The word itself, or mere utterance of it, can run the most fearful shiver through a timorous spine. Take any instance, imagine it in any context: male-on-female, male-on-male, female-on-female, animals, insects, birds, it can only depict macabre savagery; the forceful subjection of the weak by the strong.
Hearing that Todd Akin, a Missouri Republican, spoke of "legitimate rape" reminded me that there are still linguistically challenged, retrograde, moronic politicians around who gain a perverse comfort by talking disrespectfully about women. They never grow out of the male-to-male bawdy buffoonery of their school years and they let it slip during their electoral palavering.
Bemusing he was, exhibiting ignorance, not least of basic biology, in stating that "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down", (to prevent pregnancy out of a rape). How insightful!
As if we have not had enough of this lunacy, the British MP George Galloway joined in, only to find that his attempt to explain why in the case of Mr Assange, the incident did not constitute rape, rather worsened his dilemma: "Woman A met Julian Assange, invited him back to her flat, gave him dinner, went to bed with him, had consensual sex with him, claims that she woke up to him having sex with her again. This is something which can happen, you know. I mean, not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion." Not a sensible way of defending a victim of possible conspiracy.
This silly jabbering affirms the fact that the definition of rape varies significantly throughout the world. Surprisingly, despite the progressive introduction of laws over centuries to stop this heinous act, it continues to occur, even in developed and progressive places such as Europe and America. If interested, you can look up the statistics.
The issue, clearly defining what constitutes rape, is highly debated, perhaps for the better. Western countries now acknowledge and have laws to guard against rape even within marriage. There are active campaigns against this crime. Victims are supported by counselling services and legal aid and police forces hunt the criminals. I dare say some criminals manage to escape.
When I try to compare my early exposure to the subject, the '80s Bollywood which contained far too many rape scenes (fast forwarded by adults with the VCR), come to memory. At times these scenes were totally disjointed from the main storylines. When their graphic displays were avoidable, producers understood their appeal as a vital ingredient for the films' commercial success. Did that mean that as a society we enjoyed rape scenes? No. But we let them bank on our passive attitude to the issue.
In Bangladesh, to my great discomfort, the perpetrators (needless to say all male) get away with it too easily. Our society, in its diverse strata and spectra, accepts rape as an accident, if not tolerating it. I am not a legal-eagle on rape, but I know that it is too hard to prove in our system (and maybe in other systems too). Gathering forensic evidence and facing despicable cross-examination in court can be too arduous for victims, and they are discouraged by their close ones from pursuing it. The victims also have to endure psychological trauma in an unforgivingly bizarre, male dominated society.
As a result, rather than going after the culprits, we are focussed on hiding the actual events, in some cases for the sake of the victim. Whatever the state of our legal system we are simply denying justice to the victims. I am also aware of the coercion directed to victims and their families by the culprits.
Individuals, NGOs and governments continue their efforts to support victims, and this needs to increase. Women do not feel safe in our country; where possible, they avoid going out alone during evenings, using private cars if they can access them. It is pointless to mention molestation, groping or the other forms of verbal and physical abuse suffered by women in many situations – from offices to crowded public transport. It is also meaningless to highlight the eternal woes of our poor womenfolk who have to tolerate abuse, for example, in order to keep employment. It is too bleak to contemplate scenarios where women get abused by relatives, friends, acquaintances or lovers.
This is particularly sad for a nation where women endured so much violation and degradation during our liberation struggles.
So, what can be done about this? I am afraid there is no substitute for a harsh punishment, as we have done to combat the rise of acid attacks, coincidently also in the '80s. In addition, we need to educate and enlighten ourselves. The work of NGOs in educating and supporting women should be further assisted by the government. School curricula must include this topic, if they do not already have it (readers, I am happy to be corrected, as I am not sure whether current curricula consider this issue).
Possibly the biggest change is needed in relation to our approach to and attitude towards acceptance of the victims after the tragedy. Nothing could be more brutal than making the victims live with the constant unjustifiable social stigma that gets thrown at them.
In spite of all our efforts, however, I doubt that this unthinkable savagery will cease to exist. There are reasons for such pessimism. If you explore the stats via the link provided above, you will find that Sweden, a comparatively safe country, has a relatively higher rape rates. The puzzle is explained as more women are confident to report abuse (the definition of rape may have something to do with it).
And there are reasons for hope as well. I note significant change in the attitude of males towards the opposite sex in recent generations. More of them believe in equal independence, ambition and opportunity for women and this is a great positive.
We cannot let the ever-present nature of this crime confirm the adage Koyla Dhuile Moyla Jai Na.
Irfan Chowdhury writes from Canberra, Australia.