Filth

Yesterday, Prothom Alo, “Bangladesh’s leading national daily,” ran a short story entitled “TV Camerar Shamne Meye” (the girl in front of the TV cameras) by Hasnat Abdul Hye, a retired civil servant who has won both the Bangla Academy Award and the Ekushe Padak. The story describes a politically active young woman, particularly involved in leading slogans at meetings and rallies, and suggests that her political success is due to the fact that she sleeps around with the person who recruited her and with other political leaders.

This filth comes at a time where Lucky Akhter has been shining as a Gonojagoron Mancha activist. Her leading in slogans has gotten her the name “Agnikonthi” (fire voice). My cousins and I are HUGE fans and Lucky’s always the first person we try and find on the Shahbag stage. I spend a lot of my time at Shahbag secretly wishing I was her. I will never, in all my life, forget how she took control when the cocktails exploded at Narijagoron (Women’s rising, the event that happened on International Women’s Day), when the crowd would have otherwise panicked. How she grabbed the microphone and shouted Joy Bangla, and how at the sound of her voice the thought of running away completely disappeared from my mind.

Mr. Hye, I’m going to do you a favour and think about various reasons you might have written this story. I could give you the credit of assuming that what you actually want is to pick on the Gonojagoron activists. Or maybe you wanted to write a story about a woman who is exploited sexually and suddenly – randomly, perhaps?! – the idea came to you, hey let’s make the woman politically active, that might be a fun story. Totally random, nothing to do with Shahbag or Lucky or anything, mind you. Or maybe to you, any woman who’s on a stage next to men, must be of, what’s the phrase, “bad character.” Or maybe it’s just that to you, it’s absurd that a woman would get anywhere in the world without sleeping with various people along the way to get there – we women don’t really have minds, after all.

First of all, yawn. Those of us that are anything but a doormat have heard that we’re whores over and over and over again.

Second of all, I genuinely pity everyone who thinks this way. How sad and sorry and small your minds are.

Third, Prothom Alo’s journalism has at best been disappointing and at worst been infuriating for a long time, but they just lost me altogether. It is unfortunate that they are the paper with the widest circulation, because apparently they have taken to printing filth.

(When reactions to the story immediately erupted, Prothom Alo retracted the story and apologized. Hasnat Abdul Hye also apologized. “Apologized.” His apology says something along the lines of “It seems like some people were offended, whoops.” I was on the phone with my dad about this, and he said something about how Prothom Alo said sorry. And I snapped, “The man who groped me yesterday when I was out celebrating New Years’ said sorry when I shoved him off of me. Sorry gets you nowhere.” How I felt when that man mumbled “sorry” is exactly how I feel about Prothom Alo’s retraction and Hasnat Abdul Hye’s “apology.”)

It frightens me that tiredness is starting to creep into my anger. I do not want to feel any tiredness; I am friends only with the rage. So much energy we spend fighting – filth. Where could we have been if we didn’t have to spend so much of ourselves trying to peel your hands off of us. My body is tired of being stared at and touched, my heart is tired that the female leaders of the Gonojagoron Mancha, the women that I look up to so very much, are being written about in this way. I’m tired.

Not that it matters, for a moment. There is nowhere to put any of this; I can never put down the tiredness or the anger. I will carry it with me, all the time, every day. And there are some people who will carry the rage and tiredness with me, and they will help make it lighter. And there are some people that will add to it. And there is no one in between.

(It may surprise some of my readers that I will candidly talk about the fact that I was inappropriately touched in a crowd. Absolutely groped, too, not just a might-have-been-a-brush-against you. Please do not misread my open discussion about this as casualness about the fact that it happened. There is nothing as invasive and disgusting as a stranger’s hands on your breasts. I think that in this culture, women are expected to be hush-hush about these things. The reason I talk about it is because I am not even slightly ashamed. I, after all, didn’t do anything. The only thing I am ashamed of is that I let him get away. I am kicking myself now, that I didn’t react sooner. I always told myself I would when it happened, and I’m surprised and disappointed in myself. But now I know how it feels, and I promise myself that I won’t let anyone get away with it ever again. I told my mother on the phone and said regretfully, “I’ll get him next time.” She responded, almost cheerfully, “Yes, next time!” I said, “Because there’s definitely going to be a next time.” And she said, “That’s for sure!”)

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