The death of madrasa student Nusrat, who was set on fire, is tragic. The media coverage has been replete with poignant stories and moving pictures of her grieving family, bringing tears to the readers’ eyes. Those joining in her funeral rites also wept during the janaza for the unfortunate girl. But sometimes it is not tears that are enough. Sometimes it needs fire to fight fire, the fire of angry protest.
When I went to visit Nusrat in the hospital and saw her lying there in pain, I questioned myself. What was the point in visiting her? It would do her no good nor would it benefit the society as a whole. What she needed was care and medical treatment. She was not the only one. It is the degenerating society and the state that need treatment, need repairs. Another random thought struck me. Had this girl simply surrendered to the lecherous advances of the principal and suffered in silence, then today the good people of the country would not be taking to the streets in protest, would not be forming human chains.
Some newspapers wrote that the girl’s death moved the people. The word ‘move’ implies that an inert object has been shifted by a push or a shake. An object can be moved, even a rock, but the conscience is a different matter. What this incident has moved will be clear within a couple of days.
No one is free of the deadly sins, the first one being lust. Then there is anger, greed, covetousness, pride and envy. All of these prevail strongly in the Bengali mind, but most people keep these animal instincts in control, even their lust.
There certainly have been barbaric, cruel people in the Bengali society, but sensitive and intelligent people were the majority. They abhorred injustice and crime. There was punishment for crime. There was corporal punishment for the criminals, such as walking over fire, swallowing dhan (rice grains with the husks intact) and so on.
Today the air around us is heavy with the suppressed cries of infant and young girls, women. They are facing untold oppression. The criminals are fearless. They know very well that the society and the state are replete with people ready to plead for them. The state has a tailored response to such incidents: ‘No one will get away free.’ This implies that normally criminals are allowed to get away free, but won’t be in this case. Another incident will crop up and everyone will forget about this.
The incident took place in a madrasa, but the abuse of women and sexual crimes are not matters of communal nature or religious fanaticism. These are very secular matters, having no caste, creed or religion. There is no difference between reactionaries and progressive persons here. These incidents do not occur in schools, colleges, universities and madrasas alone. Such molestation takes place on the roads, in buses, in factories and in the ‘safe’ custody of police stations and hospitals.
Teachers in this subcontinent were icons of respect. Today a section of teachers are wolves in pursuit of their female students. Even young schoolgirls of the second or third grade are not spared. There was news in the media of a grade five girl becoming pregnant. Over the past 10 years we have heard of so many girls having fallen prey to these wolves and ultimately committing suicide. Many girls simply bring a halt to their studies.
Good people make a good society, but degenerates encourage criminals and miscreants. There is a reason that our society today faces such a deplorable predicament. Degenerate people are being given protection. Rapists are being supported by certain communal and religious fanatics. Some are being backed by so-called progressive and secular forces. The law enforcement cannot play a neutral role.
The girl resorted to the police for protection from the lecherous principal, not realising the police officer was not on the side of the weak. If the police had sided with her, her studies may have been halted, but she would have been alive. The principal and his associates would not have had the courage to burn her alive.
In the absence of healthy and normal politics and the prevalence of a weak social system, debauchery has spread like dengue and chikungunia everywhere. Who are the people on the board of this madrasa? Had they carried out their responsibility, it wouldn’t have been necessary for Nusrat to go to the police station. The madrasa staff are now telling the media about the principals’s character. The local people wept at Nusrat’s janaza. They could have been a bit more active against the principal a week earlier.
The democratic system provides for people’s representatives in different levels of the state. In our country too there are chairmen and members at the zila, parishad, upazila parishad and union parishad levels. Then there is the state machinery at all levels – divisional commissioner, deputy commissioner, upazila nirbahi officer and so on. There is the district police super and the officer-in-charge (OC) of the upazila police station. With so many people in place, why are women not safe? Surely the local administration is enough to enforce security for women. Why does the prime minister have to intervene?
The people’s representatives are not beside the people, but there are still humans in society. There are just and bold people, ready to protest. But they are not supported or even recognised. Young men have been killed and injured for coming forward to prevent girls being molested. The state has not shown any sympathy towards their families, let alone monetary compensation.
We had to take to the streets against the rapist of Viqaranunessa schoolgirls. Many teachers of various universities have lost their jobs for sexually harassing female students. A movement is going on against a teacher of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman University of Science and Technology in Gopalganj. Even women colleagues are not safe from these teachers. Had the state been stern when the ‘rape century’ of Jahangirnagar University came to light, then things wouldn’t have sunk to such a low level.
No crime can grow without patronage of the society and the state machinery. There is need for police and police stations, but what is more necessary is establishing ethics within the people. The family and people with good sense have a role to play. Risks must be taken, just as resistance was built in 1971, rather than surrendering to the enemy forces. Social forces must now unite and play a strong role against sexual harassment.
* Syed Abul Maksud is a researcher and writer. This piece appeared in Bangla in the print edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir