By Rebecca Haque
June 18, 2013
WHEN I left the country on May 18, 2013, for a two-week vacation with my daughter, two catastrophic events had occurred and passed, leaving the nation to recover from the trauma of the Rana Plaza disaster and the horror of the night of the Hefazatis.
Cocooned in the restorative cool clean air of Melbourne, soothed by the abundant green foliage in and around the city, savouring the order and serenity of the music of harmonious ethnic diversity and unity, my faith in humanity was restored.
The best of our young generation are thriving in this region of Australasia in the Pacific zone. More numbers of our young people are flocking to the shores of this continent. Why? The answer is obvious. Like birds flying away in panic from nesting tree-tops in the path of the eye of the storm, our young are fleeing the homeland to find new peaceful nesting grounds. It is a tragedy for us, the parents, who are painfully embracing this separation in their declining years to give their progeny the opportunity to settle in cities where the daughters and sons can grow confident and strong in honest toil and just reward.
In my cocoon, the image of the lone female survivor of seventeen days of being buried alive under the concrete rubble of Rana Plaza metamorphosed into a symbol, an icon, of the essence of every Bangladeshi woman. Like the two pioneering Mt. Everest climbers, women charged with the spirit of endeavour, this survivor represents the best qualities present in every Bangali girl and woman: courage, resilience, intelligence, adaptability, and the strength of will to live despite adversity and abuse and poverty.
However, certain malevolent, ignorant, intolerant patriarchs, mired in self-distorted rigid interpretation of Islam, are hell-bent on destroying the body and spirit of the woman of this land, thus destroying any hope of progress or positive growth of the nation as a whole. The economics of feudal landholdings and inheritance has for centuries kept the majority of women of this region paupers and drones. Women were deprived of physical liberty, of the light of education in the dark days of despair so that such patriarchs could control, manipulate, and barter their bodies as currency for feudal profit.
We must not ever forget, however, that our Prophet (pbuh) himself had the utmost respect for women, and sought the wisdom of the experience of worldly commerce in his bond with his first wife. His daughter, the inestimable Fatima, mother of Hassan and Hussein, was the jewel of his days of preaching the faith, a worthy daughter raised in adoration to become the wife of Hazrat Ali. The sand dunes of the Arabian Peninsula were filled with the decaying bodies of female infants until our Prophet (pbuh) and his army of good followers battled long and hard to change the fate of woman.
The body of every woman needs to be protected, her womb cherished, not violated .The mind of every woman must be allowed the light of knowledge to flower, to fulfill mankind’s true destiny in peace and prosperity. The leading headline in The Daily Star, on Friday June 14, 2013 — Hunger Halved Before MDG Time — is a clear declaration of the success brought about by the hard work, the dexterous drudgery of millions of fragile adolescent girls and determined young women hunched over sewing machines in countless dingy, sweaty, neon-lit death traps, earning bread for their families, earning the most foreign exchange for the country to raise its economic index.
Hefazat is the Arabic/ Urdu word denoting/ connoting “security,” “shelter,” “succour.” Why debase this word to denounce woman as temptress once again, to be beaten and led to slaughter as in the days before faith and knowledge and equality? Ignorance cannot be allowed to rear its ugly head in this land where the girl-child now is an asset for progress.
Woman in Bangladesh is the true Third Force of the nation. Woman belongs to no sole creed, colour, or community. Woman is not man’s property. Woman is earth, earth-mother, seed- bearer, life-giver, nurse, nurturer.
Hefazat her! Respect her. Learn from her; look at her shining eyes without lust in your heart, look upon her without shame, man born of woman. Listen to her songs; look into her agile mind, look at her nimble fingers. Look at her lovely smile.
Look into the depths of the goodness of her sacrificing soul. And learn to better thyself.
Rebecca Haque is Professor, Dept. of English, University of Dhaka.