Comilla, Bangladesh (GVO) – Recent years have seen a worrying increase in the number of rape cases in Bangladesh. This year the trend continues and Bangladeshis are showing their outrage at the recent rape and brutal murder of a 19-year-old female college student in Bangladesh.
The body of Sohagi Jahan Tonu, a second-year student of Victoria College, was recovered with her head smashed from the area surrounding a military barracks in the eastern city of Comilla. Protests demanding a swift investigation and timely justice for Tonu are spreading fast within Comilla and elsewhere in Bangladesh.
Most people that live in the area where Sohagi was found dead are military personnel and army administrative staff.
Such areas, called ‘cantonments’ are considered secure areas as there are check posts that restrict public movement within them.
Sohagi was a second-year student of the History department at Comilla Victoria College and an active member of the college theatre.
She worked part-time as a private tutor to finance living costs and her studies. She went to one of her student’s houses on the afternoon of March 20 and did not return home.
Her relatives went out looking for her and recovered her body from a bush inside the cantonment the next day.
On March 24, a post-mortem examination report confirmed she had been killed post-rape. Police do not have any suspects.
Despite the fact Tonu’s death had already become a national talking point by March 22, media kept strangely silent on the issue until March 24 when mass protests began rippling across the country.
According to activists the army has requested that no protest be initiated within the confines of the cantonment.
On Facebook and Twitter, people have questioned how such an incident could occur in the area:
Shimana Rahman Anchal, the daughter of an army officer who has spent her whole life in different cantonments, had this to say:
When someone who lives outside the cantonment wants to enter the premises they need to provide their ID and the reason for entry. Visitors feel uncomfortable but this but it is done for the sake of security inside the cantonment. In this context it is very hard for someone from outside the cantonment to enter and rape someone. People are assuming this was done by someone who lives inside the cantonment. This planned murder has destroyed a family. If it was done by someone from outside then what can be said about security at the cantonment?
Social media posts featuring pictures of Tonu and of the protest went viral, with many of the users posting under the hashtag #Justicefortonu raising concerns that mainstream media was not covering the incident.
Facebook user Only Turag writes:
Sohagi Jahan Tonu is raped & killed yesterday ! She is not the first! There were more before her! There will be more after her!
May be that will be you.. Or your sister.. Or your daughter.. Your mother.. Your wife!
If not for her, stand for yourself!
Stand for #JusticeforTonu
Netizens have also pointed out that a woman’s choice of dress is often cited as a cause of rape in the strongly conservative country.
But Tonu wore a hijab (locally ‘hizab’), often considered as a safeguard against violence in Bangladesh.
The maximum punishment for rape in Bangladesh is life imprisonment while murder is punished with death by hanging.
Throughout the week, students and cultural activists in Comilla held rallies and stood in human chains, participated in protest marches and even demonstrated by blocking the interstate highway.
On Wednesday, protesters threatened to bring the city to standstill if authorities did not meet a 48-hour deadline to arrest the culprits, while thousands of residents of Comilla staged demonstrations in the city center.
Meanwhile, many people agree with the sentiments of Facebook user Dibyo Tantrik, who accused the government of “buying time” in their delayed response to the incident.
The slow reaction to the rape and murder makes staging protests all the more important, demonstrators say.
Ganajagaran Mancha, a platform that came out of the Shahbagh protests, held a rally at Dhaka’s Shahbagh intersection demanding justice.
Additionally, several organisations including Nari Sanghati, Bangladesh Chhatra Union and Bangladesh Chhatra Federation also held protest events.
According to Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers’ Association (BNWLA) statistics, at least 241 rape incidents were reported between January and May in 2015.
The organisation said the incidence of rape has been rising since 2010.
BNWLA statistics showed 789 rapes reported in 2014, 719 in 2013, 836 in 2012, 603 in 2011 and 411 in 2010.
Last year 85 indigenous women and children were sexually abused, according toBangladesh indigenous human rights report.
This report prepared by Palash Ranjan Sanyal for Global Voices Online.