Even before we can catch our breath as we enter a new year, a new decade, rape continues to haunt us, reminding us of its presence, its insidious entry into every lonely corner, street, open area, swamp, abandoned building or roadside bush. An ordinary Sunday evening turns out to be a terrifying nightmare for a Dhaka University student who gets off at the wrong bus stop. Instead of getting down at Sheora (near the airport), she gets off at Kurmitola. It is while she is walking down the footpath, possibly trying to figure out how she will go to Sheora where her friend lives and where she is supposed to go to study, that her attacker pounces on her, drags her into a bush, rapes her and leaves her unconscious. Marks on her body and other evidence indicate that her attacker tried to strangle her.
Now she lies in a hospital, injured and traumatised. Students are protesting loudly, parents are paralysed with fear for their daughters, the minister promises to catch the culprits and seminars are being arranged to talk about this epidemic of rape. It is a re-run of the same story. Over and over again.
The most mindboggling part in this ongoing catastrophe is that we already know most of the reasons why rape has become such an “easy” crime to get away with. It is being called a “social disease” that has been allowed to spread and intensify—the number of rapes doubled in 2019—because the system protects the rapists, not the victims. There is full-scale impunity when it comes to the rapists. They are the ones who can use the loopholes in the system because they are men and hence supremely entitled to enjoy the elevated status given to them by birth from society. The comments under social media posts after a rape incident, including the one involving the DU student, reflect the misogyny that stems from various offshoots of patriarchy, including chauvinistic misinterpretations of religion. But these misguided, bigoted men conveniently ignore the reality of small children, girls and boys being raped inside their homes by relatives or neighbours or even inside the madrasa by teachers assigned to teach their wards about morality and religion. They also ignore the young women who follow religious dress codes and abide by religious conventions and who still become victims of sexual assault, rape and even murder. The names of Tonu and Nusrat keep coming to mind but there are many others whose names we will never know.