The brutal killing of Nusrat Jahan Rafi has exposed Sonagazi Islamia Fazil (Degree) Madrasa Principal Sirajuddaula’s illicit activities, but that is not new for him. He managed to skip punishment every time in the past. A newspaper reports that he tried to molest Nusrat thrice before her family filed a sexual harassment case last month. This enraged him to engage his cohorts to kill her.
Though he was once the Amir of Jamaat-e-Islami’s Sonagazi Upazila unit, he was protected by influential people of local Awami League unit and the administration as they reportedly enjoyed some financial benefit through him. This kind of entente of evil forces is not new in society. Bypassing the differences of politics, creeds and belief, evil people form clandestine entente to achieve their objectives.Previously, the principal was accused of unethical acts and sexual harassments a number of times, but he never faced punishment. A madrasa teacher, who knows the principal for a long time, claimed that on October 3 last year Sirajuddaula sexually harassed a female Alim student. Her father had filed written complaints to the madrasa governing body chairman, the Additional Deputy Commissioner of Feni and to the UNO, but nothing happened. Rather, the principal issued a show-cause notice against three teachers who stood against him.
According to local sources, after the Jamaat expelled him, Sirajuddaula turned to local Awami League leaders for support, which he managed by bribing with madrasa funds. The local Awami League unit also appeared divided in two factions over getting paid by him. Police and local administration, never stood against Sirajuddaula’s misdeeds, nor responded to the sexual harassment allegations against him, including Nusrat’s. The allegations got buried by the committees formed to probe the incidents. Sources say Sirajuddaula was protected by at least 15 influential people of the Awami League, BNP and Jamaat, as well as the local administration, in exchange of money and gifts for the last 18 years. One influential individual who had been protecting him is the Vice-Chairman of the Madrasa Managing Committee and Upazila Awami League unit President. Locals said people stayed away from protests after the principal’s goons beat up the demonstrators who organised a human chain after Nusrat was sexually assaulted by him.
Men like Sirajuddaula haunts every nook and cranny of society. Newspapers tell stories of - college student being raped and murdered on a moving bus, man confessing to raping child, girl being raped in hotel after attending a birthday party - it goes on and on. And we all know that harassment of women on the streets of Bangladesh is now normal.
However, there are incidents of sexual harassment and abuse at home as well. There are children, girls and boys, being subject to this silent abuse in households across the nation, not by perverts on the street, but by family members, friends and neighbours, people in positions of trust and power who are able to ensure silence.
Sexual abuse and harassment is almost always about vulnerability and power. Marginalised populations are always more likely to be shamed and silenced by it. The fear and stigma that stems from society, the shaming and the ‘dishonour’, not just of the victim but the entire family, provokes the majority of victims to remain silent about abuse.
Every time someone questions the behaviour of a ‘respectable’ gentleman, and you hush them up because you don’t want to insult a ‘gurujon’, you are culpable.
Teachers are increasingly becoming predators nowadays. According to the daily sun editorial of April 16, 2019, “Stories are rampant about teachers abusing their position of power to rape female students in their institutions. What will the male students learn from such perverted teachers who are supposed to be role models!”
Such an incident happened in a residential area of Chattogram last year. Local people caught the vice chancellor of a specialised public university red handed while trying to abuse a boy. But, the executive body of that residential society stopped the incident getting media coverage though it somehow spread through the social media. Actually children are not safe anywhere, be it madrasa, temple, school and orphanage. The marginalised section, including children, domestic aides, poor women are falling prey to the sexually perverts. That is definitely a reflection of the typical trend of male domination over women by dint of men’s physical and socio-economic power.
The practice of meting out speedy and exemplary punishment to culprits is very scanty. A newspaper reports that over 1.6 lakh cases filed under Women and Child Repression Act are pending with different tribunals across the country. Many of these cases have been pending for over 10 years though the Act requires disposal of the cases within 180 days of the filling. Family of Sima Mohammadi, a girl who was brutally killed by her stalker in1988, did not get justice in the last 27 years. The culture of impunity, political influence, social degradation, lack of values and impact of technology are the major causes for rise in violence against women. Influential accused, negligence of concerned lawyers, absence of adequate courts, negligence of police in expediting the cases are reasons for delay in the disposal of these cases.
Our collective apathy is also exposing the moral bankruptcy of the nation as a whole and what has recently become rampant across the country merits sensitive and sensible consideration of all people. We cannot remain blind to this spree of rape and sexual abuse of women, girls and children. Today it is Nusrat, Tanu or the orphan domestic aide of our household. The other day it might be my sister, daughter or neighbour. It is time to wake up and be united against this orgy. As human beings we cannot remain just onlookers of these heinous activities. Our compassion should be transformed into committed resolution to end this de-sensitivity that is eating up our vitals. We cannot forget that we are humans after all. Just to recall John Donne-
“Any man’s death diminishes me.
Because I am involved in Mankind;
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.”
Md Khaled Bin Chowdhury, Associate Professor and Head, Department of English, BGC Trust University, Chattogram