I had been following the news and debates over the Banani rape case for quite a few days now-two young men allegedly raped the girls more than a month ago in a hotel while three others assisted them. One of the victims filed a case with Banani Police Station and since then it has triggered debate across the country and beyond.
Many so-called ‘educated’ people questioned the character of the victims, implying that girls who can go to birthday parties so late at night were definitely sending off ‘assertive vibes’ or in other words, invitations! I have come across comments such as ‘If they did not want to get raped, why did they go to the party?”
“This is what happens when girls misuse their freedom!”
“I think they didn’t get money, and now accusing these innocent boys of raping them.”
On the contrary, those who choose to think otherwise recalled the movie ‘Pink’ from our neighboring country that portrayed a story similar to this and said to get it for once and all: “No Means No.” The plot of ‘Pink’ revolved around a hit and run case, where 3 women had to flee after one of them had attacked a guy with a bottle because he made sexual advances towards her. Just because they had agreed to hang out with them late at night after meeting at a concert, these ‘guys’ or ‘jerks’ assumed that these girls were available. What follows is a fight in the court, with the opponent’s lawyer hell-bent on proving these women as prostitutes. This was a powerful movie, despite some flaws in the scripts because it beautifully portrayed the blatant hypocrisy of Indian society at large. People who are now recalling the movie are doing so because when it comes to contradictory values, many of us in Bangladesh who like to represent ourselves as ‘moderate’ or ‘modern’ are often contradicting our own self-images that we attempt to construct in front of the society. I have read several posts by such ‘modern’ people- people who are well educated, financially affluent, live a lavish lifestyle in Dhaka- blaming the victims for their plights. The underlying message beneath their posts is more or less the same- good girls do not party. If they went to a party with guys and got raped, they deserved it!
So let me try and unpack, from my experiences and lived experiences of close friends and acquaintances- do such low lives really give a damn to your ‘No’?
My answer would be ‘No, They Don’t.’ Because these assumptions are so deeply embedded in our conservative mindsets that even if a girl says ‘No’, they would assume that she is playing hard to get or perhaps she wants money, not just consensual sex. In our society, most people tend to think that girls who are bold and assertive are ready to engage in casual sex- with anyone, anywhere, at any given point of time! Ridiculous it sounds, doesn’t it? But this is the bitter truth. There are many bigots around us who tend to think this way. Their mind cannot conceive any other alternative. If a girl is bold, she must be sleeping with a lot of people. She must be! She does not? Oh no, it is not possible! But how does it even matter? Even if she has a sexual partner, or two or more, it does not mean she will have sex with you too! Consent matters. Every individual can choose to say a ‘No’.
I can testify from my personal experience. I left Bangladesh for pursuing higher studies at the age of 20- an introverted and pampered girl who knew nothing about managing finances or making decisions. It has been now more than 5 years. Living away from home changes everyone, irrespective of gender. I have changed too. However, that has led to a plethora of unsavory questions from people I once upon a time looked up to! Many times, via Facebook messages and on occasions, I have visited Dhaka, I have encountered acquaintances who bombarded me with questions and downright rude comments like – “Oh, I have seen your photos on Facebook. You have many male friends, eh?” “You are wearing tops all the time! Without an ‘orna’(scarf)!” It reminds me of one particular acquaintance whom I used to address as ‘Bhaia’(brother), a man who was our neighbor for a long period of time and several years senior to me. Now he is happily married with children. Initially, I just considered his questions as acts of plain curiosity, even though they were silly. Sometimes, I replied out of courtesy, and sometimes, I chose not to open his messages. But I was hesitant to be rude to him due to our family’s relations. His questions were sometimes too stupid, and I wondered how can someone who has graduated from one of the best institutes in the country be so backward in his thinking!
He mistook my politeness for an ‘invitation’ and one night sent me a message which was something like “Please Simonti, don’t tell this to your Bhabi(Bhabi means sister-in-law, referring to his wife). My sweet little sister, you must be in bed now. Can you please click a selfie of yours and send me?”
“What the hell?!” I remember I got angry beyond words and could not find appropriate words to bombard him with verbal abuse. I immediately consulted someone close to me and blocked him for once and all. Looking back, I regret it. Perhaps I should have given him a warning or should have told him that his message was inappropriate. But then again, would he have learned a lesson? Most probably, he would not have. He had already made his assumptions on my character and thought of approaching me, assuming that I am ‘available’. He is not the only jerk who has behaved in this manner. Many times, my assertion for personal freedom and my life choices have been mistaken as ‘invitation’ and I have had no choice but to remove such pests from my life for once and all. Fortunately, I have not found myself in situations resembling the Banani rape case or ‘Pink’. But then again, one never knows the future. But I do not want to give in to societal pressures and lock myself in the house for the rest of my life!
Reading such hopeless posts about the Banani rape case makes me realize that there are many potential rapists around us. That is a depressing thought, but this is what it looks like from all the debates on Facebook.
To them, all I want to say is- no woman is your property, no matter who she is- a stranger or otherwise. A woman’s body is her property. Not everyone is willing to have sex with you, no matter how wealthy you are, how charming you are, or how attractive you are!
Please Ask First! Consent matters!
And if you do not ask, eventually we will have no choice but to retaliate.