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.

Innocence of Muslims—what the world refuses to see

In 1953 when the United States, realizing the modern Persian nation’s enormous geopolitical and natural wealth, overthrew the democratic government of Iran in a coup’d’etat to install the more favorable Shah as the autocrat of the ancient nation, the phenomenon gave rise to a new form of Islamic society that is largely founded on the principles of anti-American sentiments. While the despotic Shah of Iran ruled with an iron-fist and mutilated, tortured and killed all his opposition in countless concentration cells all over Iran, it was America towards whom countries of the Islamic World lay the blame on.

As the previously democratic Iran became increasingly hostile to the Americans under the Shah rule it was this belligerence, this failure of the American foreign policy that culminated in the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini, the religious leader who, after he was banished by the Shah due to his more radical

Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran

views, led the popular uprising in Iran in the year 1979. While the Islamic Revolution ousted the Shah, forcing him to flee to Cairo and then to his patron—-the United States—–following the uprising, Khomeini took the helm and turned Iran into an Islamic Republic alienated from both its neighbors and the West.

In the same year, a group of Islamic fundamentalist students stormed into the US embassy of Tehran and gave rise to the event the entire world knows as the Iranian hostage crisis, where the students held 52 US officials hostage for a total of 444 days, although females and African-Americans were all released within the first month. Having only a taciturn approval from Khomeini, the reasoning of the students behind the attack was that the embassy was conspiring again to overthrow the new regime. Jimmy Carter, the then president of the United States, later on received a Nobel Prize for Peace for the rescue mission, where he successfully rescued the Americans without having the US army invade Iran. Ever since that event, the US have had no diplomatic ties with Iran whatsoever, and have sheltered all political prisoners of the Shah’s regime whom the nascent Islamic Republic had tried to prosecute.

It was this incident that the events unfolding in the Islamic world in recent days brought to my mind over the amateur youtube clip ‘Innocence of Muslims’. While the media outlets are busy showing the world a few thousand Middle-Easterners, North Africans, South-East Asians and South Asians chanting renowned slogans like ‘Death to America’ and burning US and Israeli flags, what the world does not see about the incident are the reasons behind the hostility the people of Islamic nations feel towards the US.

These protests against the United States are definitely not just over the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’, as the media outlets have been doing their best to portray. Rather, they are the result of years of injustice and oppression caused by the rulers of the most powerful nation on earth. For decades, the US have supported the dictatorial and monarchal regimes of almost all of these countries. They have counted on all these autocratic rulers starting from the Saudi King to the pharaoh of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, to suppress all forms of dissent and crush down anything that interferes with American or Israeli interests in the region. Even seeking reconciliations with the anti-American Libyan dictator Gaddafi before his fall, America provided all forms of military and intelligence support to the dictators while in return the rulers successfully stepped down on all forms of dissent and demonstrations.

But it was with the Arab Spring that America was forced to realize that people in all these countries cannot be suppressed any more. As American allies fell down in one uprising after another, people simply needed a trigger to protest and demonstrate against the ‘bully of the earth’. And it was this trigger of the gun that the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ provided.

While questions as to who funded the $100 000 for the making of the amateur film by the Egyptian-American film-maker remained largely enigmatic, with several fingers being pointed at both the state of Israel—-which is renowned for spreading anti-Islamic and anti-Arab propaganda all over the world—— and Christian fundamentalist groups in the US, last Friday after the end of the regular noon prayers the Muslim World erupted in a blaze of fire and revolt as people engaged in violent protestations in front of the US embassies in the region. Most of these protesters, make no mistake, have hardly watched the 13-minute long youtube trailer but with the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the ongoing rhetoric going on about an invasion of Iran, people do not need to think twice about how malicious Americans are when it comes to the Muslim World. While the vast resources of the oil-rich Islamic countries are maintained and consumed largely by countries like America, the rulers and politicians of these states sit on their oil-money and make people believe anything about Israel and the United States. But what amazed most of these people is America’s disregard for removing the film from youtube under the pretext of  ‘freedom and liberty of expression’ guaranteed by the United States constitution to every single American citizen. If America really wanted to ensure freedom of speech and thought, it could start out by stopping its witch-hunt against Wikileaks and Julian Assange.

Rumor has it, however, that the film-producer is a rogue Coptic Egyptian-American, named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, who had powerful backers from Israel and Christian fundamentalist groups in California, including the famed American pastor Terry Jones who received worldwide recognition after beginning the rite of burning copies of Qur’an to commemorate 9/11 every year. Coptic Christians in Egypt have always been among the most discriminated minority groups during the dictatorial era. But during the Arab Spring, both Coptic members and Muslims showed their love for Egypt by uniting under one banner in Tahrir Square, where Christians and Muslims guarded each other against sniper attacks by the regime during each other’s prayer times. The actors and other film-crew of the movie however claim that they were duped. The director had allegedly fooled them into thinking that this was a movie about an ancient Egyptian hero and all their dialogues had been dubbed in his studio in English and Arabic to its current form.

Bangladeshi Islamist parties burn US and Israeli flags over the anti-Islam film released in the US. The country’s Prime Minister violently condemned the film’s release on Sunday, and vowed not to allow it to propagate within Bangladeshi territories.

There is no denying that what ensued in Benghazi, Khartoum, Sana’a and Cairo after news of the film reached the mainstream media is as reprehensible as the film itself. But the big question is, what sort of bigotry and intolerance inspires people to make films like these? And by allowing these films to propagate while American drones assassinate countless civilians and alleged militants in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan in the name of ‘War on Terror’ and ‘establishing peace’, what better reaction do the Americans expect than crazies invading their embassies and killing their diplomats?

It is futile for America to hope to build bridges with these extremely volatile, pivotal parts of the world simply by sending donations and interest-free loans of worth billions of dollars; NATO air-strikes to kill off murderous dictators like Gaddafi; or by sending its Secretary of State or the President himself to deliver pompous speeches at schools and universities. While American funded Israeli air-strikes murder innocent Palestinians in their beds and their drones kill peace-loving Muslims continuously in eight different Islamic nations, the United States should do best to ensconce and inure themselves to more of such violent demonstrations in the foreseeable future if more triggers like that of Innocence of Muslims are pulled.

Bangladeshis demonstrate and chant anti-American slogans in front of the National Mosque of Dhaka after the Friday prayers

As an ending note I should add a recent quote I heard on the Al-Jazeera documentary Permission to Engage, which traced the rehabilitation of an Iraq war veteran of the United States army who tried to commit suicide after his unit slaughtered cars full of innocent civilians, including two children whom the personnel rescued alive from the remnants of the dead bodies left behind from the attack. It is simply one tiny example of how American foreign policy has affected the countries of the Muslim world, thus alienating and antagonizing America in this region.

“I went to Iraq to free the good Iraqis from the bad Iraqis. I wanted to kill as many terrorists as possible. But when I went there I found that there were no real terrorists. We were the ones terrorizing the people there continuously. Every single day. Every week. In every weather.”

———Permission to Engage. Watch the entire documentary here.

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