Rape illustration
Rape illustration

The little girl was just five years old. Her father was a rickshaw puller and her mother a housemaid. The little girl would spend the whole day alone at home and naturally would want to play. But one day when she went to play in the field nearby, she was grabbed and raped. The local people caught a certain Nirmal Chandra and handed him over the police, accusing him of raping the child. But after shoddy investigations, the police let him off the hook.

This incident took place in the afternoon of 4 May last year at Beltali Ghona that falls within the jurisdiction of Akbar Shah police station in Chattogram city. Two days later on 7 May, the child gave her deposition at the Chattogram metropolitan magistrate's court and related the entire incident. Her father filed a case against Nirmal at the Akbar Shah police station. After physical examinations, physicians confirmed she had been raped. The police even collected her DNA samples, but they didn't bother to match it to samples of the person arrested in this regard.

Dropping charges against the accused, the police's final report stated, "While it was true that the girl had been raped, there was no evidence of Nirmal's involvement in the incident. An auto-rickshaw driver Belal Hossain had been killed on 22 July in a gunfight with police at Bayezid Bostami and he was known to be a serial rapist. Belal is the one involved in the rape of the girl. As he has died, he cannot be made the accused."

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As the child's father submitted a writ petition, rejecting the report, the court in November instructed the detective branch (DB) of police to investigate the case further. The girl's father and plaintiff of the case told Prothom Alo that the police had not contacted him after the case. On the contrary they rebuked him and issued the report without consulting him. He said, "Will we get no justice just because we are poor?"

In the 11 months from January to November last year, there were 227 cases of rape and gang rape, including this incident, in areas within the jurisdiction of 16 police stations of Chattogram city. Yet just four years before that, in 2015, there had been only 78 such cases in the areas. In the first 11 months of 2020, this number more than doubled.

The government has amended the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act, adding death penalty for rape. The law came into effect from 13 October last year, but the number of rape incidents has not fallen. Police sources say in September, 24 rape cases were filed with the city's 16 police stations and in October there number was 38.

Prothom Alo investigations reveal that around 64 per cent of the rape victims are girl children between the ages of 4 and 18. A study of 173 files of the 227 cases, reveal that these children and young girls are tricked in various ways, some lured by promises of love and marriage, and then raped. Such allegations appear in 86 per cent of the cases. Most of the accused as well as the victims are homeless and from families of lower income groups. They are often relatives or neighbours.

Public prosecutors have said that most of the cases filed on charges of being lured by promises of love and marriage and then raped, are under trial at the seven women and children repression prevention tribunals in Chattogram. Four prosecutors of the tribunal agree with the facts emerging from Prothom Alo's investigations. They said that there were less such incidents in middle class families and no cases under trial of upper class families. It is not that the incidents do not occur, but they settle the matter outside of court to avoid social stigma.

Professor of social science at Chattogram University, SM Monirul Hasan, said that others are incited to rape when they see compromises being made and rapists not being given exemplary punishment.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said that rather than wanting the rapist to be punished, the poor people are often more concerned about their daughter's future and how to get her married. And so the rapists are not given exemplary punishment. This has an impact on society and incidents of rape rise.

Tricked and trapped

The 14-year-old girl has no mother and her father is unwell. The girl begs to earn money for her father's treatment. And that is how she met Nazim Uddin, a microbus driver. They developed a relationship. On 19 February, he picked up the girl from Lalkhan Bazar for a drive to Sarson Road. She was raped in the vehicle. The girl filed a case with the Kotwali police station.

The perpetrators make videos with their cell phones of the rape in order to hold the victims hostage. The victim does not disclose the incident in fear of the video being released. Many victims are repeatedly raped by remain silent out of fear

A similar case was filed in Chandgaon police station. A girl of Class 7, lured by love, was raped on 19 October in a hotel. The girl's father Md Fahim Uddin filed a case against a young man in this regard at the Chandgaon police station. Also on 16 September, a Class 10 girl was similarly tricked and raped in Sadarghat of the port city.

City police commissioner Saleh Mohammad Tanveer said that in most of the rape cases filed at the police stations, the victims had been lured by promises of marriage or love. He told Prothom Alo that the cases were being registered and the police were submitting reports after due investigations.

There have been rape cases where the girl is taken on a trip with a group of 'friends'. An 18-year-old garments factory worker had gone to the Outer Ring Road area with her boyfriend Shahidul Islam. On 1 November, she was tied up and gang-raped in a shack by the roadside by Shahidul and his friends. A case was filed and police arrested three persons -- Md Hossain, Md Shaheen and Md Zobayer -- in this connection.

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Speaking to Prothom Alo, public prosecutor of Chattogram's Women and Children's Repression Prevention Tribunal-3, Nazrul Islam, said that the perpetrators make videos with their cell phones of the rape in order to hold the victims hostage. The victim does not disclose the incident in fear of the video being released. Many victims are repeatedly raped by remain silent out of fear.

Serial rape, accused killed in 'gunfights'

The little girls are lured into an auto-rickshaw with chocolates or money, threatened and taken to vacant places. At least 10 girl children were thus raped in the seven months from January to July last year in the port city's Bayezid Bostami, Akbar Shah and Khulshi areas. On 5 July, a child was picked up and raped in Bayezid. She was less than 10 years old. After that the 'serial rapist' auto-rickshaw driver Md Belal was caught by police and killed in a 'gunfight'.

Bayezid Bostami police station's officer-in-charge Priton Sarkar told Prothom Alo that 'serial rapist' Belal had died in July last year during a gunfight with police. There had been 14 cases against him, including 14 pertaining to child rape. Belal would target children of poor families.

The guardians of two child victims said that these children are now scared when they see auto-rickshaws. They are trying to help them overcome this fear. The parents are somewhat relieved that Belal has been killed.

Less cases during the coronavirus outbreak

In order to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, there had been a nationwide general holiday from 26 March till 30 May. In that span of time (April and May), 19 rapes cases had been filed at the 16 police stations. In June and July 30 rapes cases were filed. In October the number of such cases was 38.

Public prosecutor of the Chattogram Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal-2, MA Naser, said the number of cases had dropped during coronavirus, but has now started to increase again. The state is always active in its efforts to punish the accused.

Picked up from the street and raped

A couple was chatting and walking the half kilometre route home after visiting a relative. Suddenly they were halted by a local hoodlum, known to be a police informer. He said that he would hand them over to the police because they were not a married couple and would face 'salish' or arbitration. He forced them into an auto-rickshaw and took them to a colony nearby. He tied up the husband in one room and the wife was ganged-raped for four hours in another room.

A passerby suspected something was going on and dialled 999. The police came and rescued the woman.

The incident took place on the night of 29 August at the Oxygen Mor intersection that falls within the jurisdiction of Bayezid Bostami police station. In the 11 months, 12 such incidents took place, including this one. The couple filed a case, but even after four months the police have failed to nab the accused, Shafi.

The husband told Prothom Alo, "I live in fear with my wife and children, not knowing what might happen next because the main accused has still not been arrested."

* The report, originally published in the print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir