By Mahmood Sadat Ruhul for Alal O Dulal
“…nonchalant way the allegations have been swept aside by hordes of Bangladeshis beating the nationalist drum.”
Tuesday, March 9th, 2014 was a day like many others in Bangladeshi cultural memory: the same as when the national cricket team beat Pakistan in the 1999 World Cup, like the historic defeat of Australia by the diminutive Ashraful and his comrades, and not much different from the day Bangladesh completed their whitewash over New Zealand in their first series win over a top-8 opponent.
One of the heroes of the win over England was Rubel Hossain. The 27 year old pacer secured a famous heist at the dying stages of the match, just when England looked set to cruise to victory.
Something that has not as often been mentioned in recent days, although to say it has been completely absent would be an untruth, is that Hossain is in the midst of being tried for a rape allegation.
The allegations made by Naznin Akter Happy, against Hossain – although important – must not be allowed to shroud other important issues, and the broader point to be made is the distinct and nonchalant way the allegations have been swept aside by hordes of Bangladeshis beating the nationalist drum.
Of course, we do not know until a verdict comes out whether Hossain is guilty or not; it is nevertheless pertinent to actually document some of the details of the case, as reported in the press.
On December 13, 2014, Happy filed a case with Mirpur Thana against Hossain on charges of sexual assault. That much is clear, but unfortunately this is where the certainty ends, at least according to conflicting media reports, saying that Mr. Hossain was charged on everything from “sexual abuse”to “reneging” on marriage promises.
Prior to these charges, Happy and Rubel, according to the former, had met through Facebook and had been intimately involved for 9 months. Also according to statements made by Happy, Hossain had also been involved in another relationship concurrently during their affair.
Now, the uncertainty arises from various angles of this story, and the massive media attention given to it due the celebrity status of both the accused and accuser have only led to more contradictions.
For example, Ms. Happy has told reporters that she will withdraw the case if Mr. Hossain agrees to marry her. Why would she do this, and in such a publicized manner? Now, for his part Mr. Hossain, tight lipped so far in this scandal, nevertheless has ruled out marriage and has labeled the accusations as “blackmail”.
Make what you may of the retaliations back and forth, including the sudden resignation of Ms. Happy’s lawyer, who went as far as to say that,“Bangladesh played well. I hope they’ll continue to excel. Rubel should feel no pressure. I made this decision to keep him off pressure.”
The media’s lack of any critical distance from this case has made it into a farce, with anyone with the slightest kneejerk getting a microphone shoved against their face.
Rubel Hossain was arrested under the Women & Children Repression Prevention Act 2000. The act was hailed at the time of passing as a landmark in the fight for women’s equality. But in reality, the act may be more an illusion of Progressivism, rather than actual progress. The law itself, though a step towards gender equality, is somewhat ineffective in enforcing concrete changes and has too often been used “as an instrument of humiliation, extortion and harassment.” Barrister Quazi Maruf writes in the Daily Star of the law in detail, “For example section 19 of this Act makes all the offences punishable under this Act as ‘cognisable’. According to Sec.4 (1) (f) of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), a ‘cognisable offence’ is one for which a police officer can arrest someone without any warrant.” Although, speedy prosecutions for crimes of sexual assault and domestic abuse should be lauded (87% of women have been tortured by their husbands), the discretionary power of the police must also be kept under check, and unwarranted arrests are nothing if not a move towards a more authoritarian state.
Moreover, Ms. Happy told Channel 24 on the day following the victory that she will withdraw charges against Rubel in a turn of events:“I’ve forgiven him. I am not going to continue the case against him,” But the matter is far more complicated than just the accuser withdrawing the case; according to the Act, “the offence(s) under this Act is (sic) not compoundable which makes it impossible to withdraw a case when the parties of the suit want to do so.” One can see the merit of this provision, however, as the victims of abuse are often coerced into withdrawing the case by community pressure and harassment ( And the law, actually more than sufficiently punishes false complaints, 7 years in prison, which are even then not that common, not more than 8% at peak).
Of course, Ms. Happy’s decision will be greeted with jubilation from the vast majority of Bangladeshi national team enthusiasts, and no doubt countless “I told you so”s will be exchanged. What these reactions miss are the structural problems in the penal code and judiciary system In Bangladesh regarding cases of not only domestic and sexual assault, for example, marital rape is still very much legal in Bangladesh, but also reinforcements of police impunity.
To the issue, there have been no shortage of reactions.A trivial example, but one that will allow us to gauge the public perception of Hossain, is one that I take straight from my Facebook wall, as follows: A person updates their status, naturally, celebrating the win of the national team by exalting Rubel Hossain as her “shopner nayok” (hero of her dreams). Another person then comments that Naznin Happy, the actress who made the allegation, “kanna korbe” (she will weep). The original person with the status responds as thus: “Koruk! I’ll make her cry!”
The apparent disregard for the alleged victim is, of course, motivated by some form of patriotism, to what extent this is organic is debatable, but the roots of which also lie at Ms. Happy’s chosen profession. Actresses in conservative societies are often regarded as “loose” if not countless other crude adjectives (of course, this view is also not the rule, but it is widespread enough to merit notice), for their perceived independent “westernized” wardrobes and dance numbers. And even if one considers themselves as educated, modern individuals, one has nevertheless grown up through circles where actresses were regarded as little more than eye candy; thus, the implication being that “she had it coming” and the blame is firmly compounded on to the victim for their “lascivious” life choices.
This is but a tiny fraction of the backlash faced by Happy in the aftermath of the victory.Which, actually did not even begin after the Bangladesh’s victory. The backlash against Happy and defenses of Hossain began soon after the accusations surfaced.
Sandeep Dwivedi writes in the Indian Express: ‘In a press box crowded with Bangladesh reporters, I had cautiously asked one of them if the formerly incarcerated cricketer was popular back home. With a wink I was told, “Don’t know why but he has become more popular after that case. Maybe, the fans want to show their support to him.”’
So, taking the word of the reporters, the triumph only allowed the defenses to pick up steam. Allowing established journalists to say things like: ‘“He doesn’t know the city ways. He is a poor boy from a village. He is a rare talent for Bangladesh.”‘ (Note: these defenses are widespread in cases involving sport personalities. I will point your attention to Luis Suarez’s biting incident in The World Cup, when defenders tried to inculpate him by stressing that the rural origins Suarez came from didn’t teach discipline.)
Cricket is a religion in Bangladesh, but even so, the lack of critical analysis by journalists is disturbing. As, Sandeep Dwivedi, continues:’Faith is that one word that you hear often when you are among Bangladesh cricket followers. “We don’t carry anti-stories about cricket, no one wants to see them. No TRPs” a TV reporter had said after I asked too many Rubel questions.’
This hesitancy to ask harder hitting questions of sports people is by no means limited to Bangladesh. In fact, everywhere sports people have been accused of misconduct, especially of the sexual nature, the defenses have soon followed; Luiz Suarez, as I mentioned earlier, Kobe Bryant, Mike Tyson and Makhaya Ntini are all famous cases of these.
Again, the specifics are variables, and must not be used to make generalizations. It does not matter, in the larger context, whether or not the accusations are correct (once again, important, but not singularly so). The more pertinent issue is that of the media and indeed we, as an entire culture, holding these slavish attitudes towards sports people. Inculpating someone of his alleged crimes after a victory, or at the very least choosing to forget the crimes he was accused of is not journalism, not by the media, nor by us as citizens.
At the top of it all is the mass media, churning out these stories as given truths. Statements from public officials are parroted, businessmen are quoted about the inefficiencies of the public sector, and celebrities are used as breaking news day after day. Noam Chomsky, once wrote of mass media in democratic societies as and more dangerous tool of manipulation than the use of force in dictatorships, because, the media in democratic (used only nominally) societies win the war of ideas through the constant replication of “consent” from audiences.
Chomsky recapitulates the point, “Control of thought is more important for governments that are free and popular than for despotic and military states. The logic is straightforward: a despotic state can control its domestic enemies by force, but as the state loses this weapon, other devices are required to prevent the ignorant masses from interfering with public affairs, which are none of their business…the public are to be observers, not participants, consumers of ideology as well as products. (to advertisers)”(emphasis added)
And so it goes on.
Mahmood Sadaat Ruhul is a student and blogger, residing in Dhaka.