Dear Rupa Khatun Pramanik,
A law student in Dhaka, you worked at a multinational company in Sherpur. On that fateful Friday morning, you went to Bogra to sit for a teachers’ registration examination. To me, you epitomized the pursuit of a meaningful education, a demanding career; to become someone beyond society’s expectations of a girl raised to be a mother. That evening you headed back. The end of your story was too soon and yet, maybe not soon enough. Eerily echoing the infamous Nirbhaya bus gang-rape incident in Delhi, I can only imagine the gripping fear with which you offered your valuables, to be abused anyway, the endless pain that caused you to scream for help until they broke your neck.
However, the Delhi case, in some ways similar to yours, shook the world and brought forth an avalanche of protests and legal reforms pertaining to sexual assault law in India. In Bangladesh, what did we do for you, sister? True, there were marches and human chains by feminist groups, dutifully reported in media. Your assailants were at least arrested, which is more than what poor Tonu can say for hers, but no update on trial proceedings given in media. You have faded from people’s consciousness, slowly but surely, at most getting a sympathetic nod over afternoon tea or a righteous comment about the expected dangers of single women traveling alone, tao abar shondhar por.
I cannot demean your memory by offering a pointless apology. We are a country, that since the beginning, has a complicated history with rape and the use of well-meant words to address the issue but which did not translate to significant change. Rape victims of the liberation war were given the respected title, “Birangona”, meaning War Heroine, but how many were readily accepted back to their homes and families? Throughout the clashes with indigenous tribes at the Chittagong Hill Tracts, and even now, tribal women and girls are raped and their complaints are not accepted or their suffering acknowledged. Even #justice for Tonu has faded away, her assailants yet to be identified and arrested and the public outcry, which was initially far greater than yours, Rupa, is now absent. Even a few months ago, police refused to file the Banani birthday party rape case, questioning the victim’s allegations and further harassing the women.
What we need is a greater sense of social responsibility than mere Facebook statuses. What we need is the bravery to stand up to our “respected” elders if they suggest that a victim asked for it any way shape or form. What we need is men teaching boys that a woman must be respected, not simply because she “could be your mother or sister” but because she is a living breathing human deserving of said respect. What we need is to stop belittling sexual harassment on the street as “eve-teasing”. What we need is to not call our friends that do speak out “femi-nazis”. What we need is for you, Rupa and others like you, to not be forgotten, by the media or by us.
A regretful citizen
Cover image credit: http://bit.ly/2heOMdV