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Monday, August 13, 2007

How are the Purnimas in Bangladesh?

How are the Purnimas?

Baby Maodud, Daily Jugantor, May 21st, 2007

An English Translation

Reader, you haven’t forgotten Purnima, have you? I am talking about Purnima Shil, you know the (Hindu) girl who used to live in the small village of Purbadulia in Uttarpara, Sirajgunj. Can you recall the girl who was an A student in the Ulapara Hamida Pilot High School?
That’s right, she was working as a volunteer for an ‘Awami League’ party candidate on October 1st, 2001. And what a crime it was? Do you remember October 8th, only a week after the election? As the day fell, a group of ‘Terrorists’ (*1) set upon Purnima’s dad, Anil Shil and unleashed a brutal assault on him. They later set upon Purnima’s mum and, two of her siblings and, broke into their home and took to looting the contents of the Shil household.
Purnima sped towards their neighbour Policeman Ismail’s house to seek help. But Ismail’s wife Sufia Begum started verbally abusing her with profanities- Purnima was thrown out of the house. The terrorists lay in wait in front of Ismail’s house.
Eight of them grabbed Purnima, picked her up and carried her off to a nearby farmland and took turns in brutally raping her. A bunch of feral beasts unleashed a torrent of sexual violence on this child- the one who cherished a dream, the one who had the brainpower, and the one who was determined to excel in life. She had seen her parents struggling for survival, felt the pain and suffering her younger brother and sister were going through. Purnima was the brave one who wanted to lift the family out of poverty. And then this! The Shame with The Filth from these beasts threw a dark blanket over Purnima. (*2)
Reader, you couldn’t have forgotten that picture of Purnima- tears rolling down the cheeks of her small face covered by her soft little hands. Our conscience woke up on that day of shame, our shame, as never before. After the incident, Purnima filed legal charges. During her deposition, she described ‘everything’ and named all the Terrorists.
Then entered the scene- who else but the newly elected local MP of “Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)” – he tried to sweep it under the rug. He offered money to Purnima’s dad to have the case withdrawn. But young Purnima showed her mettle and said, “I have lost everything, I want justice”
We are still waiting for the judgment day.
Reading Purnima’s deposition was chilling as we sensed the unbearable torture consuming Purnima when she spoke.
Purnima gave her deposition before a First Class Magistrate, Anwar Hossain Howladar. She said, “My name is Purnima Rani Shil. Last Monday, October 8th, It was around 2.00 -2.30 pm, I went to Doctor Bablu’s house to give private tuition to his daughter & his nephew. My mum was running a fever. She asked me to come back soon so that I can cook some food for sending on to my brothers. On my way back I heard Altaf mocking me. “Are you going to cook something for me”? I was scared, didn’t answer him back, and hurried back home. It would have been about 4.00 –4.15 pm. After that I cooked some rice and fish, and asked my dad to take it to my brothers. It was 6.0- 6.30 pm by then- there was no electricity at that time. Dad left home with the food and took a flashlight with him. After he went a short distance, ‘they’ started beating my dad near the Policeman Ismail’s house. We have never seen any one beating our dad before. My brother Gopal came running to tell us that my dad was being badly roughed up.”
“He asked my mum to have some money on her to pay for any medical treatment needed for my dad. When my mum & my brother asked me to accompany them, I told mum that I have homework to do for the school. She said it wouldn’t be safe for me to stay alone because ‘they’ can strike anytime. So we left home together. The electricity was now back. As we came near Policeman Ismail’s house, ‘they’ set upon us. I received six blows to my back. My mum got a vicious beating. After receiving a couple of blows, my brother fled. After the beating, I escaped and hid behind the row of banana trees in Policeman Ismail’s house. ‘They’ started looking for me with a flashlight. Sensing more trouble, I ran to Sufia, Policeman Ismail’s wife, and I cried, “Save me, sister, please save me.” Sister Sufia, shouted back at me, ‘You are a bad girl, why are you here, get out of my house’. Kismet was watching TV at the time. I urged Kismet, ‘Brother Kismet, please save me.’ Kismet got hold of me only to shove me out of the house towards ‘them’.”
“Immediately ‘they’ grabbed me on the other side of the street. The lights were turned off in Ismail’s house at that time. But I knew ‘their’ voices- the voices of Altaf, Jalil, Mannan, Malek, and Hayven. ‘They’ lifted me up and carried me off on ‘their’ arms towards Hatkhola in Purbadulia. Then ‘they’ dropped me on a farmland flat, next to a vegetable plot. Almost 12 to 13 of ‘them’ pressed my body down as Jalil & Altaf begun raping me. I could see the criminals in the flashlight ‘they’ were then using. That aside, I knew ‘them’ all - ‘they’ all lived in my neighbourhood. Altaf, Jalil, Mannan, Malek, Litton, Rezaul, Rauf, Hayven, Majnu, Asif, Momin, another Altaf, Bablu, Jaharul, Hossain, Yashin, Abdul & a few more – ‘they’ were all there at the time. When they first grabbed me & then abducted me, I had started screaming but they soon pressed my mouth shut. They choked me on the throat. “
“Fazal’s son Altaf took out the gold ring from my finger. I do not know who took out the silver bangles from my arms. It was some time later when Sadhan, Asim and Akbar Member arrived at the scene and rescued me. At the time when ‘they’ were taking me away, my younger sister came out of the house running towards us; Malek & Mannan beat her up.”
“I am due to take my S.S.C. exams from Hamida Pilot High School. My dad knew very little about this whole incident up until the point I was preparing to come here for my deposition. My father was taken ill and I was sick, too. I was under Doctor Dilip’s treatment. When my father heard about the incident, he tried to dissuade me from coming here and to think about the family honour and the consequences that may harm our family. But why shouldn’t I come? I have lost every thing. I want justice.”
I met with Purnima and her mother a few days back. The family is living in great distress. They look battered, bruised. They cannot live in their ancestral village because of the harassment and the threats. The legal case has still not recommenced. Every bit of vegetable, fruit, bamboo shoot and the rest are stolen from their land and, yet the Shil family cannot live in their own home. This is something! More than one can cope with.
The Shils have managed to find a shelter in the town of Ulapara. Purnima’s older brothers now work from a makeshift barbershop (*3) on the sidewalk. There seems to be little security and peace in sight. Purnima’s older sisters work as part-time maid in some households that buy them one square meal a day (*4). The family has become a target in the community due to the gang rape perpetrated on Purnima (*4).
In the meantime, Purnima has passed her secondary & higher secondary education board exams, and is now studying at a technical institute. She is looking forward to earning a degree. This would qualify her for higher studies in Digital Technology leading to a professional career. So far Purnima has been receiving assistance from some local and international human rights organizations. She receives a bursary from Bangabandhu Memorial Trust. “I couldn’t have survived without these help.” She uttered those words with a lot of belief in her own self but one can feel that a sharp pain is still hurting her inside.
A metallic still surfaced on her face, “Why shouldn’t I get justice? Why (because of me) my family has to live this sub human existence? What is their crime? Why can’t they live in their own house? Why shouldn’t those criminals receive their due punishment? My life has been ruined, but I want my family members to live in peace, and without fear. This is my appeal, this is what I want.”
No doubt such words from Purnima are bound to touch everyone. One suspects that during the time of BNP & Jamat, the legal case was suppressed due to directives received from their coalition Government. Because of powerful local interests, the police was pressured into taking no action against the criminals. As a result, the case is still unresolved. The accused criminals move about with impunity, issuing threats, and intimidating Purnima’s family members.
When a female member of any family is preyed upon and become a victim of rapists, the family tends to face isolation and further suffering in the community. On top of that if there is no legal justice, it becomes practically impossible to exist in the community (*5).
On January12th, 2007, the Chief Administrator, Dr Fakruddin Ahmed, delivered his address to the Nation- he said that his administration would take drastic measures against those who commit crimes against women. In this context, he further asked for the joint & effective actions from the State and the affected communities. We want to see Purnima’s face lighten up a little. We know, the inhumane torture & pain she has suffered would haunt her for the rest of her life, but are we so helpless ourselves that we cannot even bring a ray of hope and a touch of comfort in Purnima’s life?

(1) “Terrorists” or “Santrasees” in ‘Bengali’ are people who terrorise their local community targets (especially minorities) and commit atrocities on them including killing, maiming, raping, ransacking or destroying their properties or temples
(2) As if, “Purnima”, the night of the full moon, was turned into ‘Amabassya’, the dark Moonless night.)
(3) Any permanent structure to work from is raided and demolished by the terrorists.
(4) Purnima’s brother in law has deserted her sister and her two kids. And to heighten the tragedy & injustice, Purnima’s dad has died recently.
(5) Most ‘individual female rape victims’ or ‘group rape’ victims and their families fear further retribution at the hands of the terrorists and refrain from bringing charges against them. For instance, there has been no justice for the 200 gang raped in a single night in Char fashion, Bhola (Nov 2001 Daily Star- “The night of the lost nose pins”.) And it would be interesting to see how long it takes in a more recent case- for the family of teenager Barnali Ghosh, a student, to get justice
On Barnali Ghosh (Daily Amar Desh 13 July 07)

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