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     Volume 9 Issue 15| April 9, 2010|

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Cover Story

At the Mercy of Young Criminals

On March 24, 2010, news of the double murders created a shock wave in the country when Rubel gunned down 54-year-old Sadequr Rahman and his wife 45-year-old Romana Nargis in Kalachandpur, in the capital's Gulshan area. Apparently, Iti, Rahman's teenaged daughter was the main reason behind the murders; Rubel, who is still absconding, shot dead the parents as they refused to give their school-going daughter Iti's hand in marriage. “I don't know what to do now,” says Shihab Rahman, Iti's older brother, who returned from Malaysia immediately after the murders. “I can't believe my parents had to go through this. How am I going to take care of my sisters?” a dazed Shihab cannot stop agonising over why such a cruel fate was meted out to his family.

Elita Karim
Photos: Zahedul IKhan

This story is an old one, repeating itself now and then, with new characters replacing the older ones. In a culture where emotions take over common sense and reality, for generations now, young girls are being harassed in the streets by local goons, college dropouts or the mohollar mastan, has been part and parcel of living in a neighbourhood. Earlier, it would probably be not more than a whistle or a song sung to attract the girl's attention, hence termed as teasing. The only way to solve this problem was to make the girls behave all the more modestly in terms of their body language when walking home from school and making them stay at home inside the four walls the rest of the day. This was done, of course, to protect them, while the young goons would be free scrounging the streets that they apparently owned.

These days, the strange term 'eve teasing' actually amounts to sexual harassment i.e. when a person is harassed because of his/her sex. According to a study by the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association one of the major reasons contributing to a dozen suicides between January 2006 and January 2008 was 'teasing' or harassment. The numbers seems to be increasing every day. This year, several young girls committed suicides, which have been reported in the newspapers, caused due to harassment by young men on the streets.

In early January this year, police found 13-year-old Nashfia Akand Pinky, a class nine student, hanging from a ceiling fan in the city's West Agargaon area. According to her parents, 35-year-old Murad, a driver by profession, would harass Pinky on a regular basis in the streets. Fifteen days before Pinky killed herself, Murad's mother along with his grandmother had gone to Pinky's house with a marriage proposal on Murad's behalf. Pinky's parents had, obviously, declined the proposal. Murad and his family are currently absconding.

Eighteen-year-old Reshma Khatun, a class 12 student of Salpa Technical School, took pesticides and killed herself on March 7, 2010 in Shanti Nagar village at the Sherpur upazila. She would be harassed on her way to school by her neighbour 24-year-old Munaf and his friend Robin. For a long time, Reshma had to stay silent while enduring the mental torture every day before she decided to end her life. The perpetrator in this case is also absconding.

On March 20, 2010, 15-year-old Chand Moni committed suicide by hanging herself from a ceiling fan at her house in Kishoreganj. A student of class 9 at the Azimuddin High School, Chand Moni used to be harassed on her way to school by 20-year-old Alam and his friends 21-year-old Abdur Rahman, 20-year-old Saddam Hossain and 23-year-old Russel Mia. Alam's mother and aunts would also pressurise Moni's parents to marry their underage daughter off to Alam, to which the parents would always decline. A few days before killing herself, Alam and his accomplices had barged into Moni's house and threatened to kidnap Moni if the parents had rejected his proposal. Alam and his family are absconding.

Fourteen-year-old Umme Kulsum Elora ended her life on April 3, 2010, by taking pesticides in her house in Madhya Nandipara. A class eight student of Dakkhin Banasri Model High School in the capital, Elora had been harassed by 19-year-old Rezaul Karim and his friends for over a year. Elora ended her life by swallowing pesticides in their house at around 3:00pm. In the primary interrogation, Rezaul claimed that he had a relationship with Elora. However, when Elora was alive, Rezaul and his friends would often disturb her over the phone. Elora would go to school in a van with other children. But as the harassment got intolerable, Elora's mother Halima would take her daughter to school herself for over a month and a half. Her mother says that her husband Amin Mollah and herself had even taken the issue up with Rezaul's parents, but in vain.

In this day and age, where women, compared to decades ago, are given equal opportunities in the fields of education, employment and are encouraged to make their own choices, why would these young girls resort to killing themselves as a way to solve the problem? In the cases mentioned above, most girls were harassed by a group of local goons while on their way to school or while returning home. Many people in the community were witnesses to these incidents but nobody ever came to their defence. The parents or elders of these young men who kept up their sadistic, psychological torture of these girls, instead of reprimanding them, actually supported them, either keeping silent or even taking marriage proposals to the victims' parents. Thus there was no sense either from the family or community in general that what these young men were doing was wrong and reprehensible.

In this day and age, where women are given equal opportunities and encouraged to make their own choices, why would young women resort to killing themselves?

With growing consumerism seeping into all levels of society young people are often in a hurry to achieve their goals overnight and sometimes resort to illegal activities. On March 26, 2010, in Kalabagan, 20-year-old Ashraful Islam tried to kill his friend Barsha and her parents with a chapati (chopper), when Barsha's father could not give him 20 lakh takas. Assistant Police Commissioner from the Detective Branch, SM Rafiqul Islam who is in charge of the case says that there are many peculiar twists in the macabre incident. “Ashraf, belonging to a middle-class family had a relationship with a girl called Ishika, whose father is well known and quite powerful,” reads Islam's statement. “Ashraf wanted to be established and prove himself to Ishika, which is why he somehow managed to get admitted to a college in London. This was obviously, not enough for himself or Ishika, which is why he tried to threaten his friend Barsha and his parents into giving him money.” Yet another strange fact in the case which still manages to boggle the mind, is that Barsha who is a girl, was always known to friends to be a boy (calling herself Barshan) and acted that way. It was only after the incident that Barsha was discovered to be a girl after she was hospitalised. In fact the domestic worker who worked at her place told the Detective Branch that she knew Barsha to be male, and her parents would always introduce her as a boy as well. “Naturally Ashraf believed Barsha to be a boy, and suspected Ishika of having an affair with Barsha,” says Islam's statement report. “This is also one of the reasons behind this sudden eruption on Ashraf's part.”

Teenagers and young adults, unfortunately, do not have proper outlets in our society, and experts believe this to be one of the reasons behind aggression and delinquent or criminal behaviour. While boys or young men have the liberty to step outside to hang out with his friends or play football (if they are lucky to have a playground nearby), a girl is expected to stay indoors and concentrate on her books and housework. It goes without saying that young people need healthy outlets and wholesome recreational activities. It is not just the responsibility of the family to provide this but the community as a whole. We must ensure that young people grow up with the right kind of values, that boys and girls interact in a healthy way and learn to respect each other, that young girls have enough confidence, self-worth and support so that they realise that they do not have to endure harassment in silence or resort to taking their lives to escape it.

Violence Begins at Home

April 3, 14-year-old Elora committed suicide by swallowing pesticides as a result of relentless harassment. On March 27, Ashraf Ali held hostage and brutally stabbed his classmate and her parents in their own home in Kalabagan. And On March 24, 25-year-old Rubel shot two people in cold blood in Kalachandpur. On the surface, these look like unrelated incidents, but the root causes of the violence involved in all three incidents may have been the same.

Anika Hossain

According to psychologist Dr Mehtab Khanam, there are several factors, which contribute to the behaviour displayed by youth today. These are family relationships and home environments, schooling, and the society one is raised in. Dr Mehtab, from her experience as a psychologist says that family dynamics are instrumental in the development of one's personality. Our personalities start developing at a very early age and children learn the most when they are young and impressionable. "In Bangladesh, the parenting styles are mostly negative and punishment is often used as a method of discipline," says Dr Mehtab. In her practice, she has dealt with clients ranging from the educated and affluent to the underprivileged living in slums; however, she has discovered that the emotional, verbal and physical violence present in these families are very much the same.

"The language may be different, but the content of what they say to each other is the same," says Dr Mehtab. According to the psychologist, the younger generation of this country receive little or no respect from the adults in their lives. Parents often tell their children what to do without offering them an explanation as to why they are asking them to do so, often saying they should listen to their parents because they know what is best for them. This lack of communication can be extremely problematic and cause confusion and resentment. In our society, mothers do the majority of the parenting while the fathers believe that by earning for his family he has fulfilled his responsibility as a parent. "There are too many challenges for the mother when it comes to raising a child alone, especially if the child is a boy. It is important for both parents to be attentive, mindful and interactive not only with their children but each other as well," says Dr Mehtab "respect is very important, when the children ask questions, parents should be willing to answer them and when parents do not respect each other children tend to model that behaviour." It is very important for children to learn patience as well as share mutual trust with their parents.

In Bangladesh, some parents (especially mothers) work and are barely involved in their children's lives while others are over-involved and extremely controlling and interfering. These are two different extremes and there should be a balance between the two. "Parenting is something which should be learned in an institution," says Dr Mehtab.

As a child grows into an adolescent they need more personal space and privacy but some parents tend to be extremely interfering. "The mothers of some clients of mine have brought me photocopies of their children's' diaries and this invasion of privacy in my opinion is a crime," says Dr Mehtab. She notes that lack of trust in an adolescent and an unhealthy home environment can cause them to become distant and lead to problems such as drug addiction, over-dependence on friends, anxiety from loneliness and these can develop into more serious pathologies as one grows older. The violence depicted in movies, cartoons and advertisements, which are televised these days, the Internet, cell phones, video games and technology in general are all contributing elements to violence in the younger generation. Children are straying away from literature, they have nowhere to go and nothing to do for entertainment and resort to depending on technology to keep them occupied. This is why careful parenting and supervision in a positive way is needed to raise children of today, says the psychologist.

According to Dr Mehtab, schools have become extremely competitive and it is difficult to be enrolled in a good school. Parents put pressure on their children to work harder and improve their performance and by doing so they transfer their own anxiety to their children. "Once enrolled in school, the parents are only concerned about grades. They forget other aspects of education such as sports, social development of the child and extra curriculars which are extremely important for a well-rounded education" says Dr Mehtab. If children do not have enough outlets, frustration will build and eventually turn into anger. "Schools have become businesses these days and teachers are not how they used to be. In the past, teachers would not only teach their subject, they would also try to instil societal values in their pupils, introduce different role models to them and try to relate to them. Nowadays teachers operate like machines and teach only for money. There is very little respect for students in schools today and teachers often resort to severe and humiliating punishments, both physical and emotional, to control their pupils. In some cases there is sexual abuse as well."

Young people need healthy outlets and wholesome recreational activities.

As for these cases specifically, Dr Mehtab says the society has contributed to the way these victims and perpetrators have reacted to their different situations. Men and women are taught to react differently to difficult situations. Women are considered the weaker sex and this knowledge is ingrained in them from a very young age. Women are taught to be passive and suppress their anger and signs of weakness such as sadness, shame, guilt and tears are encouraged. "This is a faulty system and forces women to become dependent. Therefore when girls like Elora are harassed, instead of righteous anger, they feel guilty, ashamed and afraid and eventually may take their own lives. The lack of societal and psychological support was a major cause of this."

In Rubel's case, he may have had a difficult childhood and financial problems added to his stress. "He basically has a psychopathic personality. He showed no remorse when he confessed to the murders. I do not think the murders happened on the spur of the moment," says Dr Mehtab. "However, it is not acceptable (in society) for men to show their emotions openly and any form of weakness is discouraged. For this reason, men tend to resort to violence.

According to Dr Mehtab, people should be made aware of proper parenting and schooling techniques and be made aware of different types of mental illnesses and what causes them, especially in children and seek help from them. She believes the government should make more of an effort to create awareness and have counselling available in all educational and work establishments.

Dr Nehal Karim, criminology/sociology professor at Dhaka University agrees with Dr Mehtab that family, society and the education system are what build a person's character and shape their personality. "The younger generation is not socialised properly because there are many flaws in the parenting techniques they have been subjected to," says Dr Karim. "Our parents have learned their parenting methods from the generations before them and that is how they have dealt with us." However, times have changed and parents must make sure their children are receiving knowledge about social etiquette, values and morals along with their formal education. Furthermore, socialisation must be taught within the schooling system as well, for a person to develop traits such as sympathy, compassion, kindness, generosity and patience.

According to Dr Karim, there are many contributors to the development of one's behaviour. "One of these is the gender discrimination present blatantly in our society," says Dr Karim. "Men are taught they are stronger than women and that displaying weakness is shameful. On the other hand, the society takes great measures to make women dependent and helpless."

"Of course the most important reason such incidents are occurring all over the country is because no one has faith in the legal system of Bangladesh. There is widespread corruption in the system and law enforcers turn a blind eye while people break the law. This attitude encourages the younger generation to commit crimes, simply because they know they can get away with it. The system needs to change before the situation can improve," says Dr Karim.

The solutions to such deep-rooted problems may require the government as well as the people in society to break free from the norms they have become accustomed to over many years. Parents must practise positive disciplining and work on relationships between each other and their children. Parents must also encourage their children to take part in activities outside of their schoolwork, such as playing outdoors, reading, watching appropriate television programmes and developing healthy relationships with their peers. Along with academics, teachers must impart life lessons to their students. The government must ensure that there is psychological counselling along with primary health care available in all educational institutions and workplaces. The government must also improve their law enforcement systems and ensure justice for all crimes committed. The society must change its mindset about the roles of men and women and promote gender equality. Societal and psychological support is necessary for both men and women to lead a healthy life and to prevent violence. These are major changes and will not happen overnight, but we have to start somewhere and now is the right time to start taking steps toward necessary change.


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