You are on page 1of 12

When Justice Kills

In the name of justice, women in Bangladesh, irrespective of their race, religion and social status, continue to pay
the price with their life because of a flawed legal system, social pressure and distortion of religion.

Tamanna Khan

On January 23, 2011, fifteen-year old Hena Akhter was raped by her married
cousin from the same village and her family was forced to accept village
arbitration which imposed physical punishment in the name of religion on the
injured girl, who was denied of immediate medical treatment. Only after she
took her own life on January 31, did the law enforcers take an interest in
bringing the arbitrators and the rapist to book.

Twenty days later, on February 21, 2011 Serafina Mardi died from burn
injuries, after she had set herself ablaze four days earlier. A year ago, on
April 4, 2010, she was gang raped by nine men of her village. Surpassing the
legal system of the country, Serafina too was forced to accept community
arbitration that promised her 1.4 lakh taka from the nine rapists and a vague
undertaking of marriage by one of the rapists, Nirmol Murmu. Unfortunately
for Serafina the judgement did not materialise and unable to bear provocation
by her rapists who moved about freely in her community, the young girl
finally committed suicide.

At first instance, the crimes that took place in Chamta, Shariatpur on January
23, 2011 and the other in Amtulipara, Godagari, Rajshahi on April 4, 2010
appear far from related. While Hena belonged to the majority Bengali Muslim
community in southern Bangladesh, Serafina grew up among the
marginalised Christian Santals of the north. However, the dissimilarities in
their larger social background did not make any difference in the way their
respective communities treated them. In both cases, the local community
sidelined the law of the land and used religion for their own benefit to impose
farcical justice on these unfortunate girls– killing one and compelling the other to take her own life.

Unlike Hena, Serafina's family was able to file a rape case, but, community leaders along with the Shurshunipara
Catholic Church, in an attempt to save the unity of the community forced the victim's family to withdraw the case.
On April 23, 2010 they arranged arbitration and imposed an out-of court-settlement with the victim while the rape
case was still under trial. The disturbing question in both the cases is how the existing system of law was totally
ignored and the victims were forced to accept arbitration judgement by local community leaders. Referring to the
arbitrations that took place in Hena and Serafina's case, Nina Gowsami, lawyer of Ain O Salish Kendra, a legal aid
and human rights organisation, says: "Such arbitration has no validity. There should be no arbitration for rape case
as it is completely non-compoundable." Citing the above cases, Nina adds that the victims' families never
voluntarily go for arbitration rather they are forced to accept the judgement imposed on them because of the
muscle power of the perpetrators.

In both cases the local community leaders sought help of religion to carry out their abominable act. While the
Imam of the local mosque Hafez Mafiz endorsed Hena's dorra(thrashing), Reverend Bernand Tudu considered as
the guardian of the parish, did not intervene while arbitration went on in the church's premise, which was an
injustice on Serafina. However, the question arises whether religions, like Islam and Christianity, dictated by their
Holy books - the Quran and the Bible - at all support such arbitration. Islamic scholar and academician Dr.
Shamsher Ali says: "There is an established system of law in this country for rape cases. Other than cases like
marriage and inheritance, we do not apply Islamic law for social mishaps like rape." He further adds that although
there is specific punishment mentioned in the Quran for cases of adultery, nothing for rape is stated. Referring to
Hena's case he says: "As we are not governed by Shariah Council, such village arbitration has no basis at all. When
anybody uses religion to dictate such justice, religion itself is being maligned."

Father Advocate Albert Rozerio, Secretary General, Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace in Bangladesh and
Legal Advisor, Dhaka Catholic Archdiocese, defends the action of Reverend Bernand Tudu, saying: "The initiative
for the arbitration was not taken by the Father. As Fathers we always want peace and since our Christian religion
preaches peace, Father Tudu must have supported the arbitration thinking it as a good step towards peace and
settlement." In reply to whether Church has the authority to carry out arbitration and deal with crimes like rape
Father Albert says: "Each religious community or parish is under one or more parish priest. To assist him, a parish
council is organised, which looks after the education, health, social justice and legal arbitration of the community.
The president of the parish is a Father and there is an understanding that to maintain the peace of the parish they
are allowed to take any decision. But this does not have any legal basis. It can work only as a support to the
existing law of the land but has no legal power." Father Albert adds: "We have Cannon Laws to govern a
congregation, but for crimes like rape, murder, robbery the law of the state has to be followed."

Although rape, its trial and judgement has not been specifically mentioned in the Holy books, the Quran and the
Bible, this does not make the crime any less heinous neither pardonable. Yet rape victims and their families are
forced to accept judgement by illegal arbitration because of the lengthy and complicated legal framework of the
country. "Families often look for prompt remedy so they bypass the legal system. Although there is a time frame
for the trials under the Nari-O-Shishu Nirjatan Daman Ain 2000, but it is hardly followed because of non-
participation of public prosecution as well as police. Since police has more cases than they can handle they often
request for time extension for investigation. Meanwhile, the perpetrators are released on bail and they frequently
harass and threaten the victim and her family. This also gives them time to call local arbitration and impose out-of
court settlements.”

Besides, local community and religious leaders, the entire legal process played an inexplicable role in dealing with
the rape cases of Hena and Serafina. In Hena's case, the investigation officer and police inspector wrongly filed the
case and the civil surgeon and doctors of Shariatpur Sadar Hospital came up with a false post-mortem report. In
Serafina's case the public prosecutor and the lower judiciary did not question Serafina's statement when she said
she had filed a false case of rape, even when her medical report clearly showed she had been gang raped. The
court informally knew about the illegal out-of-court settlement and acquitted the nine rapists. Nina says,
"Government was the plaintiff in this case. As long as the government does not withdraw the case, trial can still be
held even if the victim withdraws and witnesses do not cooperate. The trial of Serafina's case could have been
carried out using the medical report and other documents. Unlike Hena's case where High Court has taken up the
initiative, interest of the lower judiciary in Serafina's case is not perceivable."

Apart from being members of the weaker sex, both these young teenage girls - Hena Akhter and Serafina Mardi
had the misfortune of being born to poor families. As a result the worth of their life could easily be traded for the
larger good of their respective communities – to the extent of protecting their rapists. As long as society's attitude
towards rape and the victims do not change, and the legal system continues to fail in delivering quick and
exemplary punishment to rapists, girls like Hena and Serafina will continue to make the headlines for the wrong
reason and the vulnerability of women irrespective of their religion, race and social status will continue to amplify.

Exhuming the Truth


Fifteen-year-old Hena was raped and tortured by her rapist's relatives in a remote village in Shariatpur. A village
tribunal imposed an edict to lash her 101 times for her 'crime'. Unable to bear the brutality, Hena succumbed to
her injuries. The first autopsy report however, stated that there were no injury marks on Hena, completely denying
the barbaric treatment meted out to her. A new court ruling, however, ordered for her body to be exhumed. A
second autopsy has given clear evidence of the heinous crime committed against her.

Morshed Ali Khan and Emran Hossain

Nurul Islam has been a dome (a traditional morgue assistant) for the last 18 years working in the dirty corridors of
Shariatpur's state-run hospital morgue. Today he is nervous. In his long experience he has never before exhumed
a human body from the grave in the dark of the night. That too, without electricity and in a remote village called
Chamta, 30 kilometres away from Shariatpur.

Nurul walks around the grave and clears the dry leaves fallen on it in the light of a kerosene lamp placed on a
plastic tool nearby. Along with Nurul, who is standing by the grave, wait top officials from the district
administration and armed policemen.
The unusual gathering of officials at this time of the day is to ensure exhuming of the body of 15-year-old Hena,
who died a week earlier. The daughter of a poor peasant, Hena was the victim of a religious verdict or fatwa.
Youngest of three sisters and a mentally challenged brother, Hena was raped, tortured and whipped before she
succumbed to her injuries. Shortly after her death, the police inquest found no trace of injury marks on her body
and the civil surgeon's office in Shariatpur stupefied the entire community with a post-mortem report that exactly
corroborated with the police inquest. Following a report published in The Daily Star raising serious doubts about the
reports, a High Court bench in Dhaka stepped in to ensure justice. “Exhume the body and let it be examined by
three experts in Dhaka without the slightest delay…” was the order given earlier on that day of February 7.

For Nurul, the dome, the very thought of disturbing the dead at night gives him the jitters. There isn't even enough
kerosene to neutralise the stench of the body buried a week back. He can't wait longer. “Sir, should I start
digging?” Nurul asks impatiently. The crowd of about hundred villagers look on.

Nurul's 'sir', the executive magistrate (administration) Habibullah, however, is in no position to give the order as he
is swarmed with journalists wanting to know why the body of Hena is being exhumed.

“We have an order from the authority to disinter (dig up) the body tonight,” Habibullah tells journalists and asks
Nurul to begin his work as the clock clicks 9:00 pm.
The courtyard outside Mahbub's house where the arbitrators gathered to declare an illegal edict.

With his young assistant, Nurul takes only 15 minutes to unearth Hena, wrapped in a white loin cloth. Hena's father
Darbesh Kha leans over to formally identify his daughter, still in her grave. Darbesh reacts with a sharp jerk and
immediately leaves the place.

Soon it becomes clear that the executive magistrate is disinterring a body for the first time in his life. His lack of
experience prompts him to call his superior every time he faces a situation. Now he wants to know whether a re-
inquest is necessary before re-post-mortem.

The head of the first post-mortem team, Residential Medical Officer of Shariatpur Sadar Hospital Dr Nirmal Chandra
Das, is also present. He looks tense and nervous.

At exactly 9:20 pm Nurul brings out Hena's body. A heavy stench of decomposed human flesh fills the air, forcing
the waiting crowd to retreat.

Civil surgeon Golam Sarwar orders his deputy Nirmal over phone to send the body directly to Dhaka without having
any re-inquest.

“We are doing this at the order of the High Court. I don't know why the order has come,” a visibly shaken Nirmal
tells journalists.

Soon the coffin is taken onto a rickshaw van. As the van waits on the home yard, where Hena might have walked
everyday several times, none of her family members can come out. The van, meanwhile, waits. For the first time
on the home yard Hena needs one more witness from the neighbourhood to be identified. For Hena's father,
mother, sisters and brother it must be unbearable, to go through such an ordeal. Even the other day Darbesh Kha
had dinner with his daughter, just before Hena was abducted, gagged and raped by her cousin Mahbub.
The house where Hena was sentenced to 101 lashes.

Darbesh lives in a small hut in a cluster of homes owned by relatives. Darbesh will never forget the evening of
January 23, when Hena's cries for help woke him up. He rushed out to find Hena in Mahbub's house where
Mahbub's wife Shilpi teamed up with three others to unleash their rage on his little girl. Shilpi had discovered
Mahbub and Hena just outside the house after he had raped the child. Incensed, Shilpi charged at Hena. Two of
Shilpi's relatives, Morsheda and Jahanara also joined in for the onslaught. They dragged Hena into the house and
beat her mercilessly. When Darbesh reached the place, Hena was severely wounded, sustaining a serious injury
just below her left eye from beating.

With serious internal haemorrhage, Hena was still alive when she was brought back home that night. “Unable to
move, my little child moaned in extreme pain with tears rolling down her face all the time,” Aklima Begum, Hena’s
mother says, as she wipes tears from her eyes, “In the morning I could feel my little child needed treatment but
we could not send her anywhere.”

Throughout the entire day Hena remained silent, almost unconscious. “The injury under her eye was so severe that
it made her eyes look red but we could not take her to hospital.” Aklima adds, “We had a saving of only Tk 500 in
cash while the arbitrators were intimidating us so that we would not admit her at the hospital. Did I act like a good
mother?”

Little did poor Darbesh and Aklima know on that day that worse was yet to descend on them on the night of
January 24. A vengeful Shilpi organised a team of arbitrators-- all of whom were her family members or in-laws
except for the local madrasa teacher moulana Saiful and local mosque Imam Hafez Mafiz-- to come to her house at
around midnight. Once the arbitrators arrived, her unfaithful husband and rapist Mahbub was summoned before
them. They then asked Darbesh and Aklima to bring Hena before the "court", in the verandah of her house where
the "court" headed by Moulana Saiful was waiting.
Nurul Islam (left) and his assistant dig up Hena's body from the grave. Darbesh Kha identifies Hena's body.

In the whole process Shilpi was aided by her sister Jahanara Begum, brother Akkas Meermalot and in-laws--
Morsheda Begum, Idris Sheikh, member of Chamta union parishad, Yeasin Meermalot, Dil Mohmmad Meermalot,
Ala Box Karati, Joynal Meermalot, Latif Meermalot, Abdul Hai Meermalot, Hafez Md Mofiz Talukder, Saiful,
Monimala, Robiul Khan, Hasan Meermalot and Jamal Shikder.

“As our child was unable to walk, we had to carry her to Shilpi's house,” Aklima says. Hena had to stand there
before the Moulana, who first forced Mahbub to sign on a land deed to hand over 18 decimals of land and a small
abode to Shilpi, his 'helpless' wife. Shilpi had asked for the land and the home to ensure her own future as
Mahbub, as Shilpi said, was unfaithful to her.

When the arbitrators were about to call off the arbitration without mentioning anything about Hena, Darbesh Kha
demanded justice saying, “What kind of arbitration you are holding. What about the justice against the dishonour
to my daughter?”

Shilpi's brother Akkas Meermalot wasted no time to mention that it should be done in accordance with Islami law.
Shilpi's family, insisted that the incident be treated very seriously and severe punishment be meted out to the
offenders. Mahbub had a history of lecherous behaviour; he had in fact forced the family to marry Shilpi off to him
about 20 years back. Shilpi insisted that it was Hena, who had provoked Mahbub's adultery. About six months ago,
Mahbub had been fined Tk 75,000 in a local arbitration for harassing Hena. Before that, Mahbub was slapped in
another arbitration held for the same reason but he never stopped harassing the child.

Inspector Mirza A K Azad of Naria police station. The High Court has ordered departmental action for not filing
the initial case properly.

Now, it was Hena's turn to face the arbitrators, her parents were only allowed to sit in and listen. The arbitrators
sentenced Hena to 101 lashes and Mahbub to 200 lashes. A wet gamcha was spun and knotted at one end to
execute the order.
Interestingly it was Shilpi's sister-in-law Monimala who was selected for lashing Hena while Mahbub's father Robiul
Kha was selected to execute the order on his son.

Halfway through the lashes, Hena collapsed. Her helpless parents carried her back home.

Darbesh Kha was so terrified by the events that he did not even dare approach the local union parishad chairman,
a local headman traditionally heading the village courts. Shilpi bypassed the official members of the shalish and
resorted to fatwa.

Hena was admitted to Shariatput Sadar Hospital on January 25 as her condition worsened.

Yet, Darbesh Kha's 15-year-old daughter was alive and trying to recover. But Darbesh's social status in the state
structure of power is so insignificant that the perpetrators started spreading the rumour that Hena was being kept
at the hospital unnecessarily for a long time to realise money from them.The perpetrators branded Darbesh “a liar”
and threatened to file a case against him on charge of cheating if he did not bring Hena back home from the
hospital.

Darbesh Kha and Aklima Begum, Hena's parents who could not save their child from the wrath of the influential
and corrupt.

Idris Member, an architect of the fatwa, prevented Darbesh from going to the police station. Finally the family
brought their dying daughter back home from hospital on January 30.

The following day, at home, on January 31, Hena's condition deteriorated fast. At around 8 pm the family took
Hena to the Mulfatganj Upazila Health complex where a doctor declared her dead.
Having completed a series of formalities at the health complex, Darbesh Kha returned home with his dead
daughter. A cunning Idris, present there, now sensed that things were going out of hand and advised Darbesh to
put the dead body in the house of Mahbub, where Hena had sustained the fatal injuries.

The following day at around noon, Sub-inspector Aslam Uddin having been informed by the health complex of an
unnatural death, arrived at Mahbub's house for the inquest. Hena's body was then transferred to Shariatpur
Hospital for autopsy before it was buried on February 1.

Having exhumed the body police now wait on the yard of Hena's house for one more last witness from the
neighbourhood before the body leaves for Dhaka. Noone comes forward.

“My daughter left me behind to see this scene. Put me in the grave with her,” cries Darbesh Kha from inside the
house as police wait outside in silence under a dark sky.

“Allah, why have you kept me alive for watching this face?” Darbesh goes on repeating the same line incessantly
while his wife only cries out: “Allah, Allah.”

The latest autopsy of Hena, which was held on February 8 at the Dhaka Medical College and Hospital, found eight
external and seven internal wounds on Hena's body. The DMCH autopsy also found four bruises on the chest, three
on the back of the abdomen and one in the left thigh. The external bruises were on average four inches long and
two inches wide.

The internal ones, the report said, were mostly four and a half inches long and three inches wide. The wounds
included three in the chest, three on the back of abdomen and one in the left thigh.

The High Court bench on February 10 comprising Justice Justice AHM Shamsuddin Chowdhury Manik and Justice
Sheikh Md Zakir Hossain termed the first autopsy report a blatant lie and rebuked the civil surgeon and the doctors
involved in the autopsy.

Following the fresh post-mortem report, the court passed eight directives, including filing of a fresh case and action
against investigation officer of the case and the police inspector who wrongly filed the case in fifteen days.

A fresh case has already been filed with Naria police station on five charges while the earlier case filed on murder
charge has been transferred to the Criminal Investigation Department for investigation.

Other directives include probing the conflicting post-mortem reports to find out if the responsible doctors were
negligent in carrying out their duties in a month, a countrywide campaign against fatwa as a criminal offence, and
providing security to Hena's family.

As the team of government official and police waited for the last witness to come the entire village looked like a
desert sleeping in silence.

“Sir, where is my fee?” asks Nurul breaking the silence at one stage.

“Don't you see the condition and status of the family? How do you expect money?” argues the Naria police station
officer-in-charge Abul Khair giving a Tk 500 note to the man from his own pocket.

“Sir, five hundred is too little money for so big a job,” replied Nurul. The puzzled police officer delves into his
pocket again and hands over another Tk 300.

At this stage, Hena's younger brother Iqbal, a mentally challenged boy, comes out to sign as the witness for her
sister's dead body.

“We don't consider disabled persons as witnesses,” says someone from the board of officers, “We don't need a
witness in that case.”

Escorted by police the van leaves for Dhaka, Hena's body makes the lonely trip to court for justice.
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Religious courts where fatwa or religious edicts are pronounced informally exist in almost every village across the
country. When an imam of a mosque or a so called religious leader in a village gives an edict, simple God- fearing
people, as most villagers are, are forced to accept it. But the basis on which the punishment is given almost always
remains totally in the dark, unknown not only to the victims but also to the religious book that is supposed to
prescribe it.

For years, village arbitrators, especially these religious courts have enjoyed immunity despite horrendous incidents
related to pronouncement of fatwa. According to NGO workers, it is only when deaths occur due to pronouncement
of fatwa, that the perpetrators may get punished.

Throughout the country fatwa is given in many ways: calling for a total ostracism of the offending person or a
family from the community, forcing a separation after an angry husband verbally divorces his wife, or forcing a
temporary marriage of the wife willing to live with her husband after the verbal divorce and lashing someone for
alleged adultery. This is not where it stops. These religious arbitrators have pronounced fatwa against Non
Government Organisations fighting for the rights of women and other social injustices too. They have, in the past
pronounced fatwa against the moon sighting committee which decides the day of Eid, the religious festival. In 1994
they passed an edict forbidding the observing of the International Women's Day. The same year , in a publicised
fatwa, religious arbitrators forbade singing of the national anthem and hoisting the national flag in Rangamati.

However, there are instances when fatwa for even conscious people become inevitable. For instance, recently in a
remote village of Barisal a religious leader had a dispute with the imam of the mosque. The angry man boycotted
the mosque where he had a dispute with the Imam over a trivial religious matter. The man went on to select a
piece of land belonging to him and built a mosque, not very far from the first one. The matter put two groups of
villagers confronting each other. It rolled on to the local administration. The local administration, in turn, asked a
fatwa board to decide whether or not two mosques within such a small distance could operate. The fatwa board
decided in favour of both mosques operating. The story ended happily.

According to newspaper reports between 1995 and 2010 there were 503 incidents of fatwa in the country.

Surprisingly, the law of the land does not prohibit fatwa. In 2001 a High Court bench, comprising Justice Md Golam
Rabbani and Nazmun ara Sultana, stepped in to declare fatwa illegal. But two religious leaders challenged the
verdict and put its implementation procedures on a halt. Curiously, the hearing of the case has never taken place
for the last ten years.

However, a three-member bench of the Appellate Division headed by Chief Justice ABM Khairul Haque on February
14, appointed 10 senior lawyers as amici curiae (friends of court) for their expert opinion on the long pending
appeal against the High Court verdict that declared fatwa (religious edict) illegal.

The amici curiae are TH Khan, Rafique-ul Huq, Mahmudul Islam, M Zahir, Rokanuddin Mahmud, AF Hasan Ariff, MI
Farooqui, ABM Nurul Islam, Rabia Bhuiyan and Tania Amir.

One of the cases of fatwa that stunned the nation dates back to 1993 in Chatakchhara village under the Kamalganj
upazila in Maulavibazar. A group of nine arbitrators led by Maulana Mannan sentenced Noorjahan, a housewife, to
be stoned 101 after she would be buried waist-deep. Humiliated and disgraced, Noorjahan took her own life
immediately after the execution of the verdict. Her tragic death instantly created such an outcry throughout the
country that the police were forced to take action and arrest the nine criminals. Each of the nine criminals was
sentenced to seven years of imprisonment by a court of justice of the land.

The most recent case of Hena of a remote village 30 kilometres from Shariatpur would have been suppressed and
forgotten by now had the press been non-vigilant and High Court non-reactive. With Hena's murder, rape and
assault cases being subjudice, we as a society must unite against this social evil called fatwa.

– MORSHED ALI KHAN


Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2010

Trapped in a Nightmare
Anika Hossain

A fourteen-year-old, living in a small community, in a remote village did not


know much about the world. She had reached puberty, but in many ways she
was still a child who led a sheltered life, and was raised to trust the people
she had grown up knowing, the very same people who ruthlessly stole her
innocence, and led her to a violent death.

Serafina Mardi's fate has shown us once again the ugly reality of our society,
which seems to surface more frequently with every passing day. Rape, a
grievous violation of human rights, has now become a regular phenomenon
seen in our dailies. The news is reported, and the crime goes unpunished, but
what becomes of the victims who survive the assault? Are they given the care
they need to recover? What went on in Serafina's mind, to compel her to take
her life almost a year after her rape?

A few months after her rape, Serafina Mardi's cuts and bruises healed, and no outward sign of the trauma
remained. In her mind, however, there were deep wounds still cut wide open. "If being raped was not damaging
enough to her mental state, going back to the community and facing her tormentors made things much worse,"
says Ishrat Rahman, a clinical psychologist at the National Trauma Counseling Centre. According to Rahman, a
victim of rape goes through several stages of psychological trauma after her attack takes place.

The aftermath of rape has both immediate and long-term effects on the victim's mind, and the healing process is
lengthy and difficult. The symptoms, which can be seen shortly after the incident, are the display of unpredictable
and intense emotions. The victim may startle easily, may have fresh memories and intrusive thoughts about the
incident, nightmares and loss of sleep and concentration. They can also react violently toward themselves and
exhibit abnormal behaviours such as swearing, crying etc, if faced with triggers which remind them of the incident.
This type of behaviour was observed in Serafina, when she returned home from the safe house, where she had
been recovering steadily.

"The sight of her rapists, roaming around like nothing happened, triggered these responses in her," states Rahman.
"People in our society are often insensitive and do not have the skills to interact with trauma victims.
Unfortunately, the community members did not make things easier for her. She was made to feel unwanted,
unclean and became an outcast, and all this added to her deteriorating mental condition."

Rahman shares that the immediate symptoms of rape trauma are diagnosed as Acute Stress Disorder, and the
persons going through this phase feel numb, detached and in a daze and their world seems unreal to them. They
have trouble remembering the details of their assault and subconsciously try to block them out at the same time;
they relive the feeling of being assaulted repeatedly through thoughts, memories and nightmares. They also avoid
all things that remind them of the incident and experience increasing anxiety.
Within a few weeks of the attack, the victims go through an acute phase of the Rape Trauma Syndrome (RTS),
during which they feel shock, disbelief, humiliation, confusion, shame, and guilt, particularly if the rapist is an
acquaintance, which was true in Serafina's case.

They also experience realistic flashbacks and a strong attempt to disconnect themselves from their emotions. They
may also be in denial and try to convince themselves that the incident did not take place. During this phase,
constant reminders from others about the assault may do further damage to the victim's psyche.

Depending on the victim's personality, they may react in an expressive style, which would involve, rage,
screaming, crying, shaking, ironic or uncomfortable laughter and restlessness. They may also react in a controlled
style, which involves calm, quite, and rational outward behaviour while facing severe inner turmoil. They may feel
unsafe, causing anxiety and difficulty with intimate relationships. They may also try to return to normal social
interaction and consequently, find themselves unable to do so because of the lack of trust in everyone.

The reorganisation phase follows closely, as the victims begin to attempt to put their lives back together the way it
once was. The feelings of anxiety, fear and anger still resurface during this phase. In Serafina's case, she was
given the option to either become a nun and give up the life she knew, or marry one of her tormentors and return
to her village to have her honour restored. "To a fourteen-year-old child, the desire to return to familiar
surroundings and get back her life, combined with pressure from family and village leaders, may have prompted
her to accept, but the loss of control over her own body and mind can cause havoc in a victim's life," says Rahman.

"A feeling of intense fear of further attacks, the fear of being dependent on someone she has no trust or respect
for, may have made her feel paralysed with distress, a marriage like that would have been deeply disturbing and
traumatic for her,” says Rahman. However, threats to her family and a large financial settlement overshadowed the
well being of the child.

According to Rahman, after three months have passed, the long-term effects of untreated rape trauma begins to
surface. Conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may develop, which include loss of self esteem,
avoidance of triggers, extreme distress when reminded of the trauma, irritability, hyper vigilance, memory loss,
clinical depression, anxiety, loss of appetite and severe flashbacks.

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) can also be seen in such victims, a condition in which certain emotions,
thoughts, sensations and memories are separated from the rest of the psyche. This is also referred to as splitting,
depersonalisation, derealisation and psychogenic amnesia. While DID is an effective defence mechanism to deal
with trauma, if it becomes habitual, it can evolve into a psychopathology. A severe form of dissociative disorder is
multiple personality disorder, where the victim develops one or more personalities, to cope with the traumatic
events. This condition however, is widely debated among mental health experts.

Rahman shares that "OCD or obsessive compulsive disorder is likely to develop in rape victims. They have
unwanted thoughts about the rape and create rituals to avoid these thoughts. Because they cannot control their
impulses, they often end up engaging in self injurious behaviours and even suicide.” Sleeping disorders and panic
attacks are also common symptoms, which develop in the long run.

"The impact of such an event affects children differently than it does adults. Children are more vulnerable and
therefore more severely affected,” says Rahman. “ They often suffer from developmental disorders and mental
retardation, they become mute, blind or paralysed, with no apparent physical cause, they may also develop
personality disorders. They are extremely insecure and frightened at all times and can wake up screaming or
wetting their beds. They may also develop a fear toward the opposite sex," she continues. "Unfortunately in
Bangladesh, mentally challenged children are the ones most targeted for sexual assault, because they either do not
understand, or are unable to report the incidents.”

"The only way to save these victims is to provide them with extensive counseling, not just for them, but their
families too; but there aren't enough mental health professionals in Bangladesh to cater to the needs of the entire
population,” Rahman relates. “In fact, there is only one National Trauma Centre in the entire country and it is
located within the capital, and is not accessible by everyone, and this too was only set up in August 2009!"

Rahman opines, “People need to be made aware of their unintentionally cruel behaviour toward rape victims,
through newspapers and educational television programmes, so communities can change their mind-set and stop
punishing the victims. Our people are also in need of better education systems where they can receive value based
education and religious education. Illiteracy and ignorance are our biggest problems. They also need proper legal
counseling, so they do not settle these matters at village arbitrations outside the courtroom. The law enforcement
needs to be rid of corruption so they can actually do their jobs and help the victims rather than the perpetrators."
"The government has begun to take some steps by creating laws and training counselors and NGO workers with
basic skills so they can visit remote areas and identify and refer victims to places where they can get proper care.
Laws are also being created, but the question of proper implementation still remains," she continues.

All said and done, at the end of the day, all we have is a fourteen-year-old child, who not only went through an
unimaginable physical trauma, but was forced to relive the humiliation everyday for 10 months, until it left her
mind broken beyond repair. Some say she set herself on fire because her marriage to her tormentor did not take
place. The question we must ask ourselves is, what kind of barbaric society forces a child to think that marrying
her rapist is her only chance of living a normal life?

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2010