Women in Bangladesh Take Stand Against ‘Eve Teasers’

By Jesmin Papri

2015-05-19
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150519-BD-protestors-620 Bangladeshi women stage a protest in Dhaka against sexual harassment, April 20, 2015.
AFP

Bangladeshi women are banding together to give their peers a voice in speaking out and defending themselves against sexual harassment.

Fed up with a slow police response to reported cases of sexual harassment and assault – and the failure of authorities to stop such acts from happening – the group of activists calls itself the Pritilata Brigade, a name inspired by a real-life Bangladeshi heroine.

Pritilata Waddedar fought against British colonial rule in the1930s, but she committed suicide at the age of 21 by swallowing cyanide upon her capture in Chittagong.

The brigade was born on May 16 in response to women’s dissatisfaction with how police have handled harassment that took place on Bengali New Year’s Day festivities at Dhaka University on April 14. Some women attending the event were groped and, in at least one case, assailants in the crowd disrobed a woman.

In much of South Asia, sexual harassment is known as “Eve teasing,” but the women behind the Pritilata Brigade say they won’t put up with it anymore.

“Our first job is to launch a social-awareness movement against sexual harassment across Bangladesh, where we’ll focus on how women should raise their voice against the harassers and about self-defense against attackers,” Lucky Akhter, the brigade’s leader who also heads the Chhatra (Student) Union, told BenarNews.

Young Bangladeshi women are hailing the new group.

“Sexual harassment has become a sort of routine and we face it on a regular basis. But in order to make it a successful movement, everyone should come forward and it should not be the responsibility of a single student group, like the Chhatra Union,” Dhaka University student Sara Hossain told BenarNews.

Membership in the brigade is not exclusive to women. Men who support women’s rights are eligible to join.

“We’ve seen women keeping silent after being sexually harassed because they think it’s a matter of shame for them to come forward. I hope the Pritilata Brigade will teach them about how to protest without the fear of shame,” said Najmul Haq, another student at the campus.

Petitioning the government

Two days after it was born, the group kicked off a two-week campaign aiming to canvas schools and campuses nationwide. The goal is to collect one million signatures on a petition that the Pritilata Brigade plans to present to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, along with its recommendations for how to deal with sexual harassment effectively.

“We’re very encouraged by the huge response to our campaign on the first day,” Akhter said on Monday.

That very day Police Inspector-General A.K.M. Shahidul Haque told a news conference that his department had identified eight men suspected of being involved in the harassment cases reported on New Year’s Day last month.

Haque released images of the eight suspects, which had been captured by closed-circuit television footage, and he announced a100,000 taka- (U.S. $1,286-) reward for information leading to their arrests.

Haque had been criticized for initially dismissing the incidents at the university as pranks.

He had also gone on record saying that none of the alleged victims had reported the acts to police on duty at the campus. But television footage showed that the incidents occurred while cops stood nearby.

A preliminary investigation into the case found that three on-duty policemen had neglected their duties, but none of them were seriously disciplined, except for one officer who was assigned to a different duty station.

Ayesha Khanam, chairwoman of the Bangladesh Mahila Parishad (the Women’s Council of Bangladesh), an NGO fighting since 1970 for women’s empowerment and against gender-based discrimination, said the inspector-general should not have not have made such a statement.

“In addition to arresting and punishing those culprits, I hope the police will be more responsible in the future,” she told BenarNews.

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