Dhaka University students hold placards as they take part in a rally to demand punishment for the people involved in the rape case of a female student of the university, in Dhaka on January 7, 2020. - The sexual assault of a student at a top university in Bangladesh triggered angry protests in Bangladesh on January 6, with demonstrators urging the death penalty for convicted rapists. (Photo by MUNIR UZ ZAMAN / AFP) (Photo by MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Photo by Munir Uz Zaman/AFP via Getty Images

Bangladesh: Why are They Protesting?

Warning: This article contains references to sexual violence

Rape culture is something that prevails in every country, city and village. Bangladesh is not immune to this barbaric violence. It is not something that has gone away, no matter how much we scream about it. In this article, attitudes to rapists and rape victims, along with the government, will be revealed. 

According to activists, more than 1,000 rapes were committed yearly. There is an estimate of only 161.4 million people in the small country of Bangladesh. Statistically, there are at least two rape crimes a week. Think this is bad? It gets worse. Sources such as the website Dhaka Tribune, Al Jazeera and more highlight that the rate of rape in Bangladesh has risen to 4 rapes a day in Bangladesh since the rise of Covid-19. 632 – that is how many confirmed rape cases there are in Bangladesh since April. This rape culture that is so prevalent in this country has caused the death of 29 women and five suicides. These are only the reported ones. Most women are too afraid to come out and speak out about the horrors of their rape. 

The video that broke Bangladesh

Most of these recorded rapes have been gang rapes that have been circulated through the media leading to feminists and activists to speak out. One particular rape video shows the brutal sexual violence towards just one 37-year-old woman. This woman is not the only victim of this rise in sexual violence. Despite these eight men finally having been arrested, Bangladesh citizens are not satisfied. 

Due to this video leak, in early October, women and men began to protest in the Southern district of Noakhali, Bangladesh. The fight for justice and punishment in Bangladesh currently, is most likely just as intense during the early 1970s during the Bangladesh Liberation War. Protesters are demanding the government and their own community to take rape and sexual harassment more seriously. Pictures show that signs like ‘Hang the Rapists’, ‘No Mercy To Rapists’, and many others were shoved into the face of parliament as the people demanded justice to be served. 

Where has this led to? 

Law Minister, Anisul Haq, promised the death penalty would be introduced to protect the people, specifically the women of Bangladesh from rape. The minister has promised that there will be a more thorough investigation into these crimes where rapists will not go unpunished. 

What will actually happen?

Yet, many Bengalis are sceptic about this as recent studies conducted by the UN in 2013 reveals that Bangladeshi men who admitted to committing rape (a staggering 88% of rural respondents and 95% of urban respondents) said they faced no legal consequences. A low chance of conviction rate makes this promise of the death penalty null and void. The death penalty will not work as a deterrent if rapists are getting away scot-free and are allowed to live their lives as monsters. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Bangladesh said the accused are “rarely held to account”; “The conviction rate for rape in Bangladesh is below 1 percent”. Is there a point to introducing these new laws if no one is actually enforcing it? The people of Bangladesh are shouting out against these injustices. 

Rape sympathisers

This term wouldn’t be a new phrase to any of us, unfortunately. They are just as guilty as rapists. Using izzat as a weapon, they silence women and allow rapists to freely prey upon other people, usually in the form of a gang-rape. Izzat is this idea of honour related to oneself and their family. For some reason — and not just in Bangladesh — a woman’s worth and virtue are found between her legs. Even if it is in the form of rape and non-consensual sex, women are judged and held accountable for the barbaric actions of another. 

“What were you wearing?”

“Don’t say anything. How will your children’s in-laws react?”

“But why did you go out without a man?”

“But that’s her husband, it’s his right.”

“What did you do to seduce him?” 

“Stay quiet, what will people say about you and our family?”

“You don’t know what women like this are like. They are asking for it.”

“Did you see what she was wearing? She asked for it.”

If you have ever asked questions like this or said something along these lines about a rape victim, then well done. You are a rapist sympathiser that perpetuates the misogyny and sexual violence against women. Words like these keep the voices of women hushed and don’t allow them to see justice. Police don’t believe these women. Then they shame them. This is not a new story. There is a bias against women already born into a system that prevents the filing of these crimes. Bengali activist Zefroon Afsary, told Al Jazeera that women and children are systematically barred from accessing justice through a “thriving culture of impunity against rapists, backed by ineffective trial processes” which often “shift the blame from the perpetrator to the victim”. Instead of the rapist, it is often the women that face these social stigmas. Covid-19 is more than just a pandemic spreading a virus. Covid-19 has released a violent wave towards women and children, one that they will never recover from. 

Sign the petition


Or email the high commissioner of Bangladesh and the deputy high commissioner in the UK and their press section: hc@bhclondon.org.uk, dhc@bhclondon.org.uk, pressm@bhclondon.org.uk. You may contact Joya at j.choudhury@hss19.qmul.ac.uk for a premade email template.

It is time the world listens and starts pushing for the breakdown of this misogynistic and victim-blaming nature that runs rampant in not only Bangladesh but our broader society.

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