On the Viqarunnisa scandal
I don’t live in Dhaka. I have very little direct connection with the pulse of that city. That’s why I hesitate to jump into a discussion about the latest absurdity in that city of absurdities. The last thing I want is to be compared with Ghaffar Chowdhury. However, after an issue has been around for a while, with various angles and facets having been discussed in the mainstream and electronic media, it is possible to form a reasoned opinion. At the least, it is possible to talk intelligibly about an issue after it has been around for a while, even if I don’t actually feel the zeitgeist of the city. In fact, at such times, the distance may actually be helpful in some cases, it allows you to think in a detached manner.
Such is the case with Viqarunnisa scandal. For those coming in late: an early piece and an overview of what’s happening; why the struggle; how hard it is; the spineless politicians; and the broader context. This issue has exposed a lot of different fault lines in our society. Some of these are downright ugly, but others are positively uplifting. A few are mentioned over the fold
1. Rape is hard to prove. And that’s true anywhere in the world, as is evident from a certain New York case. Forget about all the other aspects of this story. Suppose the victim was not 15, but 25. Suppose the perpetrator was not a school teacher but a university lecturer. And then suppose things had happened exactly as was in this case. How would the girl prove rape given our disgraceful institutions? And if the law cannot help, what is the girl to do?
2. Given the very good chance that even rape — let alone sexual harassment (disgracefully called ‘eve teasing’) — will go completely unpunished, is it any surprise that some can choose purdah — hijab, niqab, the whole lot — as a safety device?
In fact, it gets more complicated. Consider a different scenario. Suppose the perpetrator was not a teacher, but a fellow student. Suppose that before the actual crime, there was a period of mutual encouragement and experimentation. Now suppose that to prevent something like this to occur to their daughters, neighbours/relatives impose strict, conservative social mores.
It is precisely this kind of thing that turns otherwise intelligent people into disciples of Zakir Naik. This has nothing to do with radical Islam as such, and it’s about time the self-styled secular progressives stopped obsessing about Jamaat and opened their eyes to how our social fabric is being torn asunder, and how our rotten institutions are worsening the situation.
3. As it happens, the victim was a teenage school girl, and the perpetrator was her teacher. Both the teacher and the student were from one of the best high schools in the country. One shudders to think what goes on in lesser institutions. Of course, it didn’t actually happen in the school premises. How many other incidences will take it for us to realise that coaching classes are not substitutes for schools?
And how many other Hosne Aras are needed for us to wake up to the fact that education-as-business model as practised in Bangladesh has something seriously wrong with it?
4. If Viqarunnisa was not such a lucrative business, would ruling party politicians be so keen to control it?
Or maybe this government would still have. By all accounts, partisan appointments have reached unprecedented proportions under this government. This is a perfect example. The perpetrator was one of six people appointed into the school with their degrees from Tungipara Bangabandhu College. The probability of these being meritocratic appointment is smaller than Qaddafi winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
And this case also gives us a glimpse to just how ugly the results can be. The perpetrator was from the minority Hindu community, hardly the privileged one in Bangladesh. Given the travails of the Hindus in Bangladesh, the perpetrator’s sense of power must have emanated from his connection to Tungipara.
One shudders to imagine what his sense of entitlement would have been had he been Muslim.
And if you find that thought scary, consider the fact that like everywhere else in Bangladesh, there are many more Muslims than Hindus among Awami League cadres and Tungipara Bangabandhu College alumni.
5. When the issue broke, a lot of people held back. Some didn’t want to be seen as communal. Others were genuinely concerned about a communal backlash. And yet, other than irresponsible comments in the blogosphere, there was little display of bigotry. Most importantly, the protests — see below — were entirely secular in nature.
6. Did I say there was little display of bigotry? I lie. There was bigotry a-plenty. When Hosne Ara was removed after the student-led uprising, the newly appointed Acting Principal came under fire from the education minister Nurul Islam Nahid himself. Her crime? She wears a hijab. She must be a Jamaati. Never mind that she was one of the first to sign a petition a few years ago to ban Jamaat. Never mind that the hijab was acquired late in her life, as happens with so many women of a certain age in our society. Never mind that she was the seniormost teacher. A hijabi replaced Hosne Ara — the government’s principal who hired the perpetrator and colleagues — it must have been a conspiracy by ‘evil quarters’ of Jamaatis.
It’s one thing when Sajeeb Wazed writes idiotic pieces. It’s something else when Nahid, and his comrades, peddle the nonsense equating hijab with Jamaat. Push that rubbish further, and you will risk a backlash that will not just bury Awami League, but everything secular-progressives hold dear.
7. And for all of the above, this story has an uplifting end (it seems). It seems that Parimal Jayadhar is going to be punished. Consider how that happened. Teen aged school girls, and their parents, without the shelter of any political party, or big name media house, or corporate backing, organised online and offline, forced the media to support their cause, until it was impossible for the government to protect Jayadhar and Hosne Ara.
If these girls don’t make you hopeful about Bangladesh, then nothing will.