Sexual assault: Protest and finger-pointing, but justice?

Anik Iqbal
Published : 20 April 2015, 02:28 PM
Updated : 20 April 2015, 02:28 PM

The abuse of the weak and the helpless has always been a common occurrence in most, if not all societies in the history of human civilisation. And the abuse of women, still permeates culture even in the most developed and progressive societies of modern times.

Just last year, Australian singer Iggy Azalea complained that the crowd repeatedly tried to molest her during her public concerts, which forced her to stop crowd-surfing. It is a sad reality we live with.

If Iggy Azalea, despite being a celebrity is not safe from the torment and assault of the mob, one may wonder what safety the ordinary women of all classes in Bangladesh have – especially in public gatherings like the 'Boishakhi Mela' held last week at the University of Dhaka (DU) premises.

As it would appear, none.

Numerous eye-witness reports and media coverage detail how several women were groped and assaulted by an organised group of men seen lurking among the ocean of people.

At first, they preyed on the helpless women who came alone. Then they grew bolder and attacked women attending in groups and with their families. Egregiously, they dared to drag a woman off a rickshaw even though she was accompanied by her male companion.

Such audacious acts in plain sight and of such magnitude is unbelievable, and perhaps I myself would not have believed accounts, had they not been concretely corroborated by CCTV footage of the area published later.

Some alleged that after repeatedly seeking help from both DU authorities and the police, no initiative was taken to crack down on this shameless degeneracy. The police were alleged to have released four of the molesters after they had already been caught in the act and handed over by the general people who were present.

Incidents like this cannot be tolerated.

Yet we already see the effort of authorities sweeping the entire debacle under the rug. The police blatantly denied the existence of any evidence supporting the initial claims of eye-witnesses, up until footage was made public soon after.

DU authorities adopted the same line, denying all allegations. The inaction of DU's Proctor has been noted.

This is nothing new. During New Year celebration in 2000, a woman was semi-stripped and sexually assaulted by a group of people in the DU campus. The same incident ocurred during the national flag rally of 2013. There were reports of several public molestations.

In both these cases and many others like this, authorities adeptly swept everything under the rug, diverted the people's attention, and in the end no miscreants were identified or charged.

Now, why the authorities always want to save the criminals is a good question.

Are they plain lazy despite being handed the evidence? Possibly. After all the police in Bangladesh are not known for their professionalism.

But that doesn't explain why they released four of the culprits after they were already caught and handed over by the people.

The High Court has already ordered the vice-chancellor of DU and the inspector general of the police to report on the incident and what steps they made.

Now that amateur photographic and CCTV evidence is in the open, and witnesses are coming forward, why is identification based on concrete evidence not being taken up by DU officials and the police? Why have these perpetrators not been brought to justice?

And how can the vice-chancellor of DU assert that the perpetrators involved in the incident were not their own students, before any initiative towards identification was made?

Many have alleged on social media that these criminals belong to the student wing of the ruling political party. No proof has been shown to support this claim. As news, photos, and videos have gone viral on the internet, rumours have made it hard to tell fact from fiction.

To be fair, even if the criminals belong to the ruling party, such behaviour isn't necessarily representative of the party itself, nor can the party be held responsible.

However, if the government doesn't rise to the occasion and bring these criminals to justice, then their integrity should certainly come under scrutiny.

Anik Iqbal is a Ph.D. student of Physics at the University of Iowa, of Iowa, USA.