You can tell a lot about the policy and perspective of a State by looking at those who are currently at the helm of power in a country, as more often than not, the policy and the mentality of a significant amount of its population is reflected on those who are at power in a country.
Whether you are talking about the former President of the United States or the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh, the misogyny of the Head of a state is usually a good indication of the state’s misogynistic view of and policies regarding its women.
While anyone a little more sensitive or politically correct might cringe at the thought of being compared with Donald Trump, it will surely not phase current Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as when it comes to the past decade and a half, her ruling political party’s history has been anything but politically correct.
Over the decade and a half, her ruling party Awami League, its student wing Bangladesh Chhatra League and numerous members of Parliament, as well as Ministers of her government, have been allegedly charged and sometimes even convicted with crimes such as political corruption, fearmongering and more and more prominently as the years progress, of chauvinistic and misogynistic attitude and sexual assault cases involving its political leaders and even elected officials. Most of them, without much repercussions, if any at all.
The propensity of rape cases across the country involving the Chhatra League grew so much that they got labeled as the “Rapist League” instead. In most of those cases, the perpetrators usually get away due to their political connections.
The most recent in this saga of misogynistic political tyrants is the State Minister for Information and Broadcasting of Bangladesh Murad Hasan. On December 2nd, 2021, in an online live talk show called #NahidRains he made some derogatory remarks about the following women among others: The exiled feminist writer Taslima Nasrin, the Feminists of Bangladesh in general, Dhaka University students residing in Rokeya Hall (this residence is for women only), and the former Prime Minister of Bangladesh Khaleda Zia’s granddaughter Zaima Rahman. (https://www.facebook.com/Shoyebmahmud23/videos/411648860638999)
Since then, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has asked him to resign from his position by Tuesday, December the 7th, 2021, while he has not been removed from Awami League, nor has there been any legal actions against him or the talk-show host, whose comments on the show in question and a follow-up episode have been equally derogatory to women and quite vile!
While it is needless to say, that after the Minister was told to resign, the original episode was removed from #NahidRains channel, we were able to find an excerpt that someone had shared on Facebook and have copied the link above for anyone who is interested in. For others, here are just some of the vile things that were said in that talk show. He called Taslima Nasrin names and mocked her for her getting married more than once, he had an issue with female students of Dhaka University residing in Rokeya Hall and said “These girls get sick of living there in such poor conditions and eating the terrible food from hall canteens so they sleep in the five-star hotels and dine there (with their clients)”. About former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s granddaughter Zaima Rahman, Hasan said, “she can’t sleep until she has slept with a new (The Bengali version of the derogatory “N” word) man each night, calling her a slut.
In the very same interview, he then goes on to declare his allegiance and devotion to the current Primi Minister Sheikh Hasina, addressing her as his “Amma”, the Bengali word for “Mother”. Would you believe that in a country where a draconian law such as the Digital Security Law exists, where people get arrested, tortured, or worse every day so much as for writing a Facebook status, a Government Minister can openly go live in a talk show online and get away with making derogatory comments such as these (it should be noted that the directive from the Prime Minister asking him to resign didn’t come until much later) unless there were precedents of others’ with similar or much worse actions getting away in the past with the grace of Her Highness the Prime Minister?
The fiasco doesn’t end there! In another few hours another audio recording of Hasan’s telephone conversation with a former actress is released in which he openly asks her to meet him at the Sonargaon Pan-Pacific Hotel (A five-star hotel in the capital city) and when she hesitates, he first threatens to rape her and then threatens to get her picked up by the Police, NSF, DGFI, DB (National Security Forces and other local Law-Enforcement officials of Bangladesh). (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rn7QzzueZ6A)
Personally, I hate the idea of recording any individual’s private telephone conversations without their knowledge. However, when a publicly elected official openly threatens a citizen that she will be raped and kidnapped by the national law-enforcement forces if she does not succumb to his unwanted advances, it does fall under sexual harassment using his official power and position unethically, and in this case, at least, the public has a right to know.
Don’t forget that the State Minister in question, as well as the Prime Minister at whose pleasure he works, both work for the people of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, and it is these people’s taxes that pay for their salary, benefits, and the lavish lifestyle that they maintain and the power that they often like to throw around and misuse.
On one hand, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been continually strengthening her ties with the Islamic Fundamentalist powers within and outside of the country by bending her policies at their pleasure by making changes such as creating a loophole to the pre-existing Child Marriage restriction Legislation by creating Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017, which allows parents to marry off their daughters of absolutely any age in the name of her welfare. This law has resulted in a sharp increase in the rate of child marriage in a country that is already one of the countries known for one of the highest rates of child marriages for girls.
She has also made recent changes in the education system by focusing more on developing the Islamic Shariah-based Madrassa Education system rather than developing the Bengali medium education and by changing the curriculum to cater to Islamic Ideology over a more secular ideology. Her policy change towards Islamization has also been seen in the news media, in the television channels, and even in the way the government institutes are run, which is having a detrimental effect on the liberties and rights of the women of Bangladesh. It is a well-known fact that if you are a woman and you want to get a nomination to run for the election as part of the Awami-League led coalition, you won’t even get that unless you are willing to have yourself photographed with your head covered regardless of your personal beliefs or political ideology.
In this environment, it is no accident, that people such as Hasan will be popular and common choices for the government caucus. Regardless of your gender, it is expected that if you are in the system, you will follow and uphold the same patriarchal and misogynistic system that created you. People often get surprised to hear that how can a country that has had a woman as its Prime Minister and another as its leader of the opposition for the past three decades can be so patriarchal and chauvinistic!
The answer is quite simple, really. Neither of these two women came to politics on their own merits. Had they not had the sympathy factor of having their deceased father’s and deceased husband’s name behind their’s, I wonder how many centuries it would have taken for Bangladesh to have its first female Prime Minister. The same is true for Indira Gandhi of India and Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan as well. But that is a topic for discussion for another day entirely.
Coming back to the issue at hand, I think along with those women at the helm of the major political parties, I would like to find some answers elsewhere as well.
For example, if I were the daughter of Murad Hasan, and I know for a fact that he has a young daughter almost the same age as Zaima Rahman who he slut-shamed the other day, I would be abhorred to address him as my father, but quite often we see that the mothers, wives, daughters, and daughters-in-law will dutifully uphold the image of the social-media worthy happy family image. Even sometimes going as far as attacking the women that their Sons-husbands-fathers-father-in laws or brothers have sexually assaulted. And what is sexual violence when it comes to a country like Bangladesh? Don’t even get me started on that! Just like the definition of news, quite often, the definition of sexual assault quite often starts with the 5Ws and 1 H, just not the ones you are expecting.
Who was the victim? What is her political allegiance? What is her social and/or celebrity status? What time did it happen? When did it happen? How was she dressed?
If a dead victim or survivor can pass the litmus test of all of the 6 questions above and is judged as “pure” by the media, Society, and the Legal system, only then does she have any hope of ever achieving any justice.
Otherwise, the public, the media, social media, the people, be it the Prime Minister or the tea-seller on the street corner, everyone will have the right to tear up the character of and slut-shame the rape-survivor or the dead victim while the perpetrator will ride his horse into the sunset or in case of Bangladesh, to Singapore or Malaysia depending on which of the recent cases you are referring to.
Is it any wonder that the former actress whose conversation with Hasan from two years ago was leaked earlier has found her peace from the traumatizing Bangladeshi film-industry lifestyle and into religion? Because in an Islamic country like Bangladesh, that may be the only way out for such girls, sometimes, even that is not enough.
Starting from tomorrow, you can be more than sure that the social media sites will have a frenzy with more salacious details from the assaulted (just in case you weren’t sure if it was, yes, that leaked conversation was also a recorded verbal sexual assault) actress’ life, while the story of Murad Hasan becomes yesterday’s news. And the anchor of #Nahidrains will sneak out some equally more repulsive new item to get more hits on his channel. After all, that is what the masses like to eat up!
From the Prime Minister of a Nation to the tea-seller around the corner, this is the average taste of our nation. So I sadly decided to end my commemoration of the United Nations’ 16 days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence here. All of a sudden, the entire task seems draining and tedious. Apparently, we’re supposed to eliminate such violence by 2030, or so we’re told every December.
After the first Bengal-born feminist Begum Rokeya passed away in Kolkata in 1932, the conservative Muslims of the Elite Calcatian Society wouldn’t even allow her to be buried in the proper Muslim graveyard. So there she remains, buried in a lonesome little spot called Panihati on the shore of the Ganges. That was 89 years ago, but have things really changed that much in the land of her birth? Here in Bangladesh? How many of us do even remember her or the constant struggle her life has been? Feminists all across the globe study her “Sultana’s Dream”, and yet, in Bangladesh, the word “Feminist” can be openly used as profanity and it will even make you quite popular overnight, it appears if you can use it as profanity on social media!
Women. Are we even complete human beings? Really?
The United Nations may think so.
But here, within the 56 thousand square miles called Bangladesh, the meaning sounds quite hollow for half of the human race called “Women”.
About the writer:
A self-proclaimed feminist, activist, poet, and voracious reader, Shumu Haque started writing from her high-school days.
Born in Sri Lanka and brought up in Bangladesh, she has spent more than half of her life in Canada and calls Toronto her home and works in the Canadian Not-for-Profit Industry.
Shumu has studied Humanities and Communications at York University before prior to completing her diploma in Print and Broadcast Journalism from Humber College in Toronto.
Shumu has been writing on the portal Women Chapter since 2014 and has been one of the Founding Directors of Women Chapter International. In WCI, she is in charge of Communications.