A Return To 'Barbarism'?
By Md. Asadullah Khan
Traumatic, humiliating and frightening! For victims of sexual abuse, the experience can be all these and more. But as the cases reported in the newspapers indicate, there is no dearth of villains and monsters willing to target women of all ages anywhere in the country. In the couple of weeks till January 20, newspaper reports quoting Bangladesh Mohila Parshad indicate that in 2012, 5,616 women were victims of torture, 771 women and girls were raped, and 157 were gang raped.
Another report quoting Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum said that there were 201 child murders and 90 child rape cases in 2012. Activists and human rights organisations say that this is only a fraction of such crimes, and only the most glaring cases come to light. Economic compulsions and fear for their reputation force most victims to sweep their cases under the carpet, especially when the perpetrator is an affluent and influential member of the society or a political party.
The spurt of violence against children is more than alarming. Crimes and criminality exist in every society but sexual violation of minors manifests a depravity which unless checked will tear apart the entire social fabric. People might recall that in 1997 two such incidents of rape of a 6 year old girl in the Dhaka court compound and another of Mousumi in Sutrapur area provoked violent outcry. In both the cases, the actual offenders could not be apprehended, nor was there any attempt to bring them to book.
In Ritu or Chadni's case, the poor victims were put to death when they tried to resist the violation or told the culprits that they would divulge their names. True, the resentment generated in the conscious citizenry and the outrage stoked are far from ebbing even now. Not even the harshest words could reflect the indignation felt throughout the country. These acts occurring with such alarming frequency prove that a sizeable section of the society is being criminalised rapidly, and this is happening because the perpetrators of such crimes have always evaded punishment through means known to all of us.
The question one tends to ask is “What ails our society?” Why are such criminal and murderous instincts increasingly getting the better of self-restraint, ethics and religious virtues? Something seems to have gone awfully wrong with our society, leading to ever increasing instances of depraved behaviour. It is not very unusual that every time such dastardly acts of sexual abuse of minors, often leading to death, take place, people are naturally outraged and loud protests are voiced by all, especially human rights activists. But as it often happens, when the alleged offenders go away with impunity they are emboldened to commit crimes of greater enormity. And not infrequently, the reluctance of law enforcers and indifferent attitude towards tackling the crimes makes the situation worse.
The society as a whole must try to root out the fast spreading cancer threatening to unsettle the very foundations of morality. Some human rights groups and women activists voice their protests and indignations the moment reports of any such violence are published in the newspapers, but unfortunately the policy makers and law enforcers do not seem to have been seriously perturbed. Rather, the country's political leaders are locked in a duel of words and street battles, and bringing in issues not related to burning problems like deteriorating law and order situation and escalating occurrence of crime. The security of children is the most essential part of ushering in growth of a democratic, healthy and vibrant society and should be considered “sine qua non” for any civilised order and guaranteed by the state. Protecting them from violence and abuse is the first step to good governance, peace, and stability.
Sexual abuse hurts children both physically and psychologically and the violence becomes doubly repulsive when the victim is a minor. When such violence keeps on occurring, one is led to think that apart from individual aberrations a lot of other things are wrong with the society and the social culture that lead to such perverse propensity. People are led to believe that the increasing drug-crime nexus in the urban shanties and the criminal underworld that has now spread to rural places are exacting their toll. It may be that due to social conflict and political unrest some individuals are being fast dehumanised.
The other reasons -- population pressure, joblessness and unwholesome living conditions -- are making people insensate to all tenderness and human values to the point that animal lust is getting the better of the inhibitions they had inherited. Though the High Court had issued guidelines in 2009 to frame laws for the protection of women and children from all types of violence and exploitation, the policy makers have shown little interest in carrying them out.
For identifying the criminal through DNA profiling, sweat, swab, blood, semen or hair left on the victim's body or clothes by the alleged offender must be collected immediately after the murder or rape incident. Matching that with the suspect's specimens provides the most accurate proof of the identity of the criminal.
It makes us shudder with shock and trepidation to see how innocent people are suffering owing to a malignant growth -- the emergence of musclemen almost in every corner of the country. Their sphere of activities is expanding day by day as people remain silent because they are scared of retaliation. Moreover, the inaction of the local government councillors and Upazila Parishad members contributed largely to the festering malaise. That means a vast number of people are hostage to these evil forces, since the law enforcers have so far failed to make any dent in the crime situation.
That these gangsters derive their strength from and dominate the scene allegedly under the protective umbrella of their godfathers has only made the situation worse. But the hard fact is that lawlessness is sure to cost the society dearly in the long run, and has already exacted a heavy toll and marred the image of the government. No effort to dislodge the professional criminals can succeed unless all parties agree to unleash an attack with intention to rein in the criminals, rapists and looters regardless of their party affiliations.
Unless and until we can stop repetition of such grisly crimes, every Bangladeshi shall consciously remain guilty of the sexual abuse and murder of minors. This calls for every man, woman and child in the country to be united as never before, by a collective sense of revulsion. The country and its legal machinery must not betray the hapless victims.
Md. Asadullah Khan is a columnist of The Daily Star.