There has been a heart-wrenching, mind-numbing upward surge of sexual assault on women on the campus of educational institutions across Bangladesh in recent years. The recent Chittagong University scandal is a spine-chilling, blood-curdling reminder of how unsafe the campus has turned out to be for women, students or not. You are stunned into silence as you read news reports detailing how harrowingly a female student is stripped naked, photographed, filmed and threatened with further consequences if she doesn’t submit herself to their base demand. So who are the culprits perpetrating such a heinous crime? None other than students from the highest seats of learning. These are the very people— it is easy to surmise—who have enjoyed up until this scandalous event some degree of reputation of being meritorious students, or good boys in their own communities. So what turns our presumably “good boys” into bad ones who do not think twice to commit as grave a crime as sexual assault, that too against a fellow student?
You are perhaps not that oblivious as to forget the gang rape of a newly wedded young lady by a group of “meritorious” students in a hostel at Sylhet’s MC College. You may not have forgotten the gang rape of a Gopalganj Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Science and Technology University student, at a location not far from her campus. Let me remind you of the sexual attack on a woman by a gang of youths assumed to be outsiders, who surrounded and molested her in a pre-planned manner near Dhaka University’s TSC on a Pahela Baishakh day a few years back. Not just on the campus, such criminal attacks are happening in all corners of the country, many of the perpetrators of which are (meritorious) students. This begs our questions: What evil has befallen a meritorious section of our society that they have forsaken the socio-cultural status attached to them?
This paradigm shift in the family tradition leads to many untoward repercussions and consequences. Parental control or monitoring is becoming a redundant concept. Although I am dead set against excessive parental intervention, I believe that parental monitoring can be an effective tool to keep youngsters on the track if employed in a controlled and judicious manner. With the growing business of parents and a subsequent lapse in monitoring children, especially boys, young folks are enjoying an unprecedented amount of freedom. More often than not, in my view, such freedom comes at a huge cost. Impressionable youths can be easily misguided by forces, not always in their control. Besides, lack of respect towards female family members from male ones also teaches the young chaps the toxic lesson of male superiority. Many boys grow up watching domestic violence against women as a normal thing and they may try to emulate their role models in senior family members.
The ubiquity of digital devices at the disposal of young guys is causing more harm than good in the present circumstances. They can easily access pornographic and violent contents via different channels and sites, which affect their psychology and shape their attitude. Due to lack of proper regulation and monitoring, social media users can get away with a lot of unethical and improper behavioural practices, more often than not. Cyber-bullying is an upward trend and most of the culprits in this regard are young boys. Trolling female celebrities, putting out objectionable comments about female family members of celebrities below their social media posts, victim-blaming and shaming in the context of sexual assaults on women when such events go viral, assassinating the character of women, sharing memes denigrating women and such misogynistic activities are occupying a vast swathe of social media spaces. Exposure to these practices deleteriously impacts the impressionable minds of young boys who discover some thrill and a deluded sense of empowerment in getting themselves involved there. Over time, such a social media reality bears upon their day-to-day, personal lives. I believe this gives rise to an uptick in misogyny.
The mushrooming of “Boro Bhai” (Big Bro, to translate) culture is to blame for spoiling our youngsters. In many localities of the country, local toughies use their political and financial clout to pet some followers/gangsters with some monetary incentive. Many teenagers join them to get a fantastical sense of empowerment and monetary freedom, and they like to flex their muscle under the security and patronage of big brothers. In many cases, drugs, weapons and luxury items are made available to them, which instill in them a “who-cares-it” attitude. They may take it for granted, and indeed they do, that women are at their mercy. Such a toxic mindset, I reckon, is a catalyst in the rapid rise in attacks against women.
The steep decline in our socio-cultural practices is a prime factor in the degeneration of our youths. There was a time when youths (and old folks) used to spend their leisure hours in libraries attached to educational and religious institutions. Or, they used to play games in the field. They joined cultural programmes organised by different clubs. Cultural practices like singing, dancing, reciting and staging drama used to hold a significant value and joining these was considered to be an achievement. Such practices are losing their weight and can’t capture their imagination. Now many of the clubs, bearing whatever names, are occupied by local influentials and used as tools to exert their dominance and peddle their agenda. Sports grounds are being occupied and used for other purposes, not always positive. Many young boys busy themselves in video games, some of which are deadly and some open to gambling. Even franchise tournaments like the Indian premier League (IPL) become an interesting occasion for youngsters to engage in gambling. Growing up against such a falling cultural backdrop, young boys may develop a crooked mentality, which is a fertile ground for misogyny and of course, other forms of hatred and violence.
Now you cannot keep college and university campuses out of the overall cultural context of the country. No matter how seriously we try to romanticize, glamorize and intellectualize our higher educational institutions and campuses, the soul of them is composed of students, teachers and staffers who belong to greater Bangladeshi society. Naturally, the negative aspects of society are bound to be available aplenty to the campus dwellers. This simply explains why there is a worrying scale-up in violence against women on the campus. The medication for such diseases lie in the proper diagnosis of the symptoms as hinted at already. I believe only legal intervention will not go a long way. A whole-of-society approach to combat misogyny deeply embedded in our social fabric and to uplift cultural values promoting respect to all regardless of gender categories can be a way forward. The conscientious section of society should throw their weight behind such a positive cultural shift.