A girl in a CNG at 2am!

Towheed Feroze
Published : 14:18, Oct 25, 2018 | Updated : 19:11, Feb 06, 2019

Towheed FerozeThe video of a young woman in a CNG-run autorickshaw having a heated altercation with the police at a check-post near the Rampura TV station has caused a social media storm which reportedly resulted in the withdrawal of the men in uniform at the centre of the heated exchange.
Needless to say there are several aspects of the video showing the fracas which are highly objectionable.
Obviously, the faults lie with the law enforcers, whose polite behaviour in the first place could have averted a charged confrontation.
While the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) has acted swiftly and commendably to suspend the persons involved, initiating a full probe, there are certain disquieting issues of the video which bring out some highly parochial social beliefs that run counter to the aspirations for a liberal Bangladesh.
Many of these blinkered notions are nurtured and propagated by general society.
What is wrong with the time?
Those who have seen the video will have heard that on several occasions questions were raised about the time at which the woman was travelling. As we all now know the incident happened at 2:30am, which is very late.
Now the problem with our society is that we cling on to the traditional belief that ‘decent women are back home within a certain time frame.’ Unfortunately, this blinkered outlook never takes into account that a woman may be a journalist working late shifts, a nurse or a performer at one of the many cultural shows that end after midnight.
With the marriage season upon us, there may be many women travelling late at night after performing at wedding events.
And yes, she may also be a sex worker or an escort.
Whatever the profession, a citizen of this country has the right to be on the road at whichever hour s/he prefers.
The right of freedom of movement is applicable to both sexes, because in it lays the fundamental concept of gender emancipation.
In fact, a woman or a group of women have the right to go out late at night for a drive or simply to savour the tranquil city after midnight.
This country does not have a curfew or a martial law at the moment so the time is of no consequence!
Where the girl is coming from is not important
At one point of the viral video we see the woman being asked from which hotel she has come out of at such a late hour?
Well, for argument’s sake, even if an escort girl or a sex worker is stopped at night, where she was all evening is hardly relevant unless, following a search of her possessions, drugs or any other illegal item are found.
Sex work is legal in Bangladesh and it’s the duty of the law enforcers to ensure that people engaged in this profession are not exploited, duped or swindled by customers.
We are not sure where the woman in the viral video was coming from and that is hardly relevant. As an adult and a grown-up person, she has every right to choose her course of life.
In a democracy, individual freedom forms the core basis of society, giving citizens the liberty to choose their actions and face the consequences.
Therefore, where the woman has come from should not have been asked unless something illegal was found in her bag.
Shockingly, while the altercation was going on, the woman asked several times for her bag to be checked, which was not done.
The main purpose of the check point, as we understand, is to stop and search.
A woman carrying a back pack and travelling at such a late hour will automatically be stopped, that is a given.
The law enforcers should have looked into the bag and without any more talk allowed her to go on her way.
Instead, the video shows that some of the questions were put with suggestive undertones.
The self-assertive modern woman
One must praise the confidence and self-assurance with which the woman carried on the conversation though her usage of expletives may have disconcerted many viewers. However, when several techniques of what seemed like intimidation plus provocation with the torch being constantly flashed on her face, such reaction can be accepted as part of normal defensive behaviour.
While the more than six minute video captures a wide range of verbal jousts, the main task – checking of the bag, is not seen to be done.
The police did the right thing to stop the CNG but after that, all the actions as seen in the video, were in contravention to normal checking guidelines.
No one is against checking, especially with the elections coming up and the on-going crackdown on yaba plus other drugs.
Night travellers with bags must be checked with courtesy
The spread of yaba has been through the opulent layers of society, often using top models and celebrities as carriers, misusing the common perception of their innocence from any crime since they have not been proved guilty.
Since many women in the entertainment industry have been used to perpetuate and spread drugs, checking bags or other items is essential. However, when this gets done with due courtesy and without unnecessary intimidation, unsavoury incidents can be averted.
Intrusive questions and interrogation can only take place once contraband items are found on the person who is searched, and not before.
The DMP has acted fast and this deserves praise but suspending police personnel will not change some of the deeply entrenched insular concepts that many of us harbour in general society.
We seem too eager to jump into kharap or bhalo definitions by pre-conceived notions.
Any woman, whatever her profession is, has the right to be out at night, whether for work or simply for pleasure!
Am I wrong in saying that the blame for the incident should not be with the police alone but with how we were taught to quickly judge people by some outdated criteria?

Towheed Feroze is a news editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.

***The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions and views of Bangla Tribune.