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.

Eccentricities in a Bangladeshi Gaa’ye Holud

Gaa’ye holud is an essential part of Bangladeshi marriage traditions. It is the first of the 4/3-day long celebrations carried out to celebrate the unity of two families through marriage. On this occasion, traditionally bride and bridegrooms used to be rubbed on the face with mustard paste by all sorts of people—sometimes on the same day and sometimes on separate days—–but in the past one decade or so, as Bangladesh became increasingly globalized and make up, gold, facebook photos and expensive imported dresses from Pakistan and India rapidly made it impossible to rub mustard paste on the faces of the bride and her groom, gaa’ye holuds began to use mustard paste as decoration items only. Nowadays it is more about wearing good clothes, going to the beauty salon and the DJ playing hard and fast dance beats to which everyone would dance around. At least that’s the picture in the urban cities now.

Photo credit: nudratowens.com

 

Although an indispensable part of the traditional 4-day long Bengali marriage ceremony, gaa’ye holud, in my opinion, is an event most ceremonies can easily do without. In fact, before the latest one I attended whose tales would soon ensue, I can’t even properly recall the last time I went to a gaa’ye holud invitation. To me, as an observer, the event seemed to waste a lot of money, time and other resources for no good reason at all, and the material side of me always sighed to think of all the expenditure going on behind the scenes of a lavish gaaye holud. And there was the philosophy of personal beliefs as well. Around two and a half years back when I turned into an Islamic fundamentalist——-courtesy of the Islamophobic blog-networks———and increasingly shifted towards a more pan-Islamic school of thought and belief system (although I do suffer from intermittent bouts of agnosticism and atheism as well), I began to find the style of dancing and singing in a gaa’ye holud absolutely abhorrent. And with these foundations for a thought-process, my penchant for skipping all sorts of gaa’ye holud grew in an unprecedented manner.

But the latest one was from a series of occasions I could have never refused. It happened to be a classmate-since-class-four’s elder brother’s holud, and my family and I were specifically invited by none other than the mother of the bridegroom herself. It was virtually impossible to escape this one unless and until there was a darn good reason to do so. And hence I had to accede to the request.

But since my mom couldn’t go because of her last minute health-constraints I was left alone. I put on some ironed cotton trousers and punjabi, showered with my new Moroccan rosewater flavored liquid soap and after climbing through an hour-long traffic in a route which would have taken me 20 minutes to reach my destination in anywhere other than the city of Dhaka on a normal Wednesday evening, I finally landed myself in Trust Milonayton on Mohakhali.

Now there’s absolutely no reason to suppose that this was going to be an occasion where the lazy Bengalis will finally decide to be punctual. So although the event was scheduled to be at 7:30 pm, when I entered the grandiloquent hall at around 8:30 pm, there was but a score of people sitting and whiling away their time. I slid myself through the slightly opened façade and was glared at by the cameraman when I almost tripped on his gargantuan wires. That’s nothing new though. I have this thing for slipping whenever I try to walk properly. I raised a hand and punched the air around me to show my disregard for the man’s glare. In a further effort to boost up my lost confidence, I even heaved up my chest and poised my breasts outwards in a malicious attempt to imitate the Bollywood actor Salman Khan. But in return I was met by more stares. And then immediately, just before that Salman Khan-ish feeling decided to leave me, I felt the need to set up a new facebook status through my phone: Letzz rockzz peoplezzz. Fromzz Salzzzmanzzz Khanzz.

Feeling weird, I strode on and scoured the place for anyone I knew. Unfortunately, there was none.

But fortunately, there was an unknown, gorgeous-looking girl sitting just in front the sofa I had taken refuge in; and like me she seemed to be all alone as well. My heart skipped a beat when she turned around and our gazes met, and I could perceive her beautiful multicolored sari draped elegantly over her maroon blouse, hiding her presumptuously poised out breasts in a manner too provocative and too feminine to lower my gaze.

দূর হতে আমি তারে সাধিবো
গোপনে বিরহ ডরে বাধিবো………………...

Kill me woman! Kill me! I thought to myself as she turned backwards again to see the people entering through the red carpet.

I chuckled as I noticed her lavishly made up face and the henna-designed hands. I wondered whether it would be deemed too inappropriate in a public place like that to start a nice little chat with her.

Preoccupied with this dilemma, and wondering whether I possessed enough charisma to charm up an unfamiliar girl, I suddenly noticed a middle-aged woman with her two young (and severely attractive!) post-teenage daughters approach my sofa. The woman sat beside my seat and shifted towards me with a forgive-me smile.

“Ami ki shore jaabo?” Complemented by a smile, in the most pleasant-hearing shuddho Bengali accent I possessed, I asked her whether I should change seats.

“It will be good for us,” the lady smiled back and then looked at her daughters. I changed seats and had to appease my back for shelter in a more uncomfortable chair. Weird. Aren’t these the same ladies calling for equal rights for both men and women? What kind of man would’ve asked the lady or her daughters to shift seats for the men’s convenience when there were many other seats available?

#Such-an-unequal-country!

And it was at that point when the lazy, fat and gluttonous Bengalis found food. A food corner had popped up and was offering the first of the two course meal of the event to the guests. I, being the typical food-loving Bengali, found the smell of jilapis and pakoras wafting through the hall as irresistible as the ladies around me. Very soon I had had stomached around 10 pakoras with chutney and a few incredibly tasty jilapis to counter the sour taste. I also took a plate of chotpoti from the fuchka-chotpoti corner. And then finally, when I had decided that it was enough, I finished off with a few glasses of hot coffee.

It was a further half-an-hour before the bride and her groom arrived. The DJ made a point of stopping all other sounds to play the song Ajib Aur Shaan Shahenshah as loudly as possibleto make the entrance sound as grand as that of Akbar in the Indian film Jodhaa-Akbar. But by then, my heart had skipped beats for several times as more and more beautiful young ladies filed onto the red carpet and took seats around me. I went to deposit my vacant chotpoti plate back to the food corner and then met my friend and host for the evening.

“Aaare doctor sahib. How do you do?”

As we hug slightly and look at each other, my friend has something to say.

“Let me show you an `angle`.” He whispered to my ears over the roar of the music.

“`Angle`?” I asked back, perplexed.

“Yes; an `angle`. The girl in the red sari, standing directly opposite to me over there on the food corner,” he used his eyes to indicate, “I have had a crush on that cousin since class five. Don’t point. Do you like her?”

I turned around 360 degrees to look at the hapless-looking, massively-foundationed and a-conspicuously-dark-shade-of-mascara-wearing girl. “Well. Pretty workable.” And then, as an afterthought I added, “You should see Vina Arsara*. The only girl I ever felt physically attracted to. She used to turn me on; trust me.”

“Oh you know what? I have a pretty-looking friend on facebook with that name.”

“Dude there could be a million other Vina Arsaras on facebook….”

“Yeah but she had a few mutual friends with me. So I guess she is the one.”

“Still it’s a pleasure to behold her. All the boys in Maths class used to run after her when the class ended. And she ran away from all of them.” This culminated in somewhat of a laughter. Even the people around us who were standing with prying ears smirked at our girl-watching conversation. But what exactly do you expect two adolescent males who have known each other for most of their lives to talk about in a place swarming with beautiful girls if not about the opposite sex and their fantasies?

“Oh come on,” my friend brought me back to my senses. “I will show you another `angle`. This cousin is at the bottom of my list though.”

As we walk he suddenly points to another absolutely ravishing, wealthily-dressed girl.

“Holy shit!” The words poured out from my mouth before I could stop them. “Dude, this one really, really is a bubbling piece of hot shit.”

My friend on the other hand grimaced a wide-toothed smile. On his face it was clearly written ‘I told you so’.

After all the ogling was over, when we had both become heavily sinned, and when I was confused whether gaa’ye holud should be renamed as girl-watching or not, it was time for dinner. Morog-polau complemented with Shammi Kebab and khashir rezala. I took a seat at an almost empty table, with only a few weird-looking people sitting around lazily.

But as soon as the waiter had arrived, everyone was filled with a vigor that multiplied by many folds as each plate began to be piled up with the multitude of items.

A middle-aged lady and one of her acquaintances was sitting across from me. On the other side of the woman was probably her maid servant. She piled up her servant’s plate with food and then after some time, all of a sudden, probably thinking that it was beneath her to sit with her servant for the victuals, she got up leaving her plate untouched. It was pretty obvious from the manner she left after thinking it through for sometime that she was affected by problems of class and castes in her decision. And my reasoning behind her eccentric demeanor was further substantiated by how she materialized minutes later at the table out of nowhere and then, instead of resuming her position, she tried to shower both her servant and the acquaintance she had left behind with food from the table. In her mind maybe, she knew that she had behaved unjustly. And thus out of that feeling of guilt, she was trying to make repercussions by being overly kind and entertaining to her servant who had been left behind feeling small and undignified at the mistress’ behavior.

I wondered how I would have behaved if I had been in the woman’s shoes. Surely I don’t mind sharing the same table with our servants or driver in a wedding party. But I reconsidered my mom; I was absolutely sure, given the high level of sobriety and demeanor she maintains, that my mom would have never sat on the same table with her helpers.

It’s a weird world indeed. The formation of Pakistan during the 1947 partition and Bangladesh during the 1971 war stemmed out precisely from class difference. Pakistan was formed to get rid of the Zamindar and landlord-based caste system. And then Bangladesh was shaped because of the class difference and discrimination between East Pakistan and West Pakistan. But today in the modern-day parties of urbanized Dhaka, the issue has largely been scraped away from everyone’s mind.

When I returned back home my mom summoned me to her room.

“What the—?” she stopped in mid-speech as she looked at me.

“Yes?” I wondered how I had disapproved her now.

“Please don’t tell me you wore this simple-looking punjabi to the holud. Please don’t.”

“Well mom. I must disappoint you on that. Because this is the one I wore.”

My mom was ready to erupt. “Why is it that you have to earn my disapproval for your weird style of clothing during every single occasion? Can you never put on something decent?”

“Well you know, don’t you? Half the time I don’t even look at what I have put on. But this punjabi looks okay. Maybe a bit mismatched but workable nevertheless….”

“What’s wrong with you? Don’t you get provided enough to buy you a gorgeous punjabi? And I thought you have your own savings now. I am sure your host did not even look at you once throughout the holud. You are so un-presentable.”

“On the contrary I actually had quite a great time. And anyways, my friend wouldn’t have been my friend if he chose people through their outlook. So please: stop.”

With that I impudently left her room. I got undressed and switched off my bedroom lights to get some sleep. Reclining on my bed, I reflected back on the events of the evening.

So yes, if I am to end this write-up in the traditional SAT essay style, I should probably conclude that that was one fucking eccentric evening!

But then again, my life itself is an eccentric one. So I don’t really think I ought to complain about eccentricities in a Bangladeshi gaa’ye holud.

 

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

*Names in this article have been changed in order to protect people’s privacy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Thoughts on March 26—-from 1971 to 2012

This piece was written on the occasion of March 26, the day when as one of my friends had aptly put “the world became pregnant and bore a new country called Bangladesh”. It marked Bangladesh’s 41st Independence day.

1971 flag of Bangladesh

1971 flag of Bangladesh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Flag of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

I stand atop the mounted floor of my apartment’s roof, over the newly embellished cream-colored tiles. I stare ahead of me at the monstrous skyscrapers of Dhanmondi dominating the skylines with prestige. I think of this evening. I think of what it might have been like at this very instant back in 1971.

Although the Indian writer Sharmila Bose has firmly argued that the figures of the Bangladesh liberation war were fabricated, I try to imagine the moment, the time when the city was shivering after the loss of around 4000 unarmed civilians within one midnight at the hands of a brutal regime that was supposed to protect them. I try to feel the darkness that had engulfed the sun which had risen over Dhaka on March 26, 1971. And all that I get is the stench of death, the death of a vibrant, overpopulated city. People ambushed and then run over by the military tanks in an effort to mix the dead with the mud. Alas! From the mud we rise and to the mud we return, and it is there that we meet the Hereafter.

I see people running. Not in the year 1971, but today. Running about their daily affairs, working hard to meet their everyday needs. Trying their best to make some sense of their life. These are the people, I think to myself, whose diligence have given our country economic progress and emancipation. These are the people because of whom at only 41 years of age, Bangladesh is already the 42nd largest economy—ahead of the colonialist nation that had devastated and exploited it before its liberation—- according to IMF in terms of purchasing power parity . These are the people who make me proud today for working towards the golden future of the glorious land of Bengal, towards the legacy begun by the illiterate Dravidians, continued by the courage and power of Shaista Khan, Siraj-ud-Daula, Preeti Lata, Titu Mir, Sher-e-Bangla, Maulana Bhashani, Sheikh Mujib and countless others. These are the people who teach me to live, enjoy and blog.

What was it like for these people back in that pitch dark day of March 26, 1971? Were they still running about? To bring food and shelter for their families? Or only to flee the darkness that loomed ahead and awaited them eagerly? Was the Adhaan to signal the commencement of night still so loud back then as it is today? And did the men and women still prostate and switch off radios and televisions after the Adhaan even on that particular day?

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

The spirit of freedom and egalitarianism has penetrated permanently into our hearts the day Sheikh Mujib took the mike on 7th March and announced freedom from tyranny as soon as even one ounce of blood was dropped from a Bangladeshi man. Ever since that day we have taken pride in being part of a nation that has been oppressed and treated as second-class ever since its formation after independence from the British Raj. We know for a fact that no matter how many Sharmila Boses rant at us and accuse us of being story-tellers, no matter how turbulent our political arena has become, no matter how rampant corruption is in our everyday lives, we are a nation that can be proud of its achievements. We are a nation looking for peace, diligence and simple lifestyles.

It is always very exciting to hear remarks about the War of Independence from foreigners. And what could be better than a quote directly from a new generation Pakistani? One interesting link I made recently is with Nayab Fareed, a Pakistani student studying Mass Communications in Abu Dhabi. This is what Nayab had to say about the Bangladesh liberation war:

“All I know is that Bangladesh was once East Pakistan & then they got separated. It was our fault till an extent. I asked my mom but she told me that she herself was a kid back then. We lost a war to India because of some East Pakistanis when they disclosed some secrets about the navy (I am not sure which incident Nayab is referring to at this point but the Daily Prothom Alo recently published a report on a group of Bangladeshis in the Pakistan Army who accumulated arms and ammunitions for the Bangladesh cause) That’s what I heard once. Also, I heard it was our fault too. Discrimination. We were not very fair to them. At the moment my own country is in a mess, so we discuss Pakistan or maybe other Muslim countries like Palestine/ Iraq/ Afghanistan. It’s disappointing though. Pakistanis regret it & still wish it was our part. I know the Pakistani version of the story, never heard the Bangladeshi version though.”

Of course, expecting a Pakistani to know something about the liberation war is pointless really. The history lives only with the ones who suffered. It is transferred only by those who had been afflicted with pain, with an anguish so terrible to bear that it becomes an offense not to transfer it on in words, thoughts and deeds. Actually, I half expected Nayab to tell me straight in the face that Bangladesh was the result of the India-Pakistan rift as described by many conspiracy theorists. But whatever it was, Bangladesh paid dearly. We lost 3000000 civilians including freedom fighters, children and women, while countless mothers and sisters were raped incessantly till their death. In addition, the country suffered huge droughts after the war as a result of which many more lives were claimed.

Although the Bangladesh government later on proudly proclaimed the raped women as ‘war heroines’ the damage was already done. This is what Taslima Nasrin, an eminent Bengali writer currently exiled from the country for her sectarian writings, had to say later on about one of her aunts and the month of December when the war finally came to an end:

“……………It is December now. This was the month when 18 years ago, nine months after the war, I, as part of a bunch of kids, did procession in the backyard tying a piece of cloth, with red on the dark green and yellow map in the red, on a piece of bamboo, and uttered: Joy Bangla.

In Mymensingh, from March until November ’71, the head Imam of the big Mosque has dumped many into the well after slaughtering them in his own hands. It was in December again when the city people brought out countless corps from the well in order to find their nearest ones. My relatives went out to search for those who had left for the war, or vanished without for good. Pakistani soldiers looted our properties, burnt our house before they left, took my father away and bashed him with boots and bayonets, shot two of my uncles and left their dead bodies on the road, plucked my brother’s right eye out. In December two out of my three uncles, who had left for the liberation war, returned. Sixteen days later, from the Pakistani camp, returned home my 21 year old aunt. Some of the neighbors, who fought for liberation and returned home, have lost their hands, some their legs. Still December is the month when the relatives of the crippled war victims became overwhelmed with joy for their homecoming.

But nobody expected my poor aunt’s return home. They all would have been relieved if she did not. Ever since, I always proudly referred to my father, brother and uncles. I was proud of our losses. But I never mention my aunt. Today stepping out of all damn inhibitions, I am proudly saying that: in the darkroom of the military camp ten brutish lechers (Pakistani soldiers) have incessantly raped my aunt for 16 days.

Our society did not pride on my aunt. In newspapers and magazines, in conferences, meetings and seminars the big shots went loud about raped women. Their pompous title “War heroines” for the victim women of war is nothing but a farce in the name of liberalism.

Although everybody accepted the ravage, the torture by boots and bayonets, even dreadful deaths unleashed by the war-they did not accept the hapless accident: rape.

Photograph of a brutally raped & murdered woman found on the streets during the war

In December, the political leaders were shouting outside for the honor of the raped mothers and sisters; then in December, the month of our victory, as the last resort to keep her honor: my aunt hanged herself on the wooden beam of their house.

Taslima Nasreen: Nirbachita Columns (P: 25-26)
The genocide that began for ethnic cleansing to remove Hindus from the Muslim land, while murdering Muslims and Hindus without any discrimination did eventually come to an end. But the truth is, we are nowhere near to achieving the dreams seen by our freedom fighters. We are not making sure that the women who were raped and the people that were martyred were not done so in vain. We need people to carry on that light of equality, human rights and justice that refused to preempt the courage of the fighters against all odds. We need to relay on this light of freedom.
Are we, as yet, ready to carry on that light forward for our own sake?
Photos & Taslima Nasreen’s words copied from muktadhara.net

Save Childhood

The scene is a rural setting in the Middle-East/South-Asia/Africa. 12 o’clock midnight.

The entire village is asleep. However, one of the houses, located in the deepest part of the indolent village, was buzzing with activity. Everyone was in his or her best clothes. The fact that child marriage is illegal was known to every single person present there. Yet tonight,when most of the more responsible in the society were sleeping inside their homes, the 10-year old girl will be successfully married off as the 45-year old bridegroom’s 5th wife.

The little bride, clad with the most resplendent colors her poor father could afford, lay huddled in a corner. Eyes swelling with tears, she hardly had any idea what was going on. All she knew was that she was about to be sent away from the comfort of her father’s home to live with the big, fat man whom she despised. No one was there to understand her. Her father had justified himself by saying that he had incurred huge debts from the fat man and will never be able to repay them even with his life. The only option that the fat man had given him was to lend his 9-year old daughter’s hand in marriage. And thus there was no other way………………..……………..

Child marriage in Afghanistan

A couple of months back while reading the Reader’s Digest Asia I came across an article on child marriage in Yemen. The subject of the article was Nujood Ali,a hapless second-grader whose parents had married her off to a man in his 30s. Although her poverty-stricken father had requested her husband not to touch her before she had her first menstrual period, for two months the young Nujood had had to endure physical tortures and rapes by her husband when she refused to commit sexual intercourse with him. And then when she could take it no more she escaped to her father’s house where her stepmother, who did not hold the matter with much gravity since such incidents were not uncommon in that part of the world, playfully asked her to go to the court to seek a divorce. Young Nujood, then did what she was told. She went to the court and spoke with the judge Mohammed al-għadha who, submitting to humanity, took her to provide a

Nujood Ali & her lawyer Shada Nasser

temporary refuge and had both her father and husband taken into custody. Renowned Yemeni women’s rights lawyer Shada Nasser then took up the case for a divorce and finally on April 15 of the same year she was granted the much-needed divorce.

Child marriage in Muslim countries and certain other conservative nations like Niger, Chad and the Caribbean is not at all an uncommon incident. But the link between child marriages is with something different: poverty. Families in the less-developed countries marry off their young daughters to ease their economic burden since after all, one family member deducted means one less person to feed or clothe and particularly if it is a female, who typically remains dormant in these conservative societies, the sooner she is got rid off the better for the family. And perhaps more importantly these families tend to be big, like really big. According to Muslim traditions you are not allowed to undertake sex during menstrual periods so there is actually a high possibility of giving birth to a large number of offspring. You are not allowed to use birth-control methods either since these things promote Fawahish (illegal sexual intercourse). And with the shortage of jobs and repression of women the prime bread-winners of these families are limited to one or two males. There is also the matter of dowry. I do not know whether dowries are given in the Middle-East or Africa but in countries like Bangladesh, India and Afghanistan they are an extremely pervasive issue in the rural communities. The more aged an unmarried bride is the higher her parents will have to count for dowry. Our society is also a big problem because it looks down on older females who have not yet secured a marriage for themselves and perceives them as having sexual difficulties.

With all these monstrous social and ethical issues child marriage has grown into a significant headache for human rights’ activists all over the world. It is not only about a female who is deprived of a proper childhood but also the perfectly-productive society that we all dream about. One daughter sent off for good might be a blessing for a financially-troubled family but for the economy as a whole it has profound consequences. It limits the literacy rate of the country and does not allow a productive working population. And especially for all these developing countries these nationals represent exorbitant sums of foreign income through machine-oriented industries, remittance, hand-loom enterprises etc. It is imperative that the government closely monitor this issue if it wants to edge ahead in the economic race.

I must mention something here. The fact that only the poor-class families adopt child-marriages is actually not the entire picture. In Dhaka I have come across an extremely wealthy family with one daughter and no other children. Although it might make you feel uncomfortable, this well-to-do family got their only daughter married off at the tender age of 16, when the girl had barely passed her tenth-grade! The reason you ask? The bridegroom was wealthier than them!

But I must also acknowledge that in the past few years Bangladesh has made major strides in combating child marriages not only in the cities but also in the rural areas. It is not uncommon to open the newspapers and read how the local police arrested a bride’s father and husband for being associated with child marriage after being tipped off by the local councilor. Even if it is in the middle of the night inside the deepest part of the village the local magistrates and the police departments are always aware to bring down the number of child marriages or marriages with dowries. According to UNICEF, Bangladesh, after its partition from Pakistan in 1971, has successfully brought about a decrease in this brutal treatment of children through increased awareness programs all over the country.

Perhaps the success of Bangladesh in fighting against child marriages has more to do with the fact that every single government, despite all its cons, has always given women’s education the topmost priority. And the result has been beneficial as well. Not only has this brought down the number of child marriages significantly but it has also allowed the women population more self subservience and a more productive role in the country’s rapidly growing economy. In fact the country’s renowned textile industry, the second-largest

Women workers in a garments factory in Dhaka.

cloth-manufacturing industry in the world market as of 2011 and also the country’s primary source of foreign income, employs more women than men. For the factually dependant, 9 out of 10 workers in this thriving industry of 2 million workers (2005) are women.

As an ending note I should like to reiterate the story I wrote in the beginning but this time I will change the ending.

The scene is again a rural setting in the Middle-East/South-Asia/Africa. It is again12 o’clock midnight.

The entire village is again asleep. However, one of the houses, located in the deepest part of the indolent village, was buzzing with activity. Everyone was in his or her best clothes. The fact that child marriage is illegal was known to every single person present there. Yet tonight, when most of the more responsible in the society were sleeping inside their homes, the 10-year old girl will be secretly married off as the 45-year old bridegroom’s 5th wife.

The little bride, clad with the most resplendent colors her poor father could afford, lay huddled in a corner. Eyes swelling with tears, she hardly had any idea what was going on. All she knew was that she was about to be sent away from the comfort of her father’s home to live with the big, fat man whom she despised. No one was there to understand her. Her father had justified himself by saying that he had incurred huge debts from the fat man and will never be able to repay them even with his own life. The only option that the fat man had given him was to lend his 9-year old daughter’s hand in marriage.

And then all of a sudden the roaring engines of a Police jeep were heard and policemen poured out of it in numbers. Behind them came the college-going village councilor, who had been appointed by the local authorities. All the relatives and the guests in the marriage ceremony fled immediately for fear of a police scam. The bridegroom was handcuffed and the bride’s father was shoved into the police van. At the Police station the father was made to sign a document stating that he will not get his daughter married off before she was at least of age, i.e. in the Bengali tradition the age of 18. The bride was kept arrested. The local magistrate will give him a jail sentence and a small fine. Perhaps one day child marriage will be successfully eradicated from this society…………….

[The above story is entirely fabricated but incidents like this happen all the time in Bangladesh]

For those of you who want to check out the ebook version of Nujood Ali’s autobiography ‘ I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced’ click here. You will need to scroll to the bottom of the page if you want to download via a torrent client

 

 

Anna Hazare–a myth to be unravelled

“The dream of India as a strong nation will not be realised without self-reliant, self-sufficient villages, and this can be achieved only through social commitment & involvement of the common man.”

I copied the above quotation from Anna Hazare’s website. You can

Mr Hazare leading the fight for the anticorruption movement from the front

recognize the truth of the aforementioned words only if you have ever been to any of the South-East Asian developing economies, where,  even after more than 60 years of independence from the British colonial rule,  the common man’s importance seems to be diminishing continuously.

So who is this Anna Hazare? If you haven’t come across this name at least a hundred times on the newspapers in the past few months you seriously do not belong to this world. Anna Hazare is a dream that has successfully united all the Indians against the pervasive notion of corruption and oppression. This is the man–social activist and visionary— behind whom all Indians–devoid of castes or creeds—- could  once again rally behind after the fight for independence in1957 for justice from the power-hungry corrupt politicians and greedy government-officers. This 71 year old man, through a series of hunger strikes, has successfully taught all Indians and also the rest of the world the very essence of patriotism that should be inherent inside every responsible citizen. Such was the aura generated by this white-clothed peace-loving follower of Mahatma Gandhi that even activists from the neighboring countries—which are also heavily afflicted by corruption and terrorism—could derive inspiration and fight more valiantly in their struggle for justice.

Now I am a very pragmatic young man. Whenever  something good occurs for too long I can sense something wrong behind it. Being quite pessimistic, initially I was apparently under the preconceived notion that Anna Hazare was simply another political pawn planted by the opposition in order to oust the dominating  Congressmen from the Parliament. And although the omnipresence of corruption in today’s world does not elude me,  at first I had thought that the charges brought against the six corrupt ministers were nothing but fabrications made deliberately to destroy the reputation of the Indian Government.

But it did not really take me long enough to understand that whatever might exchange behind everyone’s back an old man who goes through such extraordinary extents in order to fight for his people is an inspiration for every citizen in this world. I do not really care if the innocent-looking man is actually a part of some conspiracy, or has some particular motive behind his tireless efforts in his struggle against subjugation, because what has amazed me is the remarkable ability of this man in bringing together a nation of more than around 1 billion people on one stage and under one shelter to be guided by the same rays of hope and dreams of creating a much better world. Thus Anna Hazare is a legend not only for all Indians but also for millions of people across the world who are defenseless against the corrupt and irresponsible politicians whom they themselves have elected as part of the puppet show known as voting for your representatives in a democratic society . This man in white, a past soldier of the Indian Army, must be commended for showing us how even without wreaking havoc and destroying national property we can achieve our purposes from the Parliament through peaceful and patient methods. And thus, if he receives the Nobel Prize for Peace within the next few years I will not really be amazed. His methods of social activism will be followed by many upcoming generations