What can a woman call her own, really?

Written by Qazi Mustabeen Noor | Published on: February 19, 2019

Our society continues to fail its women

A life destroyed BIGSTOCK

Can a woman call anyone or anything her own? And who is a woman supposed to trust? 

Recently, a video has been making the rounds of social media, yet there was hardly any mention of the “incident” in popular news outlets. In the video, an accomplished architect was looking the other way, facing some people who looked like news reporters and people pretending to care. Her “accusation” was deadly -- her daughter, a mere child, had been raped by her own father -- an ex-army officer. 

The irony lies in the last two words of the previous paragraph.

When a woman faces harassment on the streets, at the workplace, or at a social setting, we teach her to ignore it, or worse, to get used to it. As a woman living in Dhaka, I can say so from first-hand experience. Once, inside a lift, a social nuisance had passed a comment on me. I, of course, had gotten out of the lift immediately, and shouted back at the man when the lift had opened at another floor.

When I went home and decided to give the matter some thought, I realized that I had completely missed what the comment was. Luckily, two of my colleagues were with me in that situation, and they had confirmed that it was indeed an instance of catcalling. However, I had completely drowned it out, and had erased it from memory. This is the result of conditioning, of people telling women like me to forget, move on, and drown all kinds of “noise” out.

After all, I had been told, these are “random men on the streets that you’ll never see again,” so their actions shouldn’t count. Why waste our energy getting into feuds on the street, why bother teaching them a lesson? 

What if they are not strangers? What if you are supposed to call them your “own”? 

The architect and the ex-army officer had had a turbulent marriage anyway. Even after their divorce, the man would pay a visit and hit her, knock down doors, terrorize her. Even so, society believes in fathers, so does the court of law. The man received legal custody of the unfortunate little girl after his divorce.

When the one you are supposed to think of as your own takes advantage of you, when your custodian becomes your rapist, you, as a woman, cannot simply drown it out or move on with life. You see his face every day, he makes a great show of preparing your breakfast cereal, tying your hair, packing your school bag. He even “lets” you call mom. He even “lets” you visit friends.  But don’t tell anyone, okay? Papa will be hurt if you do. Here, have some chocolate. Papa loves you, you know. 

Many married women I know have a new concern after this incident had made the rounds of the internet. Every time such a father or brother turns rapist, the urban mother is scared for her little girl. In a household I frequent, the mother and the father have a rather egalitarian relationship. Both of them take part in child care, the husband changes the toddler’s diapers, powders her private parts, and basically does what a responsible father should do.

Many of the younger members of my family, both boys and girls, have been potty trained by their fathers. Now, when such incidents suddenly surface, mothers wonder whether they should let their husbands perform those responsibilities.

Should he be changing her diapers, should he be bathing her anymore? However, if you, as a mother, are scared that your husband might take advantage of your children, why are you still with such a man? 

Before we stop fathers from helping out with our female children’s personal hygiene, we must also remember that little boys are just as vulnerable. 

The architect broke down into tears multiple times during her statement, yet she was resilient and unforgiving throughout. When a reporter had said something along the lines of: “So you’re saying that your husband …” she cut him off immediately. “Excuse me, he is not my husband. He is the father of my child. He doesn’t deserve to be called that either.”

A breach of trust is the end of a relationship, no matter how close the ties used to be. Such a sickening case of pedophilia by one’s biological father defies all logic, we are completely at a loss, there is no prevention, no cure. Our fathers have shaped who we are, have loved us unconditionally, have helped us get dressed as children, have been our safe spaces. Yet, there are fathers like that ex-army man as well. 

The law does not side with the unfortunate, at least, not in this country. Families of perpetrators are perfectly fine with their golden sons doing whatever they wish.

The architect’s pleas for help, her calls to the national hotline, her countless GDs had gone unheard.

She had remained strong in the face of his constant taunts, his frequent visits to her house, and the bruises he left behind every time.
She had kept her mouth shut, because it was only she who was getting hurt. “But what about my daughter?” she asked. Indeed, what about her?

What about the newborns and the toddlers who get raped, even before they have been brought home from the hospital? 
“What were they wearing?” “Orna koi?”

Somewhere across the Atlantic, some champions of humanity want to decriminalize pedophilia.

The architect’s daughter, and many others like her, are watching. 

Qazi Mustabeen Noor works at Arts & Letters, Dhaka Tribune.

Courtesy: Dhaka Tribune.com