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      Volume 12 |Issue 06| February 08, 2013 |


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Tamanna Khan

We haven't given any name to the girl who was raped in the bus in Manikganj, nor to the numerous others whose rapes are being reported everyday in the newspapers. We would have run out of names; any name we pick, someone by that name must have actually been raped. So our newspapers go 'nameless' for the rape victims and survivors but they do name the perpetrator/s. We all know them yet they run scot-free. They come out of jail and commit yet another more heinous crime, just as Rais Uddin Sheikh of Rajbari did.

He was accused of attempting to rape a school girl on June 15, while she was returning from school. After the girl's father filed a case with Rajbari Sadar Police Station, Rais was sent to jail. Coming out on bail on December 8, he looked for an opportunity to take revenge on the six-year-old girl, who probably did not even understand the meaning of rape. On January 13, on the same spot where he had tried to violate the girl initially, he raped and strangled her to death.

The attempt to rape case was filed under the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act 2000 (Amended 2003). Rabeya Taposi, coordinator, mediation, Bangladesh Leagul Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), brings to notice Section 19 of the Act. It says that all the offences that fall under the purview of this law are cognizable, meaning a police officer may arrest the accused without a warrant. Besides, bail cannot be granted to the main and directly involved accused person or persons unless at the judge's discretion the court decides to grant bail.

How did then Rais Uddin Sheikh receive bail? Sheikh Hafizur Rahman Karzon, Associate Professor, Law Department, University of Dhaka, says, “If it is stipulated in the law that bail will not be granted for a particular offence then the judge cannot grant bail. Otherwise, irrespective of the gravity of the crime, if the judicial officer has any confusion that there is no prima facie case rather the charge of rape or murder has been brought against the accused to harass him/her or the charge is not well-founded and well-grounded, in that case the judge can grant him/her bail. Sometimes when an application for bail comes a judicial officer has to apply his judicial mind about whether bail can be granted or not.”

Karzon says that in some cases concerned judicial officers fail to perceive the consequence of the bail, when it is granted to notorious criminals. He reasons that judicial officers often have to handle too many cases at a time and this may come in the way of thorough analysis of cases. “Whereas it is not easy to close 10 cases in a month, they have to close about 100 to 500 cases,” Karzon mentions. Regarding Rais Uddin Sheikh's case, Karzon demands, “Sufficient investigation should be done into the matter; who are the concerned judicial officers and police officers and whether there was any negligence on their part in granting bail to the person.” He opines that since the murder and rape of the minor girl took place because the accused was on bail, the judicial officer, public prosecutor and other state apparatus cannot avert their responsibility regarding this crime.

In our legal system, the bailsman too does not face any accountability, informs advocate Nina Goswami, Senior Deputy Director, Ain O Salish Kendra (Ask). Often the local bar councillor or secretary and sometimes the lawyer of the accused acts as bailsman but then when the accused forfeits bail, the bailsman does not become answerable to anyone. In fact, in a number of cases in our country, Goswami notes, the accused comes out on bail and then absconds and remains out of the reach of law. “In foreign countries, police usually have a list of criminals and their activities are strongly monitored,” she adds saying no such system is in place in our country.

Goswami also brings up the 'bail business' that is rampant in our High Court as well as in the district courts. She talks about anticipatory bail through which a person can seek bail in anticipation of an arrest on accusation on having committed a non-bailable offence. “Under such circumstances, often the gravity of the crime is not taken into consideration,” she says, “Granting bail to a person accused of murder or rape should be stricter.” Goswami opines that since getting bail in such cases has become so easy in our country the perpetrators consider themselves to be above the law while the victims suffer from insecurity.

“Often defence use the influence of powerful people to obtain bail from High Court as well as district courts,” says advocate Salma Ali, Executive Director of Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers' Association (BNWLA). “Bail is often granted when bar secretary or the president stands for the perpetrator or he has political backing.” As an example of political influence, she cites the Kapasia rape case, in which a domestic worker was raped by her employer and detained. “Initially the police would not even allow us to file a general dairy,” she says, adding how the former local parliamentary member had threatened BNWLA lawyers against taking any legal action.

“We get rape and sexual harassment cases in hundreds but only a few receive judgement,” she says, bringing in notice how cases are not settled within six months as stipulated in the Act. In fact, Ali has recently submitted a writ petition with the High Court questioning why a research report will not be produced highlighting the implementation of laws that currently prevail to protect women and children from rape, murder after rape, pornography, blackmailing and cyber crimes using mobile phones.

The petition also questions why Rules of the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act 2000 (Amended 2003) will not be enacted. She points out that Rules of Domestic Violence Prevention and Protection Act 2010, and Human Trafficking Prevention and Suppression Act , 2012 are already in place and waiting for approval. “But for this one (Women and Children Repression Prevention Act 2000) we still do not have rules.” She believes once this happens, accountability will increase.

Ali also emphasises on the need for Victim and Witness Protection Act. “Why should the victim stay in our jail?” she asks referring to the shelter homes. She opines that keeping rape survivors in safe custody and shelter homes is another violation of their rights. In the absence of such a law, Nina Goswami suggests that the number of bails granted for heinous crimes as rape and attempt to rape should be brought down. She also agrees with Ali about the need for quick settlement of rape cases. She says that delay in rape cases often pushes them into oblivion. “Since the government is the plaintiff in such cases why should they not bring the unsettled cases to light?” she asks.

Countless women and girls have been subjected to rapists' brutality almost everyday in the country. The Rajbari case would not make a difference if Rais Uddhin Sheikh had not been identified as a sex offender by our law enforcers, spent six months in jail for his crime and then was given the chance by our very legal system to go free on bail and commit a graver offence. “What is then the use of special laws for protecting the rights of Women and Children if these laws cannot save their life?” asks Ali.

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