Bangla Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Why violence is routinized and legitimized in Bangladesh

Dhaka serial rapist arrested

The rape of a Dhaka University student in the cantonment area has captured media attention in full. The girl, who was going home, had alighted at the wrong bus stop. The perplexed girl was spotted by the keen eyes of a “serial rapist” who dragged her into a bush and raped her. The hapless girl later managed to reach a friend’s house and was admitted to a hospital. Two days later, the rapist was arrested. According to the authorities he is a “serial rapist”. A street vendor of sorts, he had preyed on girls many times before. Media reaction to the news of the rape was humongous, which put great pressure on the authorities to act with expedition.

Only 3 % are convicted

Globally, sexual violence in Bangladesh is not in the higher reaches. But Bangladesh is probably one of the safest places to commit rape. Very few get punished and convictions are abysmally low. When rape is accompanied by murder, the conviction rate is even less.

“There is simply no one to follow up the cause. Families are hardly in a state to push the case. Law enforcers have many other cases to pursue and with no pressure or motivation, they drop cases.” This was the assessment of a long time journalist covering rape and crime.

According to data provided by the tribunals dealing with rape, only 3% of cases relating to violence against women and children result in conviction. These cases are handled by the Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal. Lack of coordination among various players hinders conviction, says Dr Ayesha Afroz Chowdhury of the Health and Family Welfare Ministry.

Families Are Main Abusers

One of the problems is denial of rape within families and of rape by acquaintances. Homes are also where child domestic workers are raped but these incidents are rarely reported.

However, people’s main interest is in public rape. As a result, a wide spectrum of sexual abuse done behind closed doors and in the private domain remains unnoticed and goes untouched. Exclusive focus on female sex abuse has also kept abusers of males safe.

While public space violation enrages the public, the private space doesn’t because the latter is considered sacrosanct. The result is protection of sex abuse perpetrators behind the safety of social norms.

The result is that despite a lot of discussion, public rallies and social media rage, there is little or no impact on the incidence of rape and even less on conviction. There is nothing to show that rape is declining.

Approval of violence

Public reaction to the recent incidents of rape has been strong and most prescribe violence as a punishment. Social media is exploding with comments seeking castration, stoning to death, death by rape and many such violent punishments. Crossfire or encounter killing, which is now very common, has become acceptable to all and is in fact at the top of the list of desirable punishments. The result: Bangladeshi society in general appears to be very pro-violence.

Several research studies have indicated that social insecurity is very high. Many are scared to venture into the public space and those who do experience high anxiety. The result is a rise in the use of garments such as hijab, nikab, and burqa which hide the female and keep prying eyes at bay.

Research also shows that most people are legitimizing social and mob killings as solutions. The approval of violence at the public level is clear. However, private space is where most violent acts occur, but it is an unseen space.

Is violence a deterrent?

There is no evidence to show that violence works as a deterrent. However, the fact is that social and private crimes are high, mechanisms for management are poor, and there is no social or public control of the existing violence mechanisms. The end result has been an overwhelming move towards a society which is based on violent transactions.

In other words violence is a structural factor not an incidental one committed by anti-social criminals or deviants. It is an integrated phenomenon committed by all.  

This has put a lot of pressure on the State. How far can governments go on anti-crime drives is questionable. The recently publicized anti-gambling den operations have been put on hold and some of the casino owners are now over ground. Anti-corruption drives remains stagnant and banks have failed to act against many loan defaulters.

More significantly, the stock market that has never been transparent is showing losses running into billions. It seems the formal sector is not functioning as it should, even by the lax standards of Bangladesh.

Immediate satisfaction

Bakhtiar Nazmul Huda, a researcher from Bangladesh now in Australia wrote as follows on social media on the rape incident and violence promotion: “People don't believe in or bank on the existing volatile judicial system which is characterized by procrastination, corruption, and exercise of power. That's why people want to get immediate brutal satisfaction through extrajudicial killings.”

If that is the scenario, Bangladesh is facing a systemic collapse, which is probably not going to recover. The government’s much publicized anti-drugs campaign is based on extra-judicial killings, which continue. But there has been no drop in drug availability. Nor has public approval for extra-judicial killings declined. Violence itself is becoming “the system” in Bangladesh.