On the 14th of April, Prothom Alo, a leading Bangla newspaper, on its site published a short story, “TV Camerar Shamne Meyeti” (The girl in front of the TV camera), which was also published in the daily’s Pahela Baishakh supplement. The short story, titled “TV Camerar Samne Meyeti” (The girl in front of the TV camera), centres around a politically active girl ‘Seema’ leading the slogan shouting brigade who is sexually exploited by a senior politician, the man who recruits her. The story suggests her popularity stems from her sexual free-mixing with males. The setting of the story also clearly alludes to her strong involvement with the Shahbagh movement.
The online community reacted almost instantly. Pro-Shahbagh activists saw it as a direct attack against the movement, while critics of Shahbag saw it as just another straw to confirm that Shahbag was not only politically selective but also morally corrupt. Pro-Shahbag activists and readers were vocal and active in their protests. In a letter to Matiur Rahman, editor of Prothom Alo, women’s rights activists, including Rokeya Kabir, Khushi Kabir and Rokeya Rafique, under the banner Begum Rokeya Mancha, termed Hye’s story as “pornography”. They demanded a joint statement from the writer, editor and literature editor of Prothom Alo stating that the “descriptions in the story are false”. Meanwhile, supporters of Shahbag along with students under the banner of Bikhhubdho Chhatra Samaj burnt copies of Prothom Alo at Dhaka University’s TSC on the 15th of April, condemning the publication of the story.
In face of such ambivalent reactions, Prothom Alo apologised to readers for hurting their sentiments. Hasnat Abdul Hye, the writer of the story, too, regretted writing the piece and said it would not be included in any of his works. The daily retracted the story from its online version and e-paper. In a statement, Prothom Alo Editor Matiur Rahman said the contents of the story were against the guiding principles of the newspaper.
On a cursory look, the story was indeed vulgar and demeaning. It was certainly not representative of women who had joined Shahbag. What however the story strongly alludes to is an imaginative scenario of the low status of women in the current political climate of Bangladesh and the extent of sacrifice of one’s morality in order to avail the taste of power. The story, in its portrayal, frightfully conforms to the prevalent social and political climate in Bangladesh, including Shahbag.
The character ‘Seema’ may be poor, struggling and reality focused but she is not ignorant and has willfully made her choices. She believes that sleeping with a powerful leader is morally wrong, but she has no qualms about it. It is born out of necessity. So is the political activity, which she says is her way of income. The end result is a vicious cycle where hapless women have nothing left to give after they submit to the demands and needs of their mentors, leaders and powerful colleagues in politics, in return for a life of agitation, hard work, booze and drugs and of course, the thrill; all culminating towards an alarming level of moral degradation. The cycle is vicious and unrelenting, and there is no escape.
Is this the scenario of politics in Bangladesh? Perhaps. Let us see.
The simple indicator according to me is the impunity enjoyed by the Chatroleague, the student wing of the ruling Awami League. I need not give any references or cite sources for the impunity awarded to the Chatroleague as they unabatedly commit crime after crime, engage freely in lewd behavior, extort, rape, murder and fight among themselves without the least bit of fear of the law. Indeed the thing they fear most is not the law, but their very own comrades and leaders, who do not think twice before backbiting or backstabbing for personal gain. Regular reports of women being harassed, molested and raped at the hands of the Chatroleague is nothing new and a simple google search will be more than enough in this regard.
This very same Chatroleague has been the filler force of Shahbag, lending its cadres and supporters as fillers in the programs of Shahbagh. The presence of the President and Vice President of Chatro League along with a host of other left leaning student politicians and parties at almost every significant undertaking of Shahbag has only served to prove that such gathering could not have successfully materialized without their solid support, backing or blessing.
In retrospect, the story of Hasnat Abdul Hye was vulgar and demeaning, but to me, it only served to paint an image that is already prevalent in an increasingly alarming situation in the political sphere of Bangladesh today. In this regard, all I can call to account is the outrage the very same Shahbag showed when Hefazat-e-Islam presented a demand to prevent lewdness, immodesty and immorality in the name of free mixing of the sexes. Were they (Hefazat-e-Islam) really wrong or dark aged in their demands? Were their (Hefazat-e-Islam) demands not compliant with the teachings of the Quran and Sunnah? Has not Shahbag opposed Islam in opposing the teachings of Islam?
Thousands of questions revolve as I close this post. And Allah knows best.