Let me ask a question. Say if you are a woman of any age, a child, a girl, a young or a matured woman. You board a bus and see there is only the conductor, the helper and the driver on board, no one else. What will you do? Will you feel safe at all? Won’t you try to get off the bus at the first chance? I am certain you will feel scared, threatened and will try to get off as soon as possible.
My second question is, say if you are a man and you get on a bus at night at perhaps the Ashulia Ring Road. You are alone, except for the driver, the conductor and the helper. Will you feel safe? Here too the answer will be ‘no’.
So before proceeding further, our broad conclusion is that our public transport is not safe and we do not consider the people associated with public transport to be safe either. So the proposal would be to bring the drivers, helpers and conductors of the buses, trucks and other public transport vehicles under one network. It should be known who is on duty, where they are on duty and other relevant details. Train them.
We have around 2.6 million vehicles, but half the number of licensed drivers. And most of those with licences have no training. If they have to undergo any driving exam, they will fail. They must be trained not just in driving, but in values too. They must be made to feel that each human life is valuable. A small error can cause the death of one or people. They must be explained that men and women are equal. Women must be shown special respect, whether at home or outside. They must respect their wives, their mothers, their sisters, their sisters-in-law, friends, lovers, daughters, grandmothers, aunts, students, teachers, acquaintance and strangers. This last lesson is not just for drivers, helpers and conductors, but for all of us, all men and women.
The recent incident in Kishoreganj where a nurse was raped on a bus, hit and thrown on the roadside, has provoked this piece of writing. Then there is the case of Rupa who was killed in a bus in Tangail in 2017. The case has been pending for a year now. We read innumerable such reports every day. It is as if rape, sexual abuse and violence against women have taken on epidemic proportions. According to a report of the human rights body Ain O Salish Kendra published in Prothom Alo, over the past five years 3,587 women were victims of rape in Bangladesh. And 278 were killed after rape.
The biggest cause of concern is 86 per cent of the rape victims are children and young girls. The most number of rape victims are in the 6-12 year-old age bracket. In the first 18 days of January this year, 23 rapes and rape attempts were reported in the media and 95 per cent of the victims were girl children. They are the most victims of murder after rape too. And many such incidents never reach the media.
In India, the Nirbhaya rape case sparked of public protest, leading to all sorts of research as to why there is such a high incidence of rape there. The researchers said that male dominance is one of the main causes. The second cause was the lack of prevention, resistance and punishment.
There is no doubt that patriarchy is one of the main causes of rape, sexual abuse and sexual harassment. Men are powerful and the attitude is that ‘might is right’. This mindset prevails in society, in the family, in our general behaviour, in the culture, in the values, in books, in our proverbs, in our legends and in our beliefs. Our society lacks the perception of equal respect and honour, of learning to respect each and every one. From childhood we have taken it very natural to pass derogatory comments against women. If a boy stays about from any challenging task, he is called a girl. From an early age we are instilled with the idea that women are inferior and that is where all the damage begins.
Then there is the lack of justice. Society perceives that you can get away with such misdeeds. There are so many instances out there. The Tonu murder has seen no justice, despite so much protest and outcry. In the nineties, though, the women rights activists managed to get justice for the rape and murder of Yasmin in Dinajpur. We have to rise up like that again to ensure the trial of such cases, to ensure justice.
Women, children, young boys, no one is safe. News of such crimes are coming from everywhere - from within homes and outside, from the fields and the streets, from buses, trains, ferries, marketplaces, places of worship, everywhere. No place is safe. No age is safe. Worst still, rape is being followed by murder. There is the recent incident of the madrasa student being burned to death after she faced sexual abuse by the teacher there. The victims include children, women and boys. But the predators are men. We must start breaking down this patriarchal structure from our own homes. We must teach our children values. They must never behave offensively, even in a joking manner, with women, children, or anyone at all.
In this piece of writing, I want to focus on ensuring safety in public transport for men and women alike. Monitoring can be a strong tool. It must be compulsory for all vehicles to have digital number plates. There must be CCTV cameras in all public places. There must be a record of all the routes being taken by public transport vehicles. These vehicles must be fitted with CCTV cameras. The public transport staff must all be trained. And the criminals must definitely be given exemplary punishment.
However, the problem is not only in public transport. If a girl goes to study at night in a library where there are only five other boys, will she feel safe? If a woman enters a cinema hall and finds she is the only viewer, will she feel safe? If a woman goes alone to a police station where there are a few male policemen only, will she feel safe?
This society is gripped by a serious disease. This disease is patriarchy, male chauvinism. Women can be a part of this too. The women, who set fire to the madrasa student Nusrat, are part of this male dominated system. They are both victims and victimisers. The subservience of women in the family, in education, in the media, in drama, in music, in cinema, must be ended. Equal rights and respect for women and equal participation can change the attitude of looking down on women as inferior and easy prey for repression.
Also needed is an effective judicial system where women are not harassed when they go to seek justice. It is imperative to create strong social resistance against rape, sexual abuse and violence against women and children.
A senior nurse of a hospital in Dhaka was going home to spend the first day of Ramadan with her parents. She was gang-raped and killed on the bus. Where are we going to rise up, protest and resist?
* Anisul Hoque is associate editor of Prothom Alo and a writer. This piece appeared in the print edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir