An Already Exploited System?
Almost every woman has had
to suffer harassment at some point in their lives -- be
it an overtly offensive look or an insignificant comment.
Working women have to deal with hostility for “trespassing
in a man's domain,” schoolgirls can hardly ever walk home
without someone on the street passing an offensive comment
or making lewd gestures, using public transportation usually
equals being “accidentally” touched by a pervert and these
days even sitting at home will not save you from being
As African American abolitionist and writer Frederick
Douglass once said, “Without struggle, there can be no
progress.” Dhaka is definitely progressing, and the women
responsible for these changes have their fair share of
struggling. The problem is, where can women draw the line?
Do we fight every comment and every look, screaming “injustice”?
Do we opt to ignore everything and go about our business?
Or do we learn to choose our battles?
We now live in a country where the abuse
of women has received serious attention, and many steps
have been made by the government and NGOs to protect them.
There is, however, the other side of it. What happens
when a woman uses the politically and socially loaded
catchphrase of “harassment” to pursue a personal vendetta?
Aliya Alam got a call on July 10 from her friend, Sumon
Mallik in the middle of the night. The two of them had
been friends for a long time. At one point in their conversation
they began a heated argument and the conversation ended
on bad terms. The next morning, Aliya went to the Gulshan
thana and filed a General Diary against Sumon claiming
that he had been harassing her for three years, using
obscene language, or gala gali. She stated that because
of her closeness to his mother she sympathized with the
family and had kept quiet. Three days after she filed
the GD, she talked it over with some of Sumon's friends
and then went back to the thana with Sumon and retracted
her statement saying that she did not “mean it” and did
not want to press charges.
Unfortunately Sumon and his parents did not care if Aliya
“meant it” or not. It did not stop people from talking.
Within a few days most of Sumon's parents' friends had
come to know bits and pieces of the story. The damage
“I was so shocked when I heard about the GD” says Sumon.
“We were friends and she used to call me all the time.
I even showed the thana my cell phone records. If you
are getting harassed by someone why would you continue
to call the harasser all the time? I don't think she realised
how serious a GD is. It is way beyond a 'lesson-teaching'
as she explained to me later on.”
Aliya was unavailable for comment.
“We get these situations a lot,” says an official at the
Gulshan Thana. “More than half our GD's are personal vendetta
issues. Women get mad at their husbands and boyfriends
and in the heat of the moment come to the thana and file
a charge against them. Then they go back and patch up
with them and retract the statements. It is hard to determine
whether these women are really scared and retract them
out of fear, or whether they actually make amends with
the person and decide to take back their statements. What
they don't understand is that although it is our duty
to file these cases and look into them, we get these false
charge cases so often that it gets hard for us to be able
to distinguish what is exaggeration and what is fact.”
“Most of our cases involve domestic arguments -- women
fighting with their husbands, and then being threatened
by them, or something along those lines. Sometimes a woman
doesn't like the way her husband speaks to her and files
a case against him saying that he threatened her life.
But almost always, it ends up in the same way. The woman
comes back and says she heard wrong, or they talked it
over, and he didn't mean it.”
But does it make them hesitate when yet another harassment
charge comes in?
“It is our job to protect women and do whatever is in
our power to assure their safety,” he says, smiling a
little. “We file the case and do as they ask, but it does
make us slightly cynical, because more often than not,
it is a personal fight or a domestic argument and women
are using the GD to basically blackmail the accused.”
So do false cases and charges ruin the chances of justice
being upheld for women who are really being harassed?
“Not in the way you think,” he says, shaking his head.
“We will do what we are asked to do, because it is the
law, but at the same time, you have to understand that
these things happen so often, that it is difficult to
not be a little doubtful. Otherwise we might be charging
someone who is completely innocent, and where would the
justice be in that?”
It is true that sometimes, even friends go too far. People
lose sight of where their boundaries lie. Reading the
newspapers can make any woman fear walking out on the
streets by herself. If someone says something or does
something that makes you feel even the slightest bit threatened,
it is true that most of us will react.
At the same time, it is human nature to be skeptical when
so many false charges are made and then retracted. What
is a source of worry for all of us is that we cannot afford
to have our women not taken seriously. In a country were
acid throwing, rape and violence against women has reached
appalling heights, should we not be extra alert and extra
careful? It is important to make sure that a serious crime
being committed -- one worthy of filing a case against
a particular person -- instead of just an angry need to
teach someone a lesson, or scare a person into behaving
themselves. After all, it is not the police's job to play
personal vendetta games, but their duty to uphold the
It is a shame that while girls like Rumi are being murdered,
or pushed into suicide because of harassment, other women
are inadvertently and perhaps unknowingly exploiting the
already exploited system and impairing the process of
justice for people who really need it.