I meant to have been editing a play tonight; and writing a story; translating a few love/prayer poems. But I shall do none. I am boycotting poetry tonight. I am boycotting music, drama, art- all that I consider beautiful. I am in the mood for nothing but ranting and raving right now. And this is going to be the most rambling piece of writing I’ve ever done because I’m struggling to formulate my thoughts.
There’s nothing beautiful about the pictures that are crowding my thoughts at the moment. All I can see in my mind’s eye are ugly dead bodies. There’s nothing beautiful about death, especially those fast forwarded by menace and violence. There have been far too many lately. I feel gutted, even with the victims. They go get themselves killed disturbing my peace and comfort. I am no more graceful than the next selfish person, and would have been able to continue with my peaceful life if they didn’t somehow make me feel it could’ve been me.
Yes, I could’ve easily been Sohagi Jahan Tonu, now the smiling cute face with a mischievous twinkle in the eyes nestled in a brightly colourful hijab, and now an ugly distorted corpse smeared in three different specimens of semen. I could’ve been Sabira, now having sex with my boyfriend and now trying to stab myself all over because I don’t know how to cope with a betrayal. It would have all been possible for me, a naïve woman brought up in Bangladesh. While the whole country erupted with protests against these brutal incidents, all I could think was it could have been me!
Although nothing may come about in the way of justice in these cases, it’s somewhat comforting to see that people can protest so vehemently; they can be so adamant in their claims for justice. But at the same time, I can’t help wondering if those who are protesting have an understanding of the roots of these problems, and if punishing these miscreants would actually bring about the change needed in a country where sex is a forbidden subject, where women are not treated with due respect, where girls are not taught to take pride in their bodies, where there is a lack of awareness of who is likely to be abused by whom, where you have to get raped and killed or kill yourself to let others know that you’ve been wronged.
I attended a social services conference yesterday to interpret for a Bangladeshi couple who were deemed incapable of identifying or understanding the risks of emotional abuse to their four children following an incident of domestic violence. They were gutted at the accusations and maintained that the police and social services are collectively trying to break their beautiful family. According to them nothing significant has happened. Every family has arguments and fights, only in this case things got a little out of hand when the father ended up hitting the mother in front of the children; however, he would never lay a finger on his beloved children. So, what’s the big fuss?
Belonging to Bangladeshi origin myself, I can understand this couple’s point of view. A man who goes out to earn the family’s bread, takes the children to the park, helps the mother around the house has the right to lose temper every now and then. If this man has enough sense not to be brutal to the children, then there should be no trouble at all. And if this mother decides to continue a relationship with the father, she should be treated like a saint who is sacrificing herself for the sake of her children. Where does the idea of risk of emotional abuse to the children come from at all?
Now, the stupid social services beg to disagree. They think the father is committing a grave offense by abusing his wife in front of the children, and the mother is contributing no less to the children’s emotional distress by allowing them to witness this. The children are not safe to remain with either of the parents who seem to have no idea what healthy child development means. However, if the mother decides to keep this man out of her and her children’s lives at least until he has taken measures to make positive changes in his behaviour which have to be evidenced to the social services, the children can be considered safe to live with her. This is one of the many cases I have been involved in in the last few months, ranging from abused women willing to continue their relationships with their abusive partners to mothers refusing to believe their daughters can be abused by the men in the family.
Last year I learnt on a training programme that 80% of the child abuse in the UK is perpetrated by parents themselves. Continuous researches are taking place to find out the truth about child abuse and measures are being taken. Even parents are not placed blind faith in with regards to children’s wellbeing, let alone anyone else. The state makes it its business to try to make sure children’s development is not affected by abuse of any sort by anyone.
While these work experiences distress me, I find them comforting at the same time knowing that work is being done to make sure children can grow up in a secure environment, with regards not only to sexual and physical violence, but also to emotional abuse and neglect.
Now, while emotional abuse to children is considered with such seriousness in countries like the UK, how seriously do we treat child abuse or abuse of women in Bangladesh? How much do we understand or know about these issues? How openly are we allowed to talk about it? Is there any continuous research to find out who is most likely to abuse children? Is there a government statement about this? Is anything being done to create awareness among people?
Several years ago I was at a party in a cousin’s house celebrating her twin daughters’ birthday. I suddenly noticed an older male cousin going into the garden holding the twins’ hands. Alarmed, I ran to their mother and advised her not to let her daughters be alone with this man. She laughed at me, ‘Come on! He is only our ….. Bhai!’ As I kept on insisting she got annoyed and told me that she didn’t want to ruin her daughters’ innocence by being so suspicious. I couldn’t engage myself in the party fun and kept walking about in the garden to make sure the girls were safe, but imagining what would happen the next time he took them into the garden when I wasn’t around horrified me. Was I overreacting? Not really, taking the fact into account that this very cousin had tried to sexually abuse me when I was a little girl, and no one ever did anything about it although I shared this with several members of the family. And now that he had performed hajj, no one was prepared to believe me about his perverted nature; resultantly, he was free to take little children behind the bushes in the garden while the others enjoyed the party inside.
I may not be considered as sensitive a mother as my cousin sister for I have done everything to ruin my children’s innocence because I couldn’t bear to allow them to be subject to abuse of any sort from anyone, ever! When they went to school for the first time, I told them no one, not even I, had the right to take off their clothes or touch them without their permission. Once a friend of mine came to visit us when my daughter was six years old. He wanted to pick her up but she protested, ‘I don’t sit on anyone’s lap but my mother’s. My friend was shocked; he’d never heard a little girl say something like this before. I heaved a sigh of relief knowing my daughter would be able to protect herself even if I was not around.
Although I am rambling on aimlessly I’m sure my mind has a plan to connect all this somehow. Could I be thinking of the innumerable cases of abuse that happens all around the world, especially in Bangladesh, and never get heard of? Or could I be thinking of all the cases of abuse that are deliberately ignored because the honour of the abusive adults is far more important than the wellbeing of the abused children?
As a young adult when I came to the UK to live here permanently, I used to worry about my little nieces I had left behind in Bangladesh whose mothers seemed to be unaware of the evil lurking around them; totally aloof to the risks of physical and emotional harms to their children. I even considered writing a ‘mother’s handbook’ to share my stories with the naive mothers who think fathers, brothers, uncles, and cousins can’t perpetrate sexual abuse; it’s only other men who do it.
Now think about it, the precise moment when Tonu’s rape and murder is being protested against, thousands of children are being subjected to sexual and physical abuse because the adults in their lives are either too naïve to notice anything or decide to keep it a secret for their own convenience.
I have been one of those children myself- unattended, unheard, unseen and my wounds become sore every now and then with fresh bleeding when something like Tonu’s murder or Sabira’s suicide happens.
My heart wails in protest. I want to cry out loud to every indifferent parent, ‘Let Tonu and Sabira rest in peace. Please go home and talk to your own child. Please ruin their innocence if needed. Please listen when they are saying silly things that make no sense to you. Please teach them to love and look after themselves. That is the only way to protest. The only protest that might work.
Image source: Flickr.