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Honor, disgrace and the call of duty

Rape victims deserve sympathy, not stigma

  • The Third Eye, Dhaka
  • Bangladesh
  • January 3, 2013
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The world was struck by shock and grief over last month’s brutal gang-rape and tragic death of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi.

This inhuman crime drew immense media coverage and provoked an unprecedented outpouring of public anger in India.

The victim is dead and buried and her molesters are facing murder charges. Yet the name of the girl is unknown. The authorities have remained tight-lipped on revealing her name in order to save her honor from possible social disgrace.

Before the Delhi crime, a 14-year-old Bangladeshi schoolgirl was gang-raped for several days. The vicious crime went unreported for weeks because the family tried to keep the girl in hiding, to prevent it being widely known that she had lost her "topmost honor" -- her virginity.

The girl’s mother was worried for the health of her daughter, but even more anxious about her future. A typical Bangladeshi parent, she believes that no one will marry a girl once she has been defiled in this way.

The girl is now out of danger physically, but no one knows what is going to happen to her. It seems all but inevitable that she will have to bear a social stigma for as long as she lives.

This may sound astonishing to Western ears, but in countries such as India or Bangladesh, where the social system is still medieval and male-dominated, rape cases meet mostly with apathy, both from the authorities and society at large.

If a woman falls victim to rape, even more than the pain and humiliation she will surely feel, she and her family mostly feel ashamed about what happened. Society indirectly blames the victim for inviting disaster.  

So, the victim’s family show reluctance to file a complaint; the law enforcers and judiciary tend to treat such incidents lightly; cases are poorly investigated and sentences are often all too short. Rapists can get out of jail quickly and many soon start raping again.     

The government records a total 174,691 cases of violence against women including torture, killing, rape and sexual harassment between 2001 and last year. No exact figures on rape cases are available, largely because of the social disgrace factor.

Rape is not simply a crime, it is a serious inhuman act, like all other forms of violence against women.  A better and more human world is possible only if men learn to respect women, and help create an environment where women can feel proud of who they are.

The Third Eye is a pseudonym for a Dhaka-based journalist and analyst      

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