Getting Attacked on a Rickshaw in Dhaka on a Friday Night

In the current volatility of the local climate of Bangladesh in June of election year, following a spring of hurried protests and a stagnancy filled with hartals, I made a conscious decision not to hire a taxi and spend approximately US $500 to protect myself with airconditioning and fluff.

I can, I am sure, if I really and truly scrounge, but I don’t do it because I really and truly want to experience an iota of Bangladesh as it is presented to those who live on less than $1.08 a day, those who make up an approximate 67% of the country’s demographic, according to UN figures.

I’m trying to simply make my version of a living and pay off those exorbitant student loans, even when I may not be considered the average Bangladeshi, and in doing so, I’m attempting to create an understanding, personally, of what it means to use ethnographic frameworks of immersion into my circumstances, as deeply as possible, as deeply as Pulp‘s Common People Greek girl Bangla rendition can do, in nailing the fine art of navigating some of the most dangerous streets for pedestrians, in all of earth.

In doing so, I have been in a record three accidents in two months, and now a harassment.

I’m not here to give meaning to you. I don’t know you, after all.

Cycle rickshaw wallah next to his rickshaw, Dhaka.

Cycle rickshaw wallah next to his rickshaw, Dhaka. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tonight I speak out because I have been irrevocably groped, save for a padded bra, the wearing of which has protected and provided a supremely sad and utterly inadequate comfort in the knowledge, that it could have been worse, that what I experienced tonight could have been much worse, when I was harassed on a rickshaw, with two other friends.

I have been left seething with anger, because I have, by virtue of the disgusting and thankfully short encounter, become a statistic to my gender: ONE IN THREE WOMEN will be harassed, abused, violated, or tortured, at least once in their lives. 

Thankfully in this setting, my friends and I quickly found police personnel to intercept this horrific event. Regardless, I am shocked by the level of violation that can occur to unsuspecting passerby in the streets of Dhaka, and what a 10.30 PM rickshaw ride can mean to women, or in this case, two women and a man.

While traversing between Movenpick (an ice cream parlour) and the Aussie consulate on Gulshan Avenue in Dhaka, even though we had decided to walk, my friends and I were repeatedly followed by various vendors, from one selling whistles, to another dispensing jasmine flower necklaces.

In the background, a rickshawallah called out to see whether we needed a rickshaw. We had been walking to find a baby taxi, or a CNG as they’re called these days. Although the freak kept calling me the bodyguard to my two foreign friends, the irony of which wasn’t lost upon us later, we decided to clamber on, thinking only to quickly bypassing the necessary obligation of my friends recognizing that Dhaka really isn’t safe for girls at night, and never those on their own, and therefore having to walk me back at night.

The rickshaw dude’s response?

The disgusting man snaked his hand out, used his right hand to grab my friends and I, and made his filthy intentions clear by further sneers and crude comments. After a quick deliberation, we decided that the man should be better handed to the police, and thankfully, they were willing to listen and of assistance in restraining this man.

Whether he will be detained is obviously doubtful, as the police did not even bother to make a report.

Yes, I am not here to give meaning to you.

Because I may never know you, and I’m a fleeting statistic, that girl having a coffee in the background, that blur which passed you by in the train.

I am about 153 cm, and before I lived in Dhaka, I have never had to depend on rickshaws while traveling in Bangladesh. I have  a car awaiting me in Chittagong, every time I return.

In this sense, I am one of those who is sheltered and generally tends to travel by whatever mode of transportation is most comfortable.

Why do I tell you all this? Because I can only be honest: many, if not most of the women I know in Bangladesh have been harassed and have received unwanted attention from men, particularly those who rely on public transportation, and this is regardless of their race, ethnicity, social status, or education.

Which brings me to my most painful question: Is harassment and violation the plight of every average Bangladeshi who is unable to avoid and pick their modes of transport with flexibility, and their landscapes with control and power written on their faces?

One of the three accidents I have had, the third one, led me to save a poor rickshaw driver from being beaten up by the police. A car came up behind us and sent me flying off the rickshaw and into the mud moving between Kemal Ataturk Avenue. No one really gave a rat’s arse that I was on the ground. The car’s driver, erroneously, but quite assuredly, began to blame the rickshaw driver, and everyone else followed suit until I lost my temper and spoke some gibberish in my broken Bangla, before switching to rapid English, causing them to all take a look at me, and hurriedly disperse.

Yes, even me speaking out in this society is shocking, me a woman, raising my voice, my decibels, to yell at the twisted forms of justice that are sought in a country and a continent that is known to subvert, to shorten the exposure deliberately, to what justice can mean, and to whom it is delivered.

Funnily enough, for all those puritans, I was wearing a perfectly reasonable selwar kameez and was completely sober- although why that should matter is beyond me.

Being able to travel without being harassed, grabbed, or molested is a luxury, and it is a luxury of the privileged who can escape the crowds. Have we reached the point where the equation of being poor and/or being a woman are then, equitable with almost certain harassment?

Today, in my 29th year, having lived and traversed several landscapes across multiple continents, and having found solace only in removed landscapes devoid of people, of crowds, I am still sad to note that while one in three women get sexually harassed in their lifetimes, it is more likely to be the reality in the South Asian context.

And it needs to stop now. Nothing will happen to this rickshaw driver.

No cases were filed, nothing will remain, except for my anger, which has ensured I am doing something remarkably different from what would be expected of me, what we women are always told to do, which is to blend in, to shut up, to just let shit slide.

I am sick of it. You should be too. None of us deserve to be attacked.

I am here, only to give meaning to me, not to you, but because we share the commaniities of communication and language, and because ultimately I do believe that justice and human rights begins at home, I write this.

My reality is only a fraction of the horror, and the pain that many of you have had to endure at being touched without warning, without permission, and without so much as any dignity or respect, in a culture that does not give any , as is many of yours, and all I have to say is this: Men should be ASHAMED to touch a woman without permission regardless of what the circumstance is. There is absolutely no dignity in harassing a human being, any human being. VIOLATING SOMEONE IS NOT ACCEPTABLE, and there is no circumstance which ALLOWS it, even when implementation of justice doesn’t abide by the rules.



2 thoughts on “Getting Attacked on a Rickshaw in Dhaka on a Friday Night

    • Thank you… I am glad you like it, Ms. Ahmed… I am sick of people feeling ashamed of being harassed, the assholes who do this should be punished and feel guilty, not those who are harassed, after all!

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