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Home > Women’s Rights > The Poison of Male Violence

The Poison of Male Violence

by Naeem Mohaiemen, 19 June 2011

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Below is a longer version with footnotes of n article that appeared in Daily Star (Bangladesh), 15 June 2011.

- Naeem Mohaiemen

By now, the macabre details of Syeed Sumon’s ferocious attack on Rumana Manjur is in many newspapers. There is a debate about publishing victim’s names (a grey area if it is not clear if victim or assailant is being protected). In this case, after a few days of “DU teacher”, the media have been publishing names.

She had many former students in IR department, and they were the first to make it national news, through social media and blogs. Groups and Rallies for “Rumana Mam” went live, and the mainstream media caught up. Some connected this case across class-strata with the beating death of Amena Begum (Bihari Colony) and Halima Begum (Kadomtoli). Others commented on the link between women’s emancipation (“it was all for scholarship”) and heightened male rage.

While it was heartening to see so much spontaneous outrage, also worrying were those who wrote on blogs about their desire to “chop off the nose and blind” the assailant, Syeed Sumon. Eye for an eye, rough justice, these are the elements that raise the levels of violence and psychosis of our city.

Predictably there were also elements of “blaming the victim”.

The question is not, why did Rumana stay silent, the question is why did we? What is the monstrous society we created that a woman can be beaten for 10 years but does not find the social support to leave and file an assault case against the husband?

Among many factors is this horrendous and murderous idea of izzat. Izzat of family, of marriage, of women; forcing hundreds of thousands of women to silently endure beatings at the hands of husbands. And when society sees those bruises at a wedding dawat, they avert their eyes politely.

There is a breathless, voyeuristic, semi-pornographic glaze with which some reports are giving details. The extreme violence in this case got headlines. The vision of gouging eyes, the cannibal attack on cartilage. But Sumon is only the extreme manifestation of the male violence that is in many marriages. It had to go to this extreme for everyone to notice.

The 5th Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey (BDHS) 2007 (released 2009), revealed stunning statistics on the level of violence against women. In Chapter 14 (“Domestic Violence”, P 197-214), the results showed 53% of women experienced sexual or physical violence from husbands. The most common act was slapping (46%), followed by pushing, shaking and having something thrown at them (30%), punching with fists or something that can hurt (17%), kicking, dragging or beating (15%), and choking or burning (5%).[i]

Actually, the numbers may be even higher, as at least some respondents would psychologically block out the truth, and this would be even more true when it comes to sexual violence. Still, 18% reported some form of forced sexual intercourse (classified as “domestic rape” in other country’s with more vigorous legal regimes).

The longer the relationship continued, the worse the levels became. 54% of those married more than 10 years reported violence, compared to 30% of those married less than 5 years. A 2001 survey very little difference between urban (59%) and rural (60%).[ii]

The results of extreme violence run in many directions, and one common form is the “suicide” which transfers the blame from the aggressor to victim. As proven in a 2008 study, the rate of desire for suicide as escape (or “suicide ideation”) stand at 14% among married women in Bangladesh, which is high compared with other countries[iii]. The suicide of the wife, the domestic maid, the cousin, the schoolgirl has become a convenient endstate for the assailant.

Speaking of elements that normalize gender violence, beyond television, cinema, video games and all the other ills that are well documented, my friend reminded me about the popular “bazaar” songs which ended up on many ring tones. As Tabiz Faruk mixes declarations of love with violent physical threats, the nasty message comes out clear– I am going to hurt you:

Hey girl who do you think you are?

Think you are Queen Victoria?

You don’t like these Rajanigandha flower sticks

When you get beating by hockey stick

You’ll learn

How to take love by force

Boss, should we give her a good lesson?

No, wait.

Ghee does not come up on straight finger

Neither will ring fit on a bent finger

[Excerpt from “Tabiz Faruk”][iv]

In the last decade, every time a friend has left an abusive marriage, there have always been social whispers of “she must have done something”, “affair chilo bodhoy”, “she must have provoked him”, etc. I wrote in 2009: " So many people hear of a case of wife beating, hostile factory floor, office sexual innuendo, invasive photography, phone stalking, and then casually make excuses. O to sherokom chelei na. Bhodro ghor theke."[v]

Faced with this hostile environment, women are forced into silence, or convinced this is the way husbands are supposed to be.

The new normal.

There is a lot of anger after the Rumana case, but I worry when I see it going toward the lynch mob. A mob that is hysterical to punish only one person, while the larger society remains untouched.

We need to channel grief and outrage into a push for laws and infrastructure that can make sure this can never happen again. Demolish this society where izzat, economic, and social prisons force women to stay in abusive marriages. Out of this horrific tragedy must come a renewed movement to end gender violence.

[i] http://www.measuredhs.com/pubs/pdf/FR207/FR207[April-10-2009].pdf

[ii] Quoted in “Spousal Violence in Bangladesh”, Heidi Bart Johnston and Ruchira Tabassum Naved, J Health Popul Nurt 2008, ICDDR,B.

[iii] “Spousal Violence Against Women and Suicidal Ideation in Bangladesh”, Ruchira Tabassum Naved and Nazneen Akhtar, Women’s Health Issues 18 (2008) 442-452

[iv] Bulu Ahammed presents “Tabiz Faruk”, CD Zone.
http://youtu.be/Wr4dv6Ggw1I

[v] “Why Should I Be Modest?”, Naeem Mohaiemen, Forum, May 2009