Woman alone means rape?

Graffiti demanding an end to rapeFile Photo

Why should a woman being alone equate with rape? Just read the newspapers or go online or surf the TV channels. Rape is the four-letter word that menacingly assails our senses almost every single day.

However, it has become so commonplace that we have grown rather numb in our reaction to the horror. Unless it catches the major headlines or becomes the talk of the town, the rape victim or the incident does not really grip us. Sometimes we just give the heading a perfunctory read and go no further into the report.

In most cases it is noted that the rape victim had been alone. For example, on 8 October a 17-year-old girl had arrived in Dhaka from Netrokona and was sitting alone at the Kamalapur Railway Station. Six persons came along, told her they would take her to safety, pulled her onto a train and raped her.

Then there was a pregnant woman who was raped in Sukrabad of the city. She was a beautician and had been called to a house in Sukrabad purportedly for work. Three young men assaulted and raped her there. A woman assisted them. Then there are those who were raped and killed like Tonu in Cumilla, Rupa and so many, many more. In most instances the women were alone.

When we were young we would often see in the small town, a younger brother would accompany his elder sister to school and college as a sort of guard along the way. Some of the young girls would get so angry that their younger brother would tag along, as if she was incapable of walking alone. But now I realise why the guardians were so careful and concerned.

A woman doesn't necessarily have to be alone to be raped. There have been innumerable incidents when a woman has been raped in front of her husband, a daughter in front of her mother, a girl in front of her friend

On 4 October the national grid failed and the entire capital as well as several other parts of the country plunged into darkness. It was too hot indoors and so my 11-year-old daughter and I came out and were walking down the lane. It was quite empty, very dimly lit and suddenly I was assailed with a sense of panic, my hands and feet turning cold. The few men that were here and there, seemed to have turned into monsters on the prowl, ready to attack.

Around three or four decades ago I had a fit of laughter seeing my little brother accompanying my elder sister to school like a bodyguard. But now too I see guardians holding their daughters' hands on the way to school and college. Sometimes fathers or husbands even come it pick up their daughters from office if it gets too late in the evening. That equation lurks in the back of the mind. A woman alone means rape. Down the decades, this scenario sees no change!

Then again, a woman doesn't necessarily have to be alone to be raped. There have been innumerable incidents when a woman has been raped in front of her husband, a daughter in front of her mother, a girl in front of her friend. A 20-year-old woman was raped in September last year at the MC College student hall when she was visiting Sylhet with her husband.

In India in 2012, a paramedical student was raped in a running bus when she was returning home with a friend from the movies. Her friend had first been beaten up and tied. She was subject to unspeakable torture, gang-raped and later died. She was later dubbed as 'fearless' by the media.

A documentary, "India's Daughter", was made on the incident. There we see one of the convicted rapists saying, "Girls from proper families don't stay out after 9 at night." The defendant's lawyer was heard to say, "A woman is like a precious diamond. If anyone sees it lying by the road, some or the other will grab it up."

Unfortunately, there are many persons who have such an attitude. That is why, when reports of rape appear in the media, there is the inevitable victim blaming in the responses to the news. The comments include 'why will women go out so late?' 'why do these girl have to go to people's houses to teach?' 'if a woman dresses in this manner, rape is inevitable', and so on. Yes, we know the equation. A woman alone means rape. So how do we solve this equation? By staying home? Is a woman safe at home? I do not have the answer. Does anyone have the answer?

* This commentary appeared online in Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir