Editorial

Nusrat Jahan Rafi’s death: Rapists deserve stringent punishment

Despite all efforts to treat teenager girl Nusrat Jahan Rafi for severe burn injuries in consequence of arson attack on her on 06 April that triggered indignation all over the country, she passed away on the night of 10 April at Dhaka Medical College Hospital. The 18-year-old female Alim examinee (equivalent to HSC) Rafi was set ablaze at Sonagazi Islamia Senior Fazil Madrasa in Feni for ‘refusing’ to withdraw a sexual harassment case filed in late March against Maulana Siraj Ud Doula, Principal of the institution. The four unidentified attackers—all had their faces mostly covered, so she could not recognise any of them—allegedly took her to the rooftop of the administrative building of Madrasa and set her ablaze, the victim’s elder brother told The Daily Star. He alleged that someone identifying himself as a Fazil student of the Madrasa called his younger brother and warned not to pursue the case.
Incidents of sexual assault have assumed epidemic proportions in this country.Beneath the outer glossy veneer of the social milieu of usual human form and face there live repugnant monsters inside some people; and hence news reports of bizarre violent crime incidents hit the news headlines too frequently in Bangladesh.
A gang rape sparked protests and anger in Bangladesh in December 2018, BBC reported on 6 January 2019. A court remanded seven men in custody, including a local leader of the governing Awami League party, over a suspected gang rape. A mother of four alleged she was raped by a group of men because she voted for the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in the Parliament election held on 30 December, 2018. The woman’s husband lodged a complaint saying that a group of men forced their way into the family home in Noakhali district, tied him and their four children up, and sexually assaulted her in the middle of the night. Neighbours helped the family after the attackers left, and the woman, 35, was taken to hospital.According to reports, she was allegedly warned by the men earlier that day, while at a polling centre, not to vote for the opposition candidate.
Seven years ago the journalist couple Mrs Meherun Runi and Sagor Sarwar were murdered but neither anybody has been indicted nor has any inquiry report seen the light of day. Thus offenders break the rules with impunity. Over two and half years have elapsed after Comilla Victoria College studet Miss Sohagi Jahan Tonu, aged 17, assumedly after violation’s murder in July 2016, but her soul is still crying for justice. Here is yet another law and order issue which proves blatant failure of the police, RAB and other law enforcement agencies. Whilst the murder of 17-year-old Tonu, assumedly after violation, could take place within high-security precincts of Comilla Cantonment area protected by round-the-clock armed patrol who are not supposed to allow entry/exit of anyone. Neither the Police, nor the RAB, nor the Cantonment’s Military Police have made any headway in detecting the criminal/s. It is a national disgrace—another blatant failure—to say the least.
Law enforcement in Bangladesh is the “poorest of the poor”, former chief justice ABM Khairul Haque said on 08 March 2015, expressing frustration over weak governance. There are so many laws that outnumber even England’s, he noted. In the civilised world, laws are enforced, but in this country this is very poor” he said, adding that “|conviction rate in Bangladesh is only 10 to 12 percent”.
Like in other South Asian countries, Bangladesh is no different from neighbouring countries in respect of violence against women which is amongst the grimmest threats to overall development and progress in Bangladesh. Despite constitutional guarantees of gender equality and legislative and other affirmative interventions, the status of Bangladeshi women is on the whole dismal. Women are subjected to discrimination and violence within the household, at the workplace and in the society. Widespread violence and repression in numerous forms puts women’s lives at risk in almost all parts of the country. This is further compounded by the gender bias against women in the society. [Vide Expert Group Meeting organised by the UN Division for the Advancement of Women in collaboration with: Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) and World Health Organization held on 11 – 14 April, 2005 at Geneva, Switzerland.]
Violence and crime have broad implications for public safety, local justice, and economic and community development. Worldwide, the costs of violence, crime, and social disorder are staggering. These costs involve the breadth and depth of harm and human suffering that crime, violence, and disorder cause to individuals, families and communities; the “containment costs” of such negative and destructive behaviors Effective policing services are also lacking, leading to a serious enforcement gap in many poor communities that requires attention and investment to allow these neighborhoods to recover and eventually prosper. [Vide Heike P. Gramckow, Jack Greene, Ineke Marshall & Lisa Barão: Addressing the Enforcement Gap to Counter Crime: Investing in Public Safety, the Rule of Law and Local Development in Poor Neighborhoods, The World Bank March 2016]
As per the law of the land, whoever commits rape shall be punished with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine, unless the woman raped is his own wife and is not under twelve years of age, in which case he shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
While application of the law shall have to be strict and stringent so that no offender can escape harsh punishment, the country’s two major organizations aimed at women’s rights and welfare—the Bangladesh Mahila Samiti (established in in 1948) and the Bangladesh Mahila Parishad (established in 1970) —should lead a social movement to set up Zila and Upazila level committees to campaign against rape.

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