32 days of Night: When Noakhali’s Begumganj Became the Shame of Bangladesh

As per the latest reports by Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), a legal aid and human rights organization, in the last nine months, every day on an average more than three rape incidents took place in Bangladesh. Most of us, I am sure, are completely unaware of most of these rapes. We only know about the ones that make it to the headline. We read, we sulk, and we move on like it was a fleeting scene from the everyday traffic, where probably a bus ran a signal, or someone spits from a bus window nonchalantly.

Some of us would write on Facebook, rant on blogs; those of us who are more enraged would probably brew a discussion over tea or coffee. Some would even try to justify how being dressed appropriately or not being at the place of the crime would have saved the girl. Then bags of dust settle around the event; the next day, we try to see and update on if one or two miscreants are arrested. The cycle repeats. Everyday. Every month. Every year. When was the last time you heard about someone getting punished by the court of law? I cannot recall.

Well, I wasn’t pointing at the crossfire, our trigger-happy approach to exacting justice – which happens too often. Truth be told, many of us would rejoice at the news of such executions; forgetting how poorly that reflects on the law and order situation of the country.

For most of us, rape is physical torture; at the end of which the victim may bleed profusely; in worst cases, can succumb to death. We know it all, but it’s impossible for us to feel bodily trauma. How many of us actually think about the mental agony the victim endures? Living with that, for the rest of your life can prove lethal, paralyzing your self-esteem and confidence. Many victims commit suicide, because of the heavy burden of stigma and shame inflicted by neighbors and society.

What happened in Begumganj is probably just another number in the long list of rape incidents in Bangladesh. But what makes it unique is that the horrific incident took place 32 days ago, and the criminals threatened the victim, a mother not to go to the police or her video would be released on Facebook. A little more than a month, the video was released and thanks to our TikTok loving, Likey worshipping netizens who made it viral.

Yes, criminals associated with the incident are being arrested, but what’s next? Another long session of a court case? Another crossfire? Who knows? Because as much we love to lament over the actual event, we barely try to find answers to the question: what instigates a man to become a rapist? Is it simply moral degradation? Deprivation of physical need or simply put, expression of deep-rooted hatred against women?

My request would be to close your eyes and try to feel the agony of that mother, who probably died once every day reliving the memories of the inhumane torture inflicted upon her, and the trauma of her utter helplessness at the prospect of the video being released. If the shocking news alone is causing us to crumble into pieces, what could have that woman been enduring for the last 32 days? The story won’t end here and along with that her agony and her grievances will be magnified in the coming days too

Around the city, sporadic protests are being staged demanding exemplary punishment of the criminals. Those of you who are stuck in traffic are probably slightly inconvenienced with that. Like all other news, this one too runs the risk of fading away from our collective memory. But it should not. Thirty-two days ago, Bangladesh was raped, and only yesterday we came to see the news. My motherland is hiding its face in utter disgust and in abysmal shame. The shame of failing to protect a mother. The shame of nurturing thugs and goons, many of whom can successfully avert their due verdict. If this doesn’t awaken our collective conscience, then we are more than likely to get buried in our avalanche of shame and silence.