Monday, 15 September 2008

Bangladeshi Universities and their power for prem

I always remember cuddling next to my mum, engulfed in big fleecy deshi blankets, and joining the family glued to the latest natak (drama) that had been shipped over from relatives in Bangladesh. For anyone who has never watched a Bangladeshi serial drama - the real authentic ones, not the ones where heros and heroines now dance around trees, will know that they do depict a life which is considerably true to the life of people in Bangladesh. I cannot now recall names and storylines very exactly from those sleepy days, but one thing I do remember was almost every one had some sort of cushy romance between a young female student and her teacher, or tutor.

Last month the Bangladeshi Mahila Parishad organised a meeting to propose a policy to tackle the growing sexual harassment happening in universities and colleges in Bangladesh, by the teaching staff on female students. A policy to curb it.

“Our movement is not against a particular teacher or teacher community, rather it is the movement against the ailing culture that might engulf the whole society if not resisted,” said BMP President Ayesha Khanam.

What strikes me, strong and hard(!), is how a policy to attempt to restrict such behaviour by teachers and lecturers will really work. I mean cmon its Bangladesh! Since when did the rule of law mean anything to anyone? No one's saying it's not implemented, but it's fact that everyone and anyone from the very elite to the very middle classs to the poor, just to get by, have to evade the rule of law, participate in bribery and ghoosh just to live their daily lives. This isn't exactly a culture and society where the rule of law and policy has really helped to alleviate problems.

More than anything, President Ayesha Khanam said it herself- 'an ailing culture that might engulf the whole of society'. It's a culture not a legislative problem. Legislation can help deal with perpetrators and depict the states' viewpoint on the issue, but society and culture in Bangladesh is saying a totally different thing. On the suburban streets of Dhaka, women who are progressed and a touch above from the commonfolk are seen as those who have taken on the model of the free, liberated, sexually alluring as seen in the West.. and of course Bollywood. It is the sexual aspect and femininity of the women which has had to be exposed, revealed for her to be seen as progressive and appealing in society. Weeks before even the advent of Ramadan tailors across Dhaka were fully booked all preparing people's jaw-dropping Eid outfits, beauty parlours have mushroomed across the city in which every type of beauty treatment is not only offered, but is the norm for many young women. Therefore the viewpoint towards women being sexual commodities is being normalised, allowing everyone, including men, companies, to also view her in this way. It is then no wonder that such a view of women in society has given rise to sexual crimes against her - If society, media and advertising is telling us to view women in this way, why shouldn't I, the common man may consciously or unconsciously feel.

Therefore new policy, women rights groups and all the rest may try to bring their share of solutions to this growing problem, but they are building sandcastles to close too the shore. Current thoughts in society about women, trickled over from the West, will eventually wear and wash them away. President Ayesha Khanam is right. We should fear an ailing culture, but instead of trying to patch it up and work with it, we need to uproot secular, free values to replace it with a society which will truly value and protect the viewpoint towards women.

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