Bangladeshi MP Rezaul Karim Bablu has come under fire for his controversial speech that blamed feminists for the increase in rape cases in the country. (Photo: Facebook)
A Bangladeshi parliamentarian has triggered a public backlash after blaming feminists for a surge in rape cases in the country and for supporting the controversial remarks of a late radical Islamist who compared women to “mouth-watering tamarind.”
Rezaul Karim Bablu, an independent MP from Bogura-7 constituency in northern Bangladesh, made the controversial remarks in the Jaitya Sangsad (National Assembly) on Nov. 17.
"In the name of women's liberation, feminists are encouraging women to become freer. This has increased the acceptability of rape so much among rapists that they are encouraged to commit the act," the MP was quoted as saying by the Daily Star.
The parliamentarian also suggested that a controversial theory spelled out by a late radical Islamist leader should have been applied so that rape could be resisted.
In 2013, Shah Ahmad Shafi, then head of Hefajat-e-Islam, the country’s largest radical Islamic group, compared women to "mouth-watering fruit like tamarind" and said that women should stay at home and their primary duty is to take care of the family and children. In his view, women's exposure to the outside world for education and employment increased the risks of sinful and immoral acts.
Hefajat has strongly opposed women’s freedom and empowerment and the Women Development Policy 2010 that seeks to offer equal rights including inheritance to women in Muslim-majority Bangladesh.
Activists have heavily criticized him for derogatory remarks against feminists and supporting what they called the “medieval ideology” of religious radicals to confine women at home.
Angela Gomes, a prominent Catholic women's rights champion and founder and executive director of Banchte Shekha (Learning How to Survive), a women's empowerment NGO, slammed the MP.
“This is absurd, unappetizing and deplorable. How could a public representative make such irresponsible comments? Our prime minister and speaker are women, and under their watch he makes such derogatory remarks against women’s liberation and empowerment. People like him still dwell in the medieval age and want to see the talent and energy of women wasted at home,” said Gomes, 68, who won the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1999 for her outstanding contributions to community leadership.
Women’s groups have made the lives of women in Bangladesh better by championing their rights and eliminating violence against them in a patriarchal society, so it is nonsense when someone blames them for increasing rape, she added.
Khushi Kabir, another eminent women's rights advocate and coordinator of NGO Nijera Kori (We Do It Ourselves), also criticized the MP.
“Through policies and actions, the government has been encouraging women to be independent and attempting to ensure equality for them because women’s empowerment can ensure comprehensive development. However, some people like MP Bablu think backwards and makes irresponsible and baseless remarks,” she said.
“It is an ill mindset that triggers rape, not freedom or empowerment of women, and he must keep this in mind.”
Social media users also grilled the MP for his comments.
“Activists have given voice to oppressed women who now speak up when raped unlike before and the ruling class is uncomfortable with such unpleasant truths and pressure. They don’t like it and blame it on feminists,” wrote Hasan Habibur Rahman.
“Whenever women speak for rights, insecure and cowardly men attack them with brute force. Instead of blaming oppressors like rapists, people like him attack feminists. This is stupidity and misogyny,” said Sumaiya Azad.
Death penalty for rape
On the day MP Bablu made his controversial remarks, Bangladesh's parliament passed the Women and Child Repression Prevention (Amendment) Bill 2020 that provides the death penalty as the highest punishment for rape.
The bill was passed unanimously in a voice vote when moved in the house by Minister for Women’s and Children’s Affairs Fazilatunnesa Indira.
It comes against the backdrop of an alarming increase in rape and gang rapes in Bangladesh that triggered massive nationwide protests.
At least 975 women were raped in Bangladesh up to October this year, according to Dhaka-based rights group Ain-O-Salish Kendra (Law and Arbitration Center). The group documented 1,413 rape cases in 2019.
Rights activists argued that introducing the death penalty won’t suffice to stop the rape menace in the country.
In a statement, Naripokkho, a women’s group, said the change in the law cannot ensure the end of rape culture.
"How many people can be dealt with by the death penalty? The problem is all around us. Rapists don't come from another planet — they are our brothers, our relatives. Children must be taught to respect women from an early stage; this is the only solution," the group said.