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Long Form

Monday, January 6, 2014

The land of no accountability

Does it have to be an actual murder caught on national television like Bishwajits to jolt us or our government into action? What are we waiting for?

Adita Hasan n

t is said that the degree of civilisation of a society is measured by how it treats its women and children. If the way in which the average Bangladeshi citizen is being treated these days is any indicator, then the plight of our society must be pitiful indeed. On December 29, I watched the live television coverage of the show-down between two warring political factions on the Supreme Court premises. I confess to not being in the least surprised by the ridiculous and reprehensible behaviour exhibited, given the state of affairs that has come to pass over the course of the previous year. If there was any question remaining about the degree of civilisation in our society, this past weeks coverage of bricks being thrown into the Supreme Court grounds by screaming women in support of AL, and bottles being thrown down from the roof of our highest judiciary by BNP-loyalist lawyers has probably laid to rest whatever limited expectations of civilised behaviour we may have still held from certain segments of our society. But I digress, for my article is not in support of one political party or another, nor is it about the impropriety and total lack of civility that was evident on the Supreme Court premises lately. This is about something more specific: On Monday morning I opened the newspaper to find two photographs of female lawyers being beaten to the ground by men with sticks directly outside the Supreme Court building, while an audience of onlookers, including some who appeared to be law enforcement officers, stood idly by watching. In the first photograph, a lady in a white kameez and advocates black coat is lying on the pavement, attempting to shield herself against the blows of four surrounding men, all of whom are wielding sticks and whose faces are clearly visible. One of

Different shot of the first picture mentioned in the article, where a lawyer is being assaulted on the High Court compound. The file photo was taken on Dec 29 

dhaka tribune

them appears to be beating her with a flagpole bearing the national flag, in addition to which, wrapped around his forehead, is a bandana-like fabric somewhat resembling the said flag. The Supreme Court building and what appear to be law enforcement officers in uniform are visible in the background. In the second image, a lady in a black kameez, identified as Simki Imam Khan, lies cowering on the ground with the foot of an unidentified man pressed down on her body. She is surrounded on all sides by an audience of men who appear to be beating her, and/or watching the show, including one who is holding yet again a flagpole bearing the Bangladesh flag. These images are a national disgrace, and they will colour international perception of the state of our country for a long time to come. But what is more deplorable is that in the days that have passed since the assault, no statement has emerged from the authorities addressing these graphic and shameful attacks, and not one of the men visible in the photographs has been arrested in this connection. It is completely irrelevant whether the two female lawyers in question are loyal to the opposition party as reported, or whether the men assaulting them are allegedly affiliated with the ruling party. Beating somebody with a stick is a criminal offence no matter

Despite all these extra police deployed on the streets, I have never felt my life and security to be more at risk than I do today
who the victim or perpetrator is, and irrespective of what political affiliation they belong to. The fact is, in spite of such a vivid public display of violence against women, and despite photographic evidence exposing the perpetrators, very little fuss has been made in this regard by us citizens in general, and none at all by the authorities. Perhaps the sad truth is that this is not at all strange; this is in fact the standard (of indifference) we have come to expect from both citizens, authorities, ruling parties, opposition parties, and almost everyone in between in this country. We tsk tsk for a bit, we comment on how scandalous it is, we share photos of these women being viciously beaten on social media, and then we move on. Now, I dont mean to sound unrealistically idealistic here. I accept that I live in a crazy land where the course of politics has become perverted completely, and usurped all sense of morality and appropriacy; where the collective national consciousness seems to have fallen into some kind of coma of helpless complacency; where children are frequently maimed in blasts for which no group will claim responsibility, where we no longer bat an eyelid at arson, terrorism or physical violence as long as it is committed by one political group or another, and where citizens cannot leave their homes for days, if not weeks on end, for fear of themselves or their transport being torched as part of the collateral damage in the ongoing political warfare. Call me nave, but I am still finding it difficult to digest the impunity with which identifiable persons who publicly assault two female lawyers, on the grounds of the highest court of justice in the land, can walk around scot-free while the authorities behave as if this is barely noteworthy. What is wrong with us? Does it have to be an actual murder caught on national television like Bishwajits to jolt us or our government into action? What are we waiting for - the rape of some woman in the name of politics on national television? When will we finally stop and say: This is too disgusting to be tolerated? When will we acknowledge that no civilised nation or democracy would behave in this way? I am certainly not saying that children losing their limbs or that vehicles and their occupants being set alight is in any way less significant or horrifying than women being beaten on the streets. In those tragic circumstances, however, each party is so busy apportioning blame on the other that hunting for the individuals actually responsible and bringing them to justice takes a back seat. But surely no one in a civilised nation should get away with criminal assault in broad daylight when caught in the act on camera. If people do break the law with such impunity, then the government has a responsibility to bring them to book, irrespective of whatever political affiliation the victim or perpetrator may have. Why is it that these men were allowed to wander the streets bearing sticks as weapons? Why did the police

not intervene when these women were being beaten in plain sight? Why have the men in these photographs not been arrested yet? I suppose it is expecting too much since the police commissioner himself has reportedly said that the men wielding sticks were merely carrying flags; indeed at least one of the men in each photograph can be seen beating the female lawyer in question with a flagpole bearing the Bangladesh flag, in one case even with what appears to be a flag wrapped around his head, no less. What a proud day for our nation and for the freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives for that flag. What a fantastic and appropriate garb to attire yourself with, while you use your collective flagpoles to beat defenceless women to the ground. You do us proud. What does us even more proud is the fact that you and your thug friends are still free to walk about, happy-go-lucky in our midst, at full liberty to pounce upon your next victim of violence whenever you please. So long as you are toeing the line of the political party of the day and of course, wearing your flag proudly as a symbol of the brave patriot and woman-beating son of the soil that you are. Bravo. Its actually a beautiful and fitting symbol of where we are today as a nation the political parties can violate our rights as a citizen and treat

broad daylight, and face no consequences. Lets put this in perspective: According to both the ruling party and the opposition all the actions currently undertaken by them are in fact in our best interest. It is for the sake of safeguarding the future of my democratic rights as a citizen and for my own security that I, along with the rest of the nation, am being forced to live through these times. Well, speaking for myself as a citizen and a woman, despite all these extra police deployed on the streets, I have never felt my life and security to be more at risk than I do today. I may be torched for leaving my house at the wrong time, arrested for expressing the wrong opinion, wounded in a bomb blast through no fault of my own. On top of all that, if a group of men beat me up in broad daylight and in full public view, not only might law enforcement look the other way, but in spite of photographic evidence exposing them in mass media, my perpetrators may escape justice depending on their political affiliation. If this is what security and rights and rule of law mean for a free citizen of a democratic country, then there is nothing left to be said. Welcome to Bedlam, ladies and gentleman also known as Bangladesh: the land of no accountability. l Adita Hasan is a freelance contributor.

The political parties can violate our rights as a citizen and treat us whatever way they want so long as they cloak their actions under the garb of patriotism, of democracy, of love for the country
us whatever way they want so long as they cloak their actions under the garb of patriotism, of democracy, of their undying love for their country. They only have our best interests at heart, apparently. Thats why we havent been able to leave our homes in peace for months (its for our own security, and/or for the sake of future democracy), thats why our children are being injured in cocktail blasts (because its nobodys fault) and why groups of men can commit physical assault on defenceless women in public, on camera, in

Picture of Simki Imam being assaulted at the High Court compound on Dec 29 the second photo mentioned 

Rajib Dhar