The spectre of rape looms large in society, as recent times have seen an alarming rise in this heinous crime, both in number and in brutality. And gang rape has added to the fear.
The perpetrators are brash and brutal, not fearing any form of punishment for the rape and gang-rape they commit. The gruesome rape and murder of a medical student inside a moving bus in Indian capital New Delhi in 2012, has apparently set of a series of copycat rapes within Bangladesh too.
Zakia Sultana Rupa, a law student who recently joined a multinational company, was gang-raped and murdered in a running bus by the bus workers on the Tangail-Mymensingh highway on 25 August 2017. The incident shocked the whole nation, creating an outraged outcry at home and abroad.
But this was not an isolated incident.
At least 186 incidents of gang-rape took place from January to November 2017, according to the human and legal rights watchdog Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK). Thirteen of the victims were reportedly killed or died of injuries and five committed suicide.
ASK reported, as many as 749 women were raped and 39 were killed in 11 months of 2017, while 671 women were raped and 32 killed in 2016.
“All sorts of repression in society has increased,” a senior official of ASK told Prothom Alo. ASK’s executive director Sheepa Hafiza said the culture of impunity is a prime reason behind the rise in such crimes.
The most sickening part of the story is 63 of rape victims of 2017 were below 18 years, aged from 7 to 18.
The number of child rape increased four times in the past five years - from 150 cases in 2013 to 501 cases in 10 months of 2017, according to Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum (BSAF).
The number of gang-rapes in 11 months of 2016 was nominally lower - 183.
But, the number of murders after rape increased from 31 in 11 months of 2016 to 52 in 11 months of 2017, shows Mahila Parishad’s survey of newspaper reports.
The number of cases filed in connection with such incidents rose to 123 in 2017 from 108 in 2016.
Alarmingly, the victims were strangled to death, thrown out of running vehicles, hacked dead or cut into pieces
Rape cases proved to be not just a sexual and physical assault on woman but an attempt to inflict punishment on the victim.
“We often forget an incident of rape after a few days. Most of the rapists eventually get off scot-free. This culture has expedited the rapes in every coming year,” said Ayesha Khanam, the chairman of Mahila Parishad.
The rape of Sohagi Jahan Tonu in 2016 sparked widespread protest across the country, but with no results so far.
An ethnic minority Garo girl was gang-raped on a running microbus by five youths in Kuril-Biswa road area in 2015. In 2013, another girl was raped by two bus staffers on the Dhaka-Aricha highway.
However, the year 2017 showed the trends of rising brutality of rape including the rape of children.
Three-year-old Tanha was lured with a chocolate and made victim of brutal sexual assault. A certain Shipon, whom she called uncle, raped her and then strangled her to death in Banani of Dhaka city in July.
“Child rape is entirely a result of degradation in social values,” Ayesha Khanam said, concerning the rising number of child rapes.
Sheepa Hafiza of ASK blamed the state for such crimes and said, “The state should take strong initiatives with zero tolerance for such violence.”
Salma Ali of Bangladesh National Women Lawyers’ Association pointed out that there were innumerable incidents of rape, but only a few perpetrators were convicted.
“Lengthy trial process and multiple adjournments hampers justice and emboldens the perpetrator,” the rights activist said, emphasising the need for reforms in the legal system and guidelines for state response to such crimes.
Ayesha Khanam said, “As our existing rape law is not victim friendly, certain reforms should be made.” She stressed that the burden of proof should be on the perpetrator, not on the victim.