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Chhatra League's Sexual Offences. A Widespread State of Denial

By Rahnuma Ahmed
While working on last week’s column, `The Nation, or Chhatra League…?’ (published on Monday, April 12, 2010), I had been in two minds.
Should I include sexual offences?aggressive behaviour, molestation, physical assault, violence, rape, asking a buddy to video the incident of rape for subsequent commercial release as pornography, gang-rape?allegedly committed by Bangladesh Chhatra League leaders and activists?
No, it deserves a separate column, I thought.
I was unaware of media reports on Eden college. For over two months, I’d been totally absorbed in researching and writing the Weather series (1 February – 29 March), and had been oblivious to much of what was happening around me. This included allegations against BCL’s women leaders and activists at Eden. But more on that later.
By all accounts, there seems to have been a sudden and horrific increase in nationwide violence, largely against girls and young women, over the last couple of months. Ten year old schoolgirl Shahnaz Begum of Digalbagh village in Mymensingh was raped by two brothers. Killed. October 2009. Eti Moni, a class ten student of Jaldhaka municipality in Nilphamari was raped. Strangled to death. October 2009. A schoolgirl of class three was raped at Ramanandapur village in Pabna sadar. October 2009. Nashfia Akand Pinky, a class IX student, committed suicide by hanging herself because she had been mercilessly teased and harassed, Pashchim Agargaon, Dhaka. January 2010. Nilufar Yasmin Eeti’s parents were shot dead by a young man after they turned down his proposal of marriage, Kalachandpur area in Gulshan, Dhaka. March 2010. Fourteen year old Umme Kulsum Elora, a student of class VII, committed suicide by taking pesticide because of continued harassment. April 2010. Mariam Akter Pinky, a student of class ten, died of burn injuries fuelled by kerosene in Konabhaban village in Kishoreganj; her mother says, she saw the young man who had harassed her for the last two years run out of the room. April 2010 …. there are many more. I stare uncomprehendingly at the horror of it all.
As I scan the newspapers, a recent headline catches my eye, Man stabs himself over refusal of marriage proposal. One lone man. He had preferred to kill himself. Not the woman.
And what about sexual offences which, according to media reports, have specifically been committed by BCL leaders and activists? Ahsan Kabir Mamun, also known as Mamun Howladar, information secretary of Pirojpur district committee of BCL, raped a class X student in Pirojpur, Barisal. September 2009. The incident was recorded on cellphone by his childhood friend `Ganja’ Monir, who happens to be a BNP activist. It was later available as a pornographic CD for sale in local video shops. Mamun insists it was recorded “secretly,” while Monir says he was carrying out Mamun’s instructions. Mamun did not deny having raped the girl, but added, the recording (not committing the crime itself, mind you) had been done to “tarnish” his political and business image. The two families, he said, were closely related. He was to be married to her soon. Her family responded by demanding that he should receive “exemplary punishment.”
A group of 16 young men, in September 2009, abducted a class VII student of Pakhimara in Kalapara upazila in Patuakhali. The young girl was returning home from a Puja mandap accompanied by her cousin Nasir, whom the men beat up and drove away. They took her to a nearby garden. According to media reports, she was gang-raped, allegedly by ten of her abductors. All BCL activists. More recently, in February 2010, four students of Chittagong Medical College, all BCL leaders and activists, allegedly raped a girl on a hill adjoining CMC campus.
Young women, who are either university students, or walking through campuses, have complained of being physically assaulted by BCL activists. In early November, a Rajshahi university student was assaulted and confined for an hour. One of the assaulters was Kawsar Hossain, a fellow student of the same university who had declared his love for her but had been turned down. A similar incident had occurred several months earlier, on the same campus, when another BCL activist, accompanied by his associates, assaulted a woman student and her companion. On February 21, BCL activists beat up a young girl and her friends who were returning from the central Shahid Minar, in front of the Dhaka University vice-chancellor’s residence. A BCL activist of Jasimuddin Hall approached the young girl, and began harassing her. Her companions and passersby came to her aid but other BCL activists, from nearby halls, joined in the attack. Five people were injured. This month, in April, students of statistics department of Jagannath university refused to attend classes until a BCL activist, who had reportedly asaulted a woman student belonging to their department, was punished.
What is wrong with BCL? Or, more precisely, what wrongs do its leaders and their followers commit? Violence. Extortion. Tenderbaji. Sexual offences are never mentioned. Not by the prime minister, nor by any high (let alone, low-) ranking AL member. It is an offence that has no name. And therefore, it does not exist. If it does not exist, its existence need not be acknowledged… That is how denial has worked. And at the ground level, someone or the other obliges, whether it be party functionaries. Or local-level police. Or the college principal. For instance, in the case of Pakhimara, where the gang-rape occurred, local-level AL leaders fined the 16 young men 10,000 taka each for having “tortured” the girl. Their offence was characterised as `intent to rape.’ Not gang-rape, no. The victim’s family was forced to declare this at a hurriedly called press conference. Forced to file a defamation case against the publisher, editor and reporter of a Bangla daily for having reported the rape as rape. AL leaders pressurised the editor of a local daily to sack his reporter for having reported the rape. The culprits were not arrested. The victim’s family fled in fear of reprisal. The allegation of gang-rape had been manufactured to taint the ruling party’s image, said Rakibul Ahsan, Kalapara upazila AL secretary.
In Pirojpur, Mamun was expelled from his post of information secretary. His membership was cancelled for life, but he, alongwith Monir, is still absconding. In Chittagong Medical College, an emergency academic council meeting suspended the four alleged rapists. News reports add, the identity of the girl was not known. Hence, no rape case was filed. In RU, although Kawsar was expelled from the university, was imprisoned, he was still allowed to take his exams. On flimsy grounds. The departmental chairperson had not received his expulsion order from the university authorities. In DU, although BCL activists who caused assault and injury on February 21 have been suspended, they are still staying in the residential halls. Two have been given executive positions in the newly-formed BCL hall unit.
But after the Pohela Boishakh concert fiasco at Raju chottor in DU, it has become increasingly harder to deny that which has no-name. According to newspaper reports, 20 female students were molested. By BCL cadres. Also, by outsiders. Women concert-goers complained. They were pinched. Grabbed. Breasts. Buttocks. Two women students kameezes were ripped, forcing them to accept shirts offered by male concert-goers, to cover themselves. Police rescued fifteen young women from among dense crowds, encircled by men. The concert was abruptly closed down as things threatened to get out of control. According to newspaper reports, groups of BCL activists had battled with each other over splitting 40 lakh taka given by a private mobile phone company. To DU BCL leaders, for having organised the concert. But no, the university authorities claimed not to know anything about it. Neither did the BCL leadership. No, they hadn’t heard anything.
A Bangla proverb, shaak die maach dhaka, the (foolhardy) attempt to cover live fishes with spinach leaves, expresses well the attempts of DU authorities post-concert. The DU vice-chancellor professor AAMS Arefin Siddique inaugurated a 3 day Rover Scout campaign. Petitioning signatures. Processions. Rallies. The slogan? `No to Eve teasing.’ Surely this undermines last year’s High Court ruling? A ruling which was heartily welcomed by women’s organisations in Bangladesh. Any kind of physical, mental or sexual harassment of women, girls and children at their workplaces, educational institutions and at other public places, including roads, is a criminal offence punishable by fine and/or imprisonment. The ruling has the status of law. So where does this all this drivel about Eve-teasing come from? As feminists have repeatedly pointed out, eve-teasing is a western and Christian construct, it refers to the temptress nature of Eve, thereby placing the responsibility for sexual harassment on women. On the victims, not the perpretators. From earlier denial, looking-the-other-way, to victim-blaming? Is this the new AL strategy being fashioned by its ideologists? Why should women’s organisations and women’s rights activists who have struggled hard for women’s right to public space for many long years be a party to undermining our hard-won HC ruling? One which we had all agreed was a `revolution’?
There are other things that I find deeply troubling. The recent revelations sparked by squabbles over dividing the loot earned from admission profiteering at Eden Women’s University College. According to newspaper reports, factions opposed to BCL unit president Jasmine Shamima Nijhum and general secretary Farzana Yasmin Tania, have alleged that besides admission profiteering, these women leaders are involved in tenderbaji, wheeling and dealing, buying up BTV slots, and lobbying. They use first year students, those from village backgrounds, telling them that this is the way to fulfill their dreams of becoming leaders, and becoming wealthy. The girls are encouraged to dress up. They are taken to the houses of different leaders. Sometimes to hotels. And asked to entertain them. According to the allegations, the BCL leaders leave the hostel after 10 at night. Returning the next day, at 10 in the morning. Women students who refuse to do as told are either turned out of the hostel, or their room is broken into, or locked-up. The principal of the college, according to news reports, is fully complicit in these happenings.
Both Khaleda Zia, the leader of the opposition (`the girls of Eden college are being used to entertain the ministers and MPs whose salaries and allowances have been raised’) and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, Jamaat secretary general (`women students are used to satisfy the leaders’) have capitalised on these stories, using them as opportunities to attack the government.
While AL apologists shush the leader of the opposition for having defiled the honor of `all’ students of Eden college for a bad apple or two, while a journalist friend tells me that one or two students of Eden have since retracted their statements, I return to my memories of Jahangirnagar university, to the anti-rape movement in 1998 when the university authorities, to quell the movement, had barked: which one among you have been raped? Come, stand up, be identified.
Hundreds of women students had spoken up in a single voice: we have all been dishonored. Both the prime minister, her women cabinet ministers, and the leader of the opposition could take lessons from that.
Published in New Age April 19, 2010

Published inBangladeshGovernanceRahnuma Ahmedsecurity


  1. durjoy rahman joy durjoy rahman joy

    Hi Rahnuma, whats your point. There is always a dark side of everything . Moon has a shadow. so do we look at Moon negatively. Frankly never seen any one writen whats good in the society for woman in a country like Bangladesh. Your article does not offer a true insight and it is just an old wine in a new bottle. This happens but take statistics in Thailand , India and Srilinaka — womans are more volneerable than country like Bangladesh. When we as reader expecting something positive in future . Sorry for my spell…. Durjoy

  2. suborna camellia suborna camellia

    to durjoy rahman joy: i feel really ashamed how u guys can accept such kind of horrible violence! just because you are a man?! shame on you!!!

  3. rahnuma rahnuma

    Thanks to all for making me think, I’d like to share my thoughts.
    Generally-speaking, I’ve found progressive men express horror at rape, not only because they’re deeply shocked at the violence and think that it deserves severe condemnation but prob’ly also because they’d like to distance themselves from rapist-men.
    In this context, I found Durjoy’s response, including his use of metaphors, “just an old wine in a new bottle,” “this happens…,” very interesting.
    I think Durjoy’s ho-hum, yawn-yawn attitude partly springs from the understanding that rape and sexual violence is what men do to women. And it is this, among other things, that I found alarming since it indicates an absolute ignorance of the lessons that the world public has learnt from the images of Abu Ghraib (to a much lesser degree Rwanda where photographic documentation of sexual violence by its perpetrators doesn’t exist), namely, that men, sexually violate and rape other men too. That women too, actively participate in these institutionalised forms of masculine power.
    I’d like to recollect some of the images of Abu Ghraib: naked male prisoners, hooded, forced to stand together and masturbate. Female American soldier smoking a cigarette, casually gesturing at a naked prisoner’s groin. Sexually assaulting and sodomising male prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorecent tube. Forcibly removing a female prisoner’s clothing to expose her breasts. Fully uniformed American male soldier sitting on two naked Iraqi prisoners. Female American soldier dragging naked Iraqi male prisoner on a leash on the floor
    Very recently there have been newspaper reports of the existence of a secret prison in Baghdad, prob’ly much worse as it’s been said that, “[in comparison] Abu Ghraib was a picnic.” Here too, violence inflicted on the occupied, was sexual. According to a NYT report, “Many said they were raped, sodomized with broomsticks and pistol barrels, or forced to engage in sexual acts with one another and their jailers. ….Those who passed out were revived, they said, with electric shocks to their genitals and other parts of their bodies.”
    Even though I’ve not come across any credible research on male-to-male sexual violence in Bangladesh but if what I’ve heard is true, it’d seem that younger men and boys are sexually abused, assaulted and raped by older men; something that seems to occur systematically, and is probably, I’d guess, class-ed.
    On reading Durjoy’s response, one cannot help but wonder: is he just shooting off his mouth in sheer ignorance? Or is he in a deliberate state of denial? The former is quite possible, given his simplistic, bordering on the ludicrous framework (for this day and age): home-sweet-home vs other countries, positive vs negative, accompanied by a meaningless recital of the names of a few foreign countries. The latter possibility?a deliberate denial?is not unlikely either, given that posturing as sexually inviolable can make men feel superior. More manly.
    For Durjoy to feel “ashamed” as Suborna exhorts, he’d obviously need to critically examine his own position and privileges vis-a-vis men and women in Bangladesh, his solidarities and alliances vis-a-vis men and women in Iraq, in the US army etc etc.
    Is that asking too much? I don’t know.

  4. Roman Roman

    That is an interesting point you made in reply to Durjoy ‘Generally-speaking, I?ve found progressive men express horror at rape, not only because they?re deeply shocked at the violence and think that it deserves severe condemnation but prob?ly also because they?d like to distance themselves from rapist-men.’Its true. I myself hate the idea of being part of a group who rapes. Your writing is a good piece of summary collection of the horror acts but perhaps you could have gone a bit deeper inside focusing on the underlying possible sociological mechanisms those probing these horror acts. Thnx for the write up.

  5. durjoy rahman joy durjoy rahman joy

    Dear readers,
    I would request all of you to kindly read my comment again as I believe that everyone has their own way of accepting or interpreting other peoples view. Consciously or unconsciously I did not support the violence or any discrimination in Bangladesh or in any other countries. My point is: writing an article or any protest should create such awareness and that the awareness MUST stop these nuisances or create some wave. My point was on the article’s perspective that this article does not stop these incidents but only directs a political group who could be deliberately framed in certain incidents. A rapist or a lawbreaker can be from any group but a groups name cannot be used generally for doing such ugly acts. I didn?t want to say, hate the sin but not the sinner yet I said, men who are doing such acts are physiologically sick and they act in the same manner from any part of the world. In other countries ratio is more as reporting is more. The reason I say new wine in an old bottle that this kind of reporting not new about Chatra League and it should farther be examined and real sinners should be identified. What and who is behind the incident should be investigated and repots should come on daily?s and catches the eyes of the law makers in that way they would get scared. I apologies if anyone has understood me incorrectly or my views have hurt anyone?s feelings. Most importantly, I DO NOT support any kind of violence or crime against women. And I request all of you to find better ways to STOP such nasty acts.
    Durjoy Rahman Joy

  6. Ishrat Akhond Ishrat Akhond

    I am a positive person and anyone knows me would know my stand on such violence on women. It?s sad that all over the world women are being suppressed and tortured. From home to society to workplace. In Bangladesh no one talks about a rape/abuse and it?s even worse when educated women suppress the violence and abuse. After a rape or abuse to a woman, the family feels ashamed to talk about such issues, women feels insecure and the society feels pity. We are taught in such a manner that we are not supposed to talk about such incidents and we must give an impression that such incident never took place. No one is to be blamed and no law would support and no one would come to help. No one wants to stand beside these women. But we never feel these victims can be me, my sister, my best friend or my daughter. I appreciate the concern and the discussion among other readers. But I truly didn?t understand the core massage about the ?Chhatra League?s Sexual Offences?? The topic gives an impression that all the members? leaders and activists of Chhatra League are involved in such acts. It should be rephrased?
    Mr. Rahman said it correctly in his second message that a party should not be blamed for such nasty acts, it is the person. Identify them and publish the legal judgment, so that before committing such offences the criminal knows the consequences. A man?s aggressive behavior, molestation, physical assault, violence, rape to a woman is happening in this society. And these are huge social concerns and the color is the same of a sinner all around the world but why are we not acting against it? We the educated wo/men or even the government is not playing an active role?? Why all these so called organizations don?t do anything ground breaking? Why there are no strong laws and more organizations to stop such barbarian behaviors?? Let?s all protest against these acts, grow awareness and feel obligated to help the victim. I am sure; everyone has experienced such things once or more in their lifetime with their own family or friends!!
    Remember, in our lifetime there is a point when we all feel helpless and need help from others. Who knows it might be you or your closed one; who is tomorrow?s potential victim.

  7. Farhana Ahmad Farhana Ahmad

    Thanks Joy for clarifying your stance. Your detailed response is much welcome. Otherwise based on your preliminary comments, your feelings on this issue could be greatly misunderstood. I can understand where your comments are coming from. I can feel how frustrated you must be by the way violence against women still continues to prevail in our society and perpetrators still run rampant. I tend to agree with you that we cannot lay all the blame at the feet of just one political party.
    You are right. We all have a role to play in stopping these heinous acts of violence once and for all. It does call for concerted effort from all quarters and all of us joining hands and being one large voice. Indeed, there needs to be a number of instances of exemplary punishments.
    Rehnuma, thanks so much for highlighting this issue and reinforcing the need for us to put pressure on the powers that be to end this global shame of dis-empowering women in the worse possible form there is.
    I agree with Joy, we do need to have some positive news to celebrate not constantly be weighed down by this kind of negativity.
    In conclusion, I would like to appeal to everyone to work together for a positive violence free Bangladesh where there is gender equity and women are treated with dignity and respect. Let us all proclaim zero tolerance against sexual harassment.
    -farhana ahmad

  8. rahnuma rahnuma

    >I agree with Joy, we do need to have some positive news to >celebrate not constantly be weighed down by this kind of >negativity.
    i’m reminded of the slogan, “I’ll be a post-feminist in post-patriarchy.” to which i’d like to add, i’ll no longer critique race, capital, ethnic and other forms of domination, but only when inequality, exploitation, and violence, rooted in these and other structures are things of the past.
    and anway, governments whether at home or abroad always has countless chamchas, big, medium and small, to divert people’s attention from reality. wouldn’t you agree?

  9. Harate Chai Harate Chai

    There will be no society free from violence. Violence is the first and foremost mode of survival. Even many of we are not resorting violence explicitly, but always getting the benefits of collective and organized violence against other living beings. However, education that brings enlightenment can prevent unnecessary use of violence. Women are the easy target of male violence in Bangladesh because they are cheap and subordinated by social norms. Religions make them as sex-slaves of men. I hardly see any Bangladeshi men who perceive women as ?dignified human beings? ? I also see many so called progressive men (say non-believer) but they just consider women as instruments of sexual pleasure. These are Islamic atheists and I see they are also waiting for thousands sex machines if not in the Jannah. Islamization will never bring enlightening people ? so there will be no end of male violence in Bangladesh. How morality be developed based on some dogma of ?rewards and punishments??? Rape is allowed in Islam!!!!!

  10. mohua mohua

    Islamization will never bring enlightening people, Rape is allowed in Islam — so you think the American soldiers who raped and sodomised the Iraqi men and women at Abu Ghuraib were `Muslims’?
    You seem to be desperate to let Chhatra League off the hook, huh?

  11. Harate Chai Harate Chai

    @Mohua, they are Islamic Typed American Soldiers – should be good followers of Islam… ha ha ha. Did you foret the holy actions of Islamic Pakistani Soldiers against Bd young girls and married women (they said – captives – who poses at your right hand) in 1971? In fact, USA is the most promoter Islam – fundamentalist and rapist wahabi Islam.

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