By Rahnuma Ahmed
November 21, 2015
Tales of resistance, Jahangirnagar 1998: “Amra shobai dhorshita”
ON AUGUST 17, 1998, the headlines of the daily tabloid Manabzamin declared, “Cadres have raped three students [at Jahangirnagar].” There was deathly silence on campus.
On August 18, news of campus rape was published in the daily Dinkal. The Manabzamin news clipping was hung in all four women’s hostels and at different campus locations. At night, members of the student organisations Chhatra Front and Chhatra Union put up posters demanding that the rapists be identified and punished.
On August 19, the Chhatra Front brought out a procession of 40–50 students in the morning; Ganotantrik Chhatra Oikko brought out a procession at midday demanding that the rapists be tried.
In the evening, women students of Pritilata Hall discussed the means of protesting against campus rape, a meeting was held in the lawn at 11:30 pm, it was attended by nearly all women in the hostel, they decided to bring out a procession the next day.
On August 20, Pritilata Hall students brought out a procession, which was joined in by students from the three other women’s hostels — Jahanara Imam, Nawab Faizunnessa, and Fazilatunnessa. The procession wound its way from the cafeteria to the science faculty building.
As the procession moved from the arts faculty building to the registrar’s office, several students belonging to the Bangladesh Chhatra League (student front of the Awami League which was then in power), led by secretary general of JU BCL Jasimuddin Manik (he was later exposed as the self-declared ‘centurion’ rapist), entered the male student section of the procession, and joined in the slogans being chanted by women students. When these students attempted to come to the head of the procession, women students requested all men students to come out of the procession in order to be able assert their own control.
An only-women student rally was held in front of Upacharja Bhaban, by then students had left their classrooms and joined in, there were nearly 800 women students and 150 men students. Slogans were raised, “hall theke, dol theke, michhil theke dhorshonkarider bohishkar koro” (Expel rapists from the hall, the party, and the procession). The vice-chancellor (politically appointed, like vice-chancellors of all public universities), was presented with a memorandum by the women students.
When the acting VC wanted to speak with women representatives, they refused. We are all in it together. The acting VC said, but we haven’t heard of any rape allegations. Who has been raped? How can we try anyone if rape victims don’t come forward? Give us a clue.
For a rape victim to come forward at that moment would have been suicidal as the alleged rapists were hanging around. On the spur of the moment, eight hundred women students said in one voice, “Sir, amra shobai dhorshita, we have all been raped. We want justice.” A courageous voice rang out, the rapist’s relative works in the proctor office, that’s your clue (the proctor later resigned because of student allegations that he was Jasimuddin Manik’s chief patron).
[Based on my own memories, and a published chronology of events, Dhorshon Birodhi Chhatri Andolon, 1999].
Birangona: ‘Shohosro purushke dehodaan’
Shefa’s story in Nilima Ibrahim’s Ami Birangona Bolchi starts scathingly. If you are a Bengali Muslim and male, if you are above fifty, then you are undoubtedly far less courageous than me. I pity you, I have the right to do so. You didn’t speak out!
She was a college student in ’71, she was at first tricked, and then taken by force to the nearest army cantonment by a neighbour’s son, where she was “gifted” to a Pakistani army officer. After “entertaining new guests every night” for several days, or was it weeks, she was taken from “one place to another.” Sometimes she would be kept with a group of girls, or else, all alone, in a dark room. After many weeks, or was it many months, she was put in a truck with five–six other girls. The truck’s roof was covered, but they were freezing. The truck finally stopped, they were ordered to get down. It was a bunker. At the end of a long tunnel, there was a mattress, two cots, an earthen pitcher, and a glass. “Shefa can’t remember the days that followed, maybe she doesn’t want to. Unimaginable suffering. Sometimes they had no water to drink. Food was given only occasionally. One day, they came and suddenly took away our clothes, the tattered bits we wore, stuck to our bodies like second skin, they dragged off every bit. We were left stark naked.”
Independence brought in its wake an abortion, and sexual disease, it required a long stay at the Women’s Rehabilitation Centre in Dhanmondi, Dhaka. When contacts were established with her family, her parents went and brought her home but rumour-mongering forced her to return to the centre. She took a steno-typist’s job. She met her future husband, his parents were prosperous, one evening she told him of having been a war-rape victim but he was undaunted, he proposed, they got married.
Her in-laws knew, they didn’t mind. Neither did her husband. Or so she had thought, until the day when they had an argument, and he snapped at her, oh so, you want to teach me about restraint, you who “offered [your] body to countless men” (shohosro purushke dehodaan).
Even now, says Shefa my husband and others look at me with scorn, with disdain and contempt in their eyes.
“Countless men.” Bessha.
“Amra shobai bessha”?: Resistance un-imagined
HUNDREDS of young female voices, proclaiming in front of men in positions of power and authority, “Amra shobai dhorshita” was undoubtedly revolutionary.
Can one envision many women proclaiming together, “Amra shobai bessha”? As an act of resistance. An act of solidarity [a local SlutWalk?].
Look at these two slogans, popular on campuses and streets, for many decades, both before and after independence, even now (the second one is decidedly a left slogan),
Amader dhomonite shoheeder rokto
Ei rokto kono deeno
– porajoy mane na
– matha noto kore na
Ei rokto kono deeno
– porabhob mane na
– beimani kore na
The blood of martyrs flows in our veins
This blood never
– admits defeat
– bows down
This blood never
– accepts failure
– is unfaithful
Jooge-jooge jitlo kara
52te jiteche kara? Krishok-sromik-shorbohara
69ey jiteche kara? Krishok-sromik-shorbohara
71ey jiteche kara? Krishok-sromik-shorbohara
Who has won over the ages?
The ideology of the proletariat
Who won in 1952? Peasants-workers-proletariat
Who won in 1969? Peasants-workers-proletariat
Who won in 1971? Peasants-workers-proletariat
Some of us (mainly Jahangirnagar teachers and students) have tried for many years, off and on, to introduce “birangona” in these slogans,
in Slogan 1: Amader dhomonite birangonader rokto
The blood of birangonas flows in our veins
in Slogan 2: ’71ey jiteche kara? Krishok-sromik-birangona-shorbohara
Who won in 1971? Peasants-workers-birangonas-proletariat
but we never succeeded. We raised these slogans a couple of times at Shahbagh, when the Ganajagaran movement was at its strongest, but it remained confined to our small group of men and women. It never caught on.
Why? Maybe, it is because conventions are hard to break, and therefore, one keeps repeating the same old patriarchal slogans vigorously year after year, decade after decade. (Amader dhomonite Pritilotar rokto, “The blood of Pritilata flows in our veins” didn’t catch on either).
But could it be because of what Veena Das terms the “eugenic ring”? Does raising these slogans make us the sons and daughters of women who “offered their body to countless men”?
Or, worse still, does it mean that the blood which flows in our veins is of the “wrong” kind, that it is “bastard” blood, which, as the story goes, Sheikh Mujib had insisted, he wanted to banish from Bangladesh (Ami Birangona Bolchhi).
Dhorshon Birodhi Chhatri Andolon. Jahangirnagar Bisshobiddaloye ’98-te shonghotito andolon nie prokashona-shongkolon [Student Movement Against Campus Rape: Selected Writings From the Jahangirnagar University ’98 Movement], Dhaka: Oshuchi, 1999.
Nilima Ibrahim, Ami Birangona Bolchi (“I Am the Birangona Speaking,” 1988), Dhaka: Jagriti Prokashoni, 2013.
Nayanika Mookherjee, 2002 PhD thesis published recently as, The Spectral Wound: Sexual Violence, Public Memories, and the Bangladesh War of 1971, with a foreword by Veena Das, Durham: Duke University Press, 2015.
To be continued.