Rape, power, and impunity

Our laws and justice system need a complete overhaul for the prosecution of rape

A ninth-grader was allegedly gang-raped on February 20 in Tungipara of Gopalganj. Just two days before this incident, a mentally challenged girl was reportedly raped in Nangalkot of Comilla. Both incidents were reported by the Dhaka Tribune. Cases were filed and all we can hope is that the victims get quick justice.

Going back to the past, the nation was rocked by the news reports that Tufan Sarkar had secured bail in one of the most sensational rape cases in the history of Bangladesh. The case was filed on July 27, 2017 after Tufan Sarker, the then Bogra city convenor of the ruling party’s labour front, allegedly kidnapped and raped a student. That was not where the brutality ended — followers and relatives of Tufan Sarker later allegedly tortured the victim and her mother, shaving their heads in an attempt to silence them.

Both the lower court and High Court Division turned down his bail plea. In its directives on February 27, 2017, the High Court Division not only turned down his bail plea, but also directed the Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal to resolve the case within the next six months.

Justice delayed is justice denied. Though the police did a commendable job by submitting the charge sheet on October 10, 2017, in less than three months of filing the case, charges were framed only on November 17, 2019 more than two years after submission of the charge sheet. This was the beginning of formal prosecution.

But everything went upside-down when the informant, her mother, and the victim gave statements before the court that the “rape incident” in question never happened, and that it was a result of a misunderstanding. Tufan Sarker was then granted bail in the rape case on January 17, 2020.

Money and power

Did it never happen, or did the rapist use his power and money and compel the victim and her mother to change their statements? The Prothom Alo reported that he had made a deal with the victims outside the court of law. Thus, he committed another crime, which in legal terms can be referred to as an offense against public justice. Had there been a quick trial, Tufar Sarker would have had no chance at all to influence the victim and her mother to change their statement.

The case of Tufan Sarker is an interesting example of the correlation between abuse of power, crime, and politics. Tufan Sarker managed to stay beyond the reach of the law enforcement agencies, thanks to political blessing he received. He was once caught by the elite law enforcement agency, but he managed to get out and continue building his crime empire. It earned him a fortune and practically made him untouchable.

Surprisingly, no one knew anything about his empire. It suffered a blow only when the social and news media reported the rape incident and the subsequent events surrounding it exposed his true nature. The case became so sensational that it was even discussed in parliament. People from all walks of society took it to the streets and demanded quick and exemplary punishment.

But this is not the first time we have seen the rise of people like Tufan Sarker. Gang rape incidents Begumganj in Noakhali and at MC College in Sylhet are also some of the worst examples of how political blessings led to the birth of Delwar Hossain and his gang, and how politically affiliated Saifur Rahman and his gang committed gang rape.

Getting justice for rape has never been easy. Rights activists and legal experts have long been advocating to redefine the colonial era definition of rape. But more importantly, we need to do more in delivering justice to rape victims. Domestic legislation must do more in favour of the rape victims — protect her dignity in every stage of the investigation and prosecution, ensure her safety, and last but not the least, restrain the criminal from influencing the judicial process.

In the face of several sensational gang rape incidents followed by popular demand for capital punishment, the government amended the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act 2000 and re-introduced the death penalty for the crime of rape. But it had no immediate impact in reducing the statistics of rape.

There are valid reasons. Recently, news media reported some incidents of the victim marrying the rapist. Police personnel, local government representatives, and influential individuals have acted as mediators between the victim, her family, and the rapist. Courts also granted bail to the alleged rapist after marrying the victim.

Should the law allow a rapist to marry the victim? Will it protect her honour? What will happen to a child born as a result of rape? Who will be ultimately responsible for the child’s well-being?

Should the rapist pay alimony for the child? Should the victim get financial compensation? What about the victim’s right to abortion? Should there be a settlement system outside of the court?

We do not have an answer to any of these questions. A court of law is probably the best place to decide, under the circumstances, considering the interests of all parties.

But this must be done under the purview of a strong legal system that first and foremostly upholds the dignity and wishes of the rape victim.

Thus, our laws and justice system need a complete overhaul for the prosecution of rape. A mere amendment will never bring the desired results in the prosecution of rape unless we have a favourable and sensitive legal and justice system having the capacity and willingness to address the existing irregularities, inefficiency, and attitude toward a rape victim. People do not want to see the birth and rise of any Tufan Sarker, or a malfunctioning system that lets him get away with rape.

This was first published in the Dhaka Tribune on 26 February 2021, Click here to read on the site.

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