‘Literacy rate increased but the number of enlightened people has dropped’

Actress Jaya Ahsan
Actress Jaya AhsanInstagram
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Actress Jaya Ahsan has clarified her position against domestic violence and sexual harassment against women. She recently joined a Commonwealth event with 20 of the world's most influential women saying no more to domestic and sexual violence. Prothom Alo talked to Jaya Ahsan on the theme of 'Commonwealth Say No More' programme. The actress shared some of her experiences.

Why and how did you get involved in this Commonwealth programme?

I received an e-mail from Patricia Scotland, secretary general of the Commonwealth. She requested me to join the 'Commonwealth Say No More' programme along with several other influential people from around the world. I was asked to represent Bangladesh. It is undoubtedly a big issue for me. I considered it my responsibility to do it. The Commonwealth announced the names of other people who took part in the programme. Among them were former prime minister of New Zealand, current president of Kiribati, Indian actress Shabana Azmi and many actors and musicians from the UK and Australia.

In fact, domestic violence against women is very common in all the countries. It is always suppressed as a private matter and thus is not allowed to be disclosed in public. Especially, during the pandemic period, domestic violence has increased everywhere. So, such an initiative was very relevant at the time. That is why I joined this Commonwealth initiative out of a sense of responsibility. This is the right time to say no.

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Have you ever experienced domestic violence or sexual harassment?

Violence, oppression and discrimination are parts of women’s lives. I had my own share in it too. Violence and discrimination against women are so deep rooted in our society that we often don’t realise its ubiquitous presence. And this is why society is becoming crippled. All the degradation we see in society, however, is getting mixed up in lives. Violence against women like slow poison is mixing in our society and poisoning everything.

We have been taught since childhood, “You are a girl. You can’t play football, you play with dolls.” This is how a girl experiences first discrimination. Discrimination and misogyny are also instilled in our mind for playgrounds, families, dining tables, schools and classrooms.

You must have been facing such discrimination at work as well?

Indeed. Not only the entertainment industry of Bangladesh, but the entertainment sector worldwide is very male-dominated. In Hollywood, Bollywood, Tollywood and Dhalywood -- male artistes are still paid much more than females. The way women are being represented in screenplays or performances is also a matter of question. How we are being humiliated and trolled through social media every day cannot be over stated. The oppression of women has permeated every sector of the society.

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You are also a victim of the violence against women on social media. How much do these bad comments and trolls in the virtual world affect you?

Social media trolls and abusive comments used to affect me in the past. I don't care much now. Because I have realised that though the rate of literacy is increasing, the number of enlightened people has dropped in the country. One has to be enlightened from within, not just literate, to give respect to women. In fact, we do not realise how illiterate we are.

Where did you get the inspiration to speak out against such oppression?

I get inspiration from different people in many ways. But I am most inspired by my own work. People told me many things, but I don't believe in big talks. I believe in work. As much as people bothered me, embarrassed me, I saw them as my strength. It was my courage that inspired me the most. I also learned a lot from my mother. I still say that all the good qualities in me are inherited from my mother.

*This interview, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat

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