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Failure of a ‘state’ or a state of failure?

Edit Date:7/24/2010 12:00:00 AM


Many girls have already committed suicide as the state failed to provide them with adequate protection while many others must be there who have not yet committed suicide but are living under constant fear of being harassed. A situation where a female citizen could be chased, tortured, raped, murdered or forced to commit suicide, no matter, if she is a ten-year schoolchild or a middle-aged housewife,
clearly points to the state’s failure,
writes Farjana Mahbuba

 

A COLLEAGUE of mine who is doing post-doc research on South Asian countries and the political stability in the region was attending a gathering where I was present and came straight to me. Without any greetings or anything, he drew me to the corner urgently and said, ‘Do you think it’s possible that so many girls are committing suicide one by one and the government is doing nothing?’ Having no idea what he was talking about, I was mumbling, ‘Well… depends on what you are talking about…’ He merely shouted, ‘C’mon mate, I’m talking about Bangladesh! Your country!’ I became alarmed and suspicious, ‘Well, tell me what happened?’ He said, ‘Nothing but girls committing suicide! You must know all these if you read your country’s newspaper. Elora, Trisha, Pinky… they are just schoolgirls! Yes, I’m talking about them. I need to know what’s happening there.’
   The Bangla names sounded funny in his foreign pronunciation, but I was thinking something else, ‘How do these girls’ suicides relate to your thesis? Aren’t you doing research on political issues?’ I was actually trying to avoid his earlier question. How come I know so much about what’s going on back in Bangladesh yet apparently no one is actually concerned about these suicides as a result of heckling! ‘Well, yes, I’m researching the political arena,’ he said, ‘but doesn’t politics relate with society? You know what? I think these suicides are a political phenomenon. It’s sort of declaring the failure of the state.’ To be honest, I was surprised by his comment and a little bit contempt as well; who the hell do these foreigners think they are to comment on our face that our state is a failed one! I found myself bitterly commenting, ‘Well, no state is perfect you know.’
   Although I didn’t let him finish our conversation pretending to have something else to do; his alarming comment was fiercely rolling over my head. Are these suicides really saying that the state is failed? I have very little likings for politics, especially the politics of Bangladesh. I never hesitate to say that as a nation our proudest side is the hospitality of our people even to the strangers; and our dirtiest side is the politics. However, yes, these suicides were bothering me, too. I think any reasonable person will be very much disturbed by these incidents occurring regularly, non-stop, like other routine things. In 2010 alone on 3rd February a 14-year old girl named Brishti from Pabna, on 7th March an 18-year old girl named Reshma from Bogra, two weeks later a 15-year old girl named Chadmoni from Kishorganj, on 3rd April another girl named Elora from Dhaka city, all these girls have joined the other names in the long suicide list like Simi, Rumi, Thrisha, Purnima, Mahima, Tithi, Pinky. All of them were forced to commit suicide as a result of non-stop heckling mostly on their way to and from school. They might be merely names for us, but they were someone’s daughters, sisters.
   My colleague didn’t give up the subject and later at home, I found his email with a colourful picture of Trisha, the 10-year old girl who was running to save herself from the local maastans (hooligans) and jumped into a pond where she was drowned and died instantly on July 17, 2002. Below the picture, my colleague’s comment ‘a decade-long history of girls’ suicide, a proclamation of a failed state.’ This time I was not angry, but sad and speechless. We have so many laws in Bangladesh preventing any types of oppression against women including physical or mental harassment; but just like many other laws, these laws are only in words but not in effect.
   As a Muslim nation, we are proud to have a woman prime minister and a woman leader of opposition, both of whom have been governing Bangladesh alternately since 1991; but the irony is, having these top women political leaders didn’t even slightly improve the state of women in general. Moreover, our current prime minister completely failed to control her own student political wing, the Bangladesh Chhatra League, whose members are becoming pioneers in heckling and hounding girls. On April 26, two BCL members of the Dhaka Polytechnic Institute raped a girl in daylight, no one dared to say anything to them; not even the institution’s authorities! The BCL members also raped an opposition party member’s wife in Bhola and tortured her to divulge where her husband was hiding to save himself (Amar Desh, online edition, April 27). Rahnuma Ahmed’s column on ‘Chhatra League’s sexual offences: a widespread state of denial’ (New Age, April 19) clearly portrays the horrific and frightening situation of nationwide female physical violence lead by BCL members under the safeguard of the current government.
   A state must be regarded a failure when it fails to protect basic human rights of any of its citizens. Many girls have already committed suicide as the state failed to provide them with adequate protection while many others must be there who have not yet committed suicide but are living under constant fear of being harassed. A situation where a female citizen could be chased, tortured, raped, murdered or forced to commit suicide, no matter, if she is a ten-year schoolchild or a middle-aged housewife, clearly points to the state’s failure. I close my eyes and ask myself: is this situation not enough to teach us the failure of our nation as a whole? If not, then we must be dumb, blind and foolish enough to be duped continuously by our selfish and cruel politicians who care for nothing but power and money. I mostly pity two topmost leaders who despite being women cannot hear the cry of thousands of women out there running to save their honour and life. It is a shame for us as a nation.
   Farjana Mahbuba is doing her PhD on islamic gender studies at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. farjanamahbuba@yahoo.com

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