The opening of any newspaper reminds us of the increasing trend of rape across Bangladesh. Doubtlessly, the entire nation is witnessing an indomitable pace of economic development of the country but upward incidents of violence against women especially the occurrences of rape as social menace have shattered the nation’s conscience.
In most cases, the socio-legal agonies of the rape victims remain unaddressed questioning the role of the state-sponsored deterrent and preventing institutional mechanisms paving the way for sheer injustice to the sufferers while the perpetrators face little hindrance to move freely and evade the judicial clutch unjustifiably. The punishment of rapists has turned into a far cry nowadays in our patriarchal society underscoring the needs for revamp of the existing legal and institutional apparatuses dealing with such issues.
With the pace of digitalization in Bangladesh, gender-based violence against women, especially the incidents of rape are increasing at a frightening rate. According to a report, more than 13 rape incidents are being perpetrated across the country every day. Due to fearing of social stigmatization, a staggering number of rape incidents and sexual violence episodes remain unreported. The real truth is the more the influential strata of peoples are, the less the reported incidents are.
According to a report, around 1,250 females including minors are getting victimized of rape in a year. In the first three months of 2022, 238 women were raped. A total of 1,321 women were raped in 2021, while the number was 1,538 in 2020. The number was reported 1,413 in 2019, 732 in 2018 and 818 in 2017. Based on these statistics, it may be said that the number of rapes has increased in the last few years. A number of rape victims are also heinously killed by the rapists and their cohorts every year. Moreover, being rape victims, a large number of women also commit suicide to avoid social humiliation and taboo.
A United Nations study, surveying rapists, found that in Bangladesh 95% of urban respondents and 88% of rural respondents reported facing no legal consequences for raping a woman or girl revealing the real vulnerability of rape victims.
Another report found that only 3 percent rapists are convicted in Bangladesh whereas the conviction rate of rape is 32 percent in India. The situation of Pakistan is even more ferocious as hardly 2 percent of domestic violence and rape cases are ended up in conviction. The poor conviction rate encourages future rapists and their followers.
A number of reasons including shrinkage of moral education ranging from school to university level, degradation of social norms and values, lack of social resistance, influence of peer groups, and poor law enforcement are instigating the incidents of rape.
Apart from these, social scientists, lawyers, doctors, engineers and NGO professionals blame drug addiction, inadequate sporting facilities, massive unemployment, misogynistic mindset, negative impact of easily accessible porn videos in the web, inadequacy of ethical entertainment industry, vulgarities in the satellite televisions, non-performance of religious rituals, and ineffective criminal justice system for the wretched crime. Moreover, the culture of impunity is another reason for increase of rape or gang rape victims.
A new development of marrying a rape victim by the concerned rapist on condition of bail by the court in the presence of family members, local government representatives, and influential individuals has taken place recently. It is unusual in the eye of jurisprudence.
There are laws for defining and punishing the wrongdoer rapists. But in reality, the conviction of rapists beyond any reasonable doubt as strictly desired in the law is close to impossibility in most cases. Influence of money and power draws attraction of bigshot lawyers and some corrupt judicial officers as well as law enforcing personnel to take the sides of rapists while the marginally poor victims often cry in isolation praying for justice to God as a last straw of divine justice.
Even the dignity of rape victims diminishes at every step of investigation and prosecution of a trial perpetrating the stagnated culture of injustice. Fortunately, the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh has declared the inhuman two finger test of the rape victims as illegal in 2018.
The government has also taken initiatives to amend the relevant two sections of the Evidence Act of 1872 to restrict the ways of questioning the character of rape victims in court but it is yet to be done. Character assassination of the rape victims by the lawyers representing the rapist is a common phenomenon in the courts and tribunals.
The conviction rate of our criminal justice system is very low like other South Asian countries with few exceptions. The Prime Minister and other powerful government high ups are ladies in the country for a long time but the situation of rape victims is worsening gradually. Even political discourse is often misguided to systematic victim-blaming.
In fact, rape is one of the most dehumanising problems and harshest weapons of oppression against women in our country. The beastly aptitude towards rape is on escalation. Over the years, rape and injustice are prevailing as if two parts of a coin.
Lengthy trial also hinders justice for the rape victims. The apex court instructed the subordinate courts and tribunals for quick disposal of rape cases preferably within 180 days but there is no headway in practice. The country introduced capital punishment in the place of life long imprisonment on 13 October 2020 with a view to ameliorating of the existing scenario.
According to conscious section of people, government should take much more stringent measures in streamlining the overall criminal justice system to reduce the incidents of rape and other forms of violence against women keeping in mind that one crime provokes another form of crime easily. At the same time moral and human rights education should be upgraded apart from creating social awareness to lessen the culture of rape.
Concurrently, the laws concerning rape, sexual harassment, and other forms of violence against women along with legal system are in need of major overhaul. The society should be more conscious and united in upholding women rights and rule of law clearing the way for ultimate justice of rape victims and their families.
The noticeable socio-economic growth of Bangladesh and the stupendous success of family planning and gender equity will be in vain if we cannot exterminate the intensifying manifestations relating to sexual violence including rape. The dignity of the government, the state, and its institutions is now at question owing to the predominating culture of impunity and injustice for recurring rapes. To establish the rule of law, it is imperative to bring rapists to justice with the due process of law sanctioning prompt and exemplary punishment.
About Author: Emdadul Haque is an Independent Human Rights Researcher and Freelance Contributor based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Previously, he served academia for more than a decade and lastly as an Assistant Professor of Law at Southeast University. He holds Bachelor of Laws and Master of Laws from Rajshahi University. He can be reached via email: [email protected] and on Twitter: @emdadlaw