they were beyond the reach of any law of the land and the law enforcers were subservient to them. These attackers flouted law, disobeyed government and threatened the system of democracy.
Some news reports said that the anti-rape agitators came under attack by the activists of the local unit of ruling party as well as its student wing because they carried placards with various slogans against the government as well as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. But where in the truly democratic world the demonstrators come under attack by the pro-government or ruling party people even if they do so? Carrying placards with anti-government slogans is an established right of people in any democratic country anywhere in the world.
Currently in America for example, anti-Trump people are carrying banners and placards with various slogans against Trump at many political and other rallies across the country. But they are not coming under any attack by the pro-Trump people. If any such attack ever happens in America, police come to protect the protesters as they exercise their democratic and constitutional rights; they do not side with the attackers. Similarly, many years ago in London, anti-war protesters carried placards with various slogans against former British Prime Minister Tony Blair but they never came under any attack by Blair's Labor Party activists.
So, what is happening in Bangladesh? How are these attackers getting away with what they are doing in the country? By attacking peaceful demonstrators and showing total disregard for the law, these attackers are not doing any good to any quarter. Rather, they are seriously hurting the image of the party they belong to and also the reputation of the government. They have no idea about people's fundamental rights that are protected under the constitution. As said, they are flouting law, acting against the government and threatening democracy.
Rape has now become a kind of culture in Bangladesh like in India. Almost four women are being raped every 24 hours in the country as per available data. But many women never report this crime as police have failed to earn their faith. So, we have no knowledge about the unofficial statistics but the figure will be certainly much higher. Back-to-back gang-rapes of two married women allegedly by activists of the ruling party's student and youth wings as reported by various Bangladeshi media outlets have put the reputation of Awami League as well as its government on the line.
By attacking the anti-rape rally in Feni for whatever reasons, the attackers sided with the rapists, not with the rape victims. Their unpatriotic and inexcusable acts will encourage rapists across the country to continue their heinous and barbaric crime. Therefore, it's time for the government to act sternly against all sex offenders regardless of their political affiliations to restore its own image and save the country from a widespread social disease.
The writer is a Toronto-based journalist who also writes for the Toronto Sun and Canada's Postmedia Network