Ready To Be Raped—The question of womanhood in the subcontinent

A caricature of the Delhi rape case

With the ongoing protest that has spread all over India like wildfire, the issue of the ubiquity of rape in the subcontinent has once again come under the spotlight. The victim this time was a 23-year old paramedic student who was gang-raped by a group of men in a bus; and then brutally disposed off naked along with her boyfriend, who was also badly injured, on the side of a road.

The incident triggered off mass-protests all over India and occupied the headlines of international news-channels for days. Leaving the world shocked at how such brutal animals in the form of human beings could exist, the girl eventually succumbed to a fatal death after days of fighting for her life. However, what is truly different about the event is the importance with which it was perceived by the world.

I am sure that if the victim was not a student with a middle-class background and a powerful education to boot, the case would have disappeared from the people’s minds within a few days. Had the girl been from among the lower or pariah classes in the Indian society, the local news channels would have hardly bothered to report it . At best, the newspapers would have provided a small account of the incident in the most unread section of the paper and the issue would have gone largely unnoticed by the world.

A few years back in the Guwahati region of India, at a mass-demonstration of adivasi(indigenous tribes) students under the banner “All Assam Adivasi Students’ Association”, a local Assamese businessman named Ratul Burman stripped a young female Adivasi student naked in front of the entire world and molested her and several other women in the protest. Although the television news channel CNN-IBN reported the incident and photos of the event were published in most of the major Indian newspapers, the public rage against the man remained selective and short-lived. The indigenous tribes, after all, are still treated as the untouchables of India. And even in a nation which is scheduled to soon become the world’s largest and most powerful democracy, the rights of the people on the other side of the equation of the Indian success remain undermined at the expense of a booming middle income economy.

National outrage all over Delhi following the Delhi rape

Like all other similar incidents, the then Chief Minister of Assam cried the cry of a politician and pledged to make sure that the attacker received a strong judicial punishment so that a signal could be sent off to any potential offenders. But needless to say, like all other cases of violence against women in the sub-continental judicial systems, this one also has yet to see any light.

In Bangladesh and the other parts of the subcontinent, rapes remain a common occurrence. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t have to read on the newspapers about “eve-teasing”, a subcontinental phenomena of sexually discriminating or taunting a young female, or about wives in the rural areas being killed by husbands for dowry. Many families in the lower class backgrounds and in the remote villages see young females as a burden, and often stop their schooling in order to prevent their girls from being subjected to eve-teasing.

In fact around a week after the Delhi outrage, another gang-rape case was discovered in the Tangail region of Bangladesh. This time it was a school girl who was lured into a solitary house in a forest by a woman. The girl was then raped incessantly for three days by four men and was later found unconscious beside the railway in a part known as Madhupur.

In another recent horrifying incident, on December 21, five days after the Delhi rape case, three Bengali settlers in Rangamati gang-raped a fourteen year old Marma(an indigenous tribe of Bangladesh mostly found in hilly areas such as Rangamati) girl and killed her subsequently. This is a case that has largely escaped the Bangladeshi media and was actually brought into light by the blogging world. But there is virtually no difference between this case and the one in Delhi.

DHAKA, The Guardian: Mass demonstrations against rape by local women’s rights groups

Although the aforementioned three rape events hardly generated the outrage that they should have in the subcontinent, they were no different from the one in Delhi. But the difference is the fact that all these rape victims did not have the privilege of being in a happening city like Delhi or Dhaka, and neither did they belong to the educated society where they would have befriended and socialized with people who would have fought for them. Rather they were non-existent except to their own worlds—- they were ‘nobodies’, ‘untouchables’ and ‘adivasis’ who had little say even in their own fates. And since these minorites did not make much difference in the political or economic world, their cases went ignored.

Ironically several Bangladeshi Islamist facebook pages run by the Talibanesque factions such as Shibir and Jamaat are calling for the people to force the government to make laws that mandate all women to veil themselves up completely in order to prevent themselves from being raped. Even several other Indian secular groups, in a malicious attempt at gouging public opinion towards their favor, have asked women to firmly practise the art of modesty of clothing in order to prevent cases like these. But all these leftists and right-wingers ignore the reality that to reach a permanent, democratic solution that appeases the majority of the people and keeps the international standards of human rights intact, it is not what a person wears that can change things to the other side of the table. It is rather about the mentality, and also to a very large extent dependent on the laws extant in a country.

Protests in Delhi during the New Year’s Eve

I am definitely not a great fan of the laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran or those of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but one of the few reasons these two countries have some of the lowest cases of rape is the fact that all rapists are promptly executed by their law. Although this might cause significant headache to the human rights groups which advocate the abolition of capital punishment, maybe the sub-continent should learn from these countries and promulgate a death sentence for rapists. The way to prevent crimes and violence like these from happening everyday is no longer to make people aware; after all, to educate men who think of women as sexual objects to appease their lust is a very pointless thing indeed. Rather, it is through the adoption of a principle code of conduct, through the advancement of new laws like completing the trial within a definite period of time and imposing capital sentences like death by means of which all potential criminals can be warded off and an example of justice created.

Bangladesh ranked 11th happiest country

A facebook friend recently put up this extremely inspiring and well-put status:

 

Determination – The young women who starts at daybreak to reach the garments factory where she works to support her family.

 

Resilience – The young boy who starts selling newspaper at the stroke of dawn to pay for the medical expenses of his ailing mother.

 

Vision – The City Corporation worker who does odd jobs all day long so that he can build a better future for his son.

 

Indulgence – The pampered ‘Daddy’s Princess’ whose biggest worry is to look better than her friend.

Wasted – The arrogant rich brat whose life revolves from one hangout to the next.
Misguided – The self-made millionaire who is leaving all the wealth to his children but precious few values.
Stories of inspiration and moral decay running parallel in this city of ours.

Bangladesh, the 11th Happiest Country in the World; ahead of Pakistan, India and even the USA in happiness

For those of us who were brought up and have lived in new Dhaka during the economic boon, parallelism and contradictions in our society have been integral parts of our lives. In a country the size of Scotland, but a population of at least 160 million people, we live in a vastly unequal culture and society. According to Al-Jazeera English, 30 million people in Bangladesh make up the middle-income bracket, a number higher than those of the wealthier European states of Norway and Sweden, yet the country remains largely an underdeveloped state. Roughly 30% of the population live under the international poverty line, with around 3.5 million of them being children according to the UN, while 38% of the overall populace remains illiterate.
Life here is undoubtedly difficult for most of us. But although ‘living’ is the only keyword, we believe in little pleasures and happiness. With the traditional subcontinental familial and religious values we are desperately conservative about our culture and customs. And this is why despite all our hurdles everyday Bangladesh has been placed 11th out of 151 countries in the World’s Happiest Countries list by the Happy Planet Index 2012.
In sharp contrast to this placement is a list compiled by another survey of the World’s Most Unlivable Cities. Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, ranks first on that list because of widespread social inequality, lack of resources, a faltering justice system and political turbulence. But as it turns out none of those materialistic values impede a nation that wants to be happy. The happiness index was based on three criteria: life-expectancy, well-being and ecological footprint. Costa Rica has been declared number one, followed by Vietnam and Colombia. The countries which have hit the bottom of the list constitute mainly the sub-Saharan ones.
What is more important on this list is the fact that materialistic values do not always constitute a happy nation. Spiritual and mental satisfaction, socialism and family-life are also imperative to be happy; and as the countless homeless people all across Bangladesh demonstrate through this list, a nation can still be happy despite being terribly bereft of resources. This aspect of happiness is strongly ingrained in the Bengali culture, in the Bangladeshi experience where familial and religious duties–regardless of which religion or ethnicity you belong to—- are integral constituents.
After all, where in the world will you find a nation that is terribly in love with its language? That has given up and will always be ready to give up lives when its language or land is denigrated and oppressed? Where in the world will you find a nation where secularism and equality of all religions is so much appreciated, where all religions, ethnicities and tribes live and socialize with each other harmoniously? Where will you find a country that is immersed in its music, folklore and traditional dance? Where will you find a nation that stays
awake all night to see its national cricket team win or lose matches and then celebrate any win or a good fight as if they have won the entire World Cup?
There are definitely a good many reasons that make Bangladesh different from the rest of the world. It is true that we are an underdeveloped, extremely unequal and exploited nation but even amidst our poisonous capitalistic system, we are a happy species.

And……….. its Food, Monsoon & Ramadan all at once in Dhaka

It’s raining cats and dogs at around 12:30 in the afternoon

As August opens up and the world settles down to  calculate and fret over its profits and losses for the first seven months of 2012, here in Dhaka Monsoon is blazing with its full force. While it is the Ramadan season, it is also that time of the year when rain is ubiquitous throughout all the regions of Bangladesh, and there has to be a flood or two in this land of rivers so that the residents can at least commemorate the season with the death tolls. If it is sunny and the Dhaka glare is switched on throughout the  day, it has to rain throughout the night and the next day as well. The dark clouds are always looming ahead, and with the state of pavements in this extremely  overcrowded city, puddles and splashes on the roads are anything but a novelty. And add all that to the extremely fast-paced lifestyle that most of us Dhakaites lead, I am sure none of the pedestrians on the streets will be able to boast of a day without having had their expensive shoes mud-ridden and made unusable for the next few days. And if you are, by any chance, a Bata-slipper lover for the daily chores like me, I am afraid your feet will never be able to spend a day without getting themselves devastatingly dirty.

Unless of course if you prefer to spend the days indoors.

But then again, the season is absolutely impresionante (I am working on my Spanish you see?) if you want to curl up with a good book in your room. That’s precisely what I am doing nowadays. You can sit back inside your home and enjoy the sounds of the wind howling and raging a war against the Thai-aluminum glassed windows in your background. And comfortably gulp down all sorts of fiction or something else that is good to read.

The days and nights  are extremely windy. But even with all the monsoon and rain, night-time brings on socialization for the city’s huge and overworked populace. Although all wedding ceremonies are shunned away in this season, being Ramadan & Monsoon at the same time, almost every Thursday—the weekday before Friday, which is the public holiday here———- is celebrated with parties and gatherings of friends and family, and good food is always on the table! But before good food, it is the fruit cocktails and squashes that dominate every home nowadays. And although everyone knows Bangladesh as the land of natural disasters and poverty, food is something that is more or less cheap and abundant everywhere. The lowland delta region is extremely arable and thus able to produce a plethora of different fruits. A day on the streets of Dhaka is enough to substantiate my aforementioned claim because as you read this, the city is repleted with street vendors and stalls selling fresh seasonal fruits(and definitely not the frozen ones) such as mangoes, pineapples, jack-fruits etc. So a cold glass of a fruit splash is offered to every guest coming into a house.

Evening-parties however, bring on different varieties of food. For those of you who don’t know, we Bangladeshis are food-loving  gluttons. Our cuisine is an eclectic concoction of South Asian, Middle-Eastern and British influences. It all has to do with the history here in this part of the world. Traditionally although the Bengali food is mainly rice and fish (with Hilsha being treated as the king of fishes), due to the fact that Bengal was ruled by the Mughals (Muslim Emperors from the Middle-East) and Afghans for a time, and by the British colonialists later on, the food culture is largely diverse and widely reminiscent of our multicultural past. And of course you have all the gourmet Chinese and Mexican restaurants flooding the streets of the major cities as well.

Help yourself to Shik Kabab and Paratha people!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But most importantly, with all the religious salvation and piety involved in this season, the time is also ripe for us Dhakaites to stop fretting around over our extremely busy lifestyles and to start donating  for charity through Zakat.  Around the country scores of people are being deprived of the blessings of life. Countless are starving to death even in this blessed Ramadan season. And it is up to us to share our wealth and privileges with all those who can’t put food to their  mouths neither during  Sehri nor during Iftar.  It is imperative in order for us to be able to create a healthy society that we start coming out of our public and private spheres and start addressing the injustice and poverty that is ubiquitous throughout the many regions of Bangladesh.

The English Language & Cultural Imperialism

A rare photo of the end of British Colonialism of India in 1947

They call it cultural imperialism.

When the British colonialists finally managed to take control of the entire subcontinent back in 1757, they soon realized that it was never going to be easy for them here. They were forced to confront to a nation that was united, regardless of religious and ethnic differences, and knew that somehow this unity had to be destroyed. By creating a division they speculated that the huge nation could be transcended to a high level of mistrust and jealousy. One religion had to be turned against another. One tribal group and its leaders had to be forced to fight against another. Alliances had to be broken and discrimination introduced.

And so the first thing they decided to do was take away the people’s most important tool of unity: language.

Before the British colonization, the main language of the subcontinent under Mughal rule was Farsi—the language brought to the region by the Persian Sufis and saints, Mughal and Afghan rulers. Both Hindi and Urdu are renditions of Farsi, while Bengali is an evolved form of Sanskreet, another prominent language of the highly diverse Indian culture. During the pre-British era, Farsi was the main language of instruction. Although all other languages were equally appreciated and encouraged by the many communities of the diverse sub-continental culture, it was Farsi that was spoken in courts and offices; it was Farsi that the books in schools and colleges were written in; and it was Farsi in which art and literature achieved a modern dimension in Asia and the Muslim world in particular. The British realized this premonition of unity, and thus decided that the subcontinent must produce a new breed of intellectuals and thinkers. And all these educated people had to be learned in English. They foretold that the only way British imperialism will be indelible in this region is by making the people ‘pukka brown sahibs’— brown South Asians talking and thinking in English and trying to sport both an Anglicized accent and behavior.

And so they abolished all the educational offices and reformed them. Built them all anew with new institutions based on English imperialist policies and designs.

This was precisely the way the Native Americans had lost their languages to European colonial settlers. The way the Aborigines and other native tribes like Maoris of the Australian continent had had their languages stolen, eradicated, wiped out and robbed out of them by the English settlers.

Years later, almost 70 years after the British left the subcontinent, robbing it off of all its riches and creating enormous sectarian divide and ethnic discrimination, their imperialist policies are still omnipresent in the region. English is treated as the language of the middle and upper class. While Bengali, Urdu, Hindi and other native languages have been pushed backwards to make them second languages. English no longer belongs to the British imperialists only anymore. From America to India to Australia—all these countries have been Anglicized from head to toe.

Thus posing a cultural theft. A robbery. A treacherous malice. A new means of imperialism.

While one might argue that in this increasingly globalized world, Anglicization was necessary—-and if it was with the loss of the native tongue then so be it—it must be worth mentioning, that native tongue is what creates an identity; a culture dating back to thousands of years. English has to be taught in schools and colleges, but not with the expense of the native tongue.

The fact that the British imperialist policies are still ubiquitous in Asia under cover was realized by none other than the Chinese government. In 2010, according to Olinda Hassan, a Bangladeshi-American blogger, the General Administration of Press and Publication in China banned the use of English in Chinese media such as books, papers and on the web. The government explained this move by saying that the use of English and the English-Chinese combination was rapidly deteriorating the ‘purity’ of the Chinese language and violently upsetting the nation’s traditional cultural values. However it must also be noted that the Chinese government also lowered the age for compulsory English from 11 to 9 in 2001 and has left that policy unchanged as increasing numbers of Chinese students go abroad for educational degrees. English to them is regarded as a means of personal achievement and the language of necessity; to be used in offices and global markets and to profit out as responsible global citizens.

But in the subcontinent, English is deemed as the language that makes everyone an aristocrat. Being able to speak fluent or broken English in public means that you are an educated, literate and important citizen. No further qualification is required to attract stares and points, and the public will be enthralled by what you have to say. Unfortunately, this sort of behavior is exactly what the British rulers wanted and predicted.

It must be noted that in the increasingly multicultural, largely globalized society that we dwell in, English is a very important tool for success. According to many scientists, being multilingual actually enhances the capabilities of your brain by opening up more synapses and thus increasing the proportion of workable brain. But it should be impressed upon the fact that English must not be used as another tool of cultural imperialism the British colonialists imposed upon the subcontinent. The English newspapers, periodicals and publication for teenagers should not be filled with reviews of British and American music, movies and books every single day while the local produce is left for only the lower and underprivileged classes to explore. Foreign productions should be treated as international produce, and no matter how much we try, foreign art and culture can never be ours.

I am sure the British colonialists are laughing from their graves. The once highly patronized subcontinental languages have now largely been replaced with English as the language of the upper and middle classes. The traditional languages have been dumped for the poor working classes and all English-speakers have been made superior. And all this has been achieved through cultural imperialism!