Saudi Arabia will never be shamed

Saudi Arabia will never be shamed.

The health minister of Saudi Arabia Khalid Al-Falih has purportedly said that deaths due to the deadly stampede at Mina have happened because of ‘Allah’s will’. Such events cannot be avoided, he has opined. Al-Falih blames the Hajj pilgrims for the deaths. Apparently, the victims have paid the price for failing to follow instructions.

Information about the real incident, however, is quite shocking. The stampede, whi­ch resulted in loss of numerous lives, occurred because two roads, used by lakhs of pilgrims, were closed so that a Saudi prince’s route to the palace could be made more comfortable. If the roads wer­en’t closed, this incident would not have occurred. Many have suggested that the stampede was triggered when two large groups of pilgrims intersected from different directions onto the same street.

Some have even gone on record by saying that the main reason behind this tragic incident was the King, his high ranking officials and Gulf Cooperation Council members welcoming certain distinguished personalities, which necessitated the blocking of the two roads in question that usually lead the pilgrims to an area where they symbolically stone the devil. Confusion and commotion resulted from the closure of the roads, which, in turn, resulted in the devastating stampede. Such news reports lead me to believe that the Hajj pilgrims lost their lives because of the whims and fancies of the Saudi royal family, their lackadaisical attitude towards Hajj and their indifference to the lives of ordinary pilgrims.

Saudi Arabia earns $8.5 billion every year from Hajj alone. However, they seem least bothered about the safety and security of the pilgrims who are reduced to being mere customers of the religion that the Saudis have turned into a business. Their oil business, on the other hand, is a bigger money-spinner and that explains why the safety and security of oil customers is top priority for the Saudis.

That brings me to my countryman and Facebook friend Mohan Kumar Mandal. He was recently arrested because the Bangladesh government did not like the comments he posted on the social networking website. After Saudi Arabia closed the roads that killed thousands of muslims, even non-muslims like Mandal were shocked into expressing their anguish against the horrific mass slaughter. It is well known that symbolic stoning of the devil is done to vanquish evil. This can be done in any country and should not require anybody to travel to Saudi Arabia, which is thousands of miles away. This is what Mohan Kumar reasoned. But his comments apparently hurt the religious sentiment of somebody from Awami League. Religious sentiment has become a dangerous tool in the hands of certain people. Good people are not being allowed to express their views, let alone live.

Unfortunately, even governments appear to be joining the ranks of those who are a bad influence on the society, as with the Saudi royals. The entire world has been criticising Saudi Arabia for the Hajj deaths, but not Bangladesh. The dead bodies of hundreds of pilgrims were picked by bulldozers and dumped in a garbage heap. Such images rattle everybody. Can a civilised country show such utter disregard to the departed?

Saudi Arabia is not a civilised country. Neither is Bangladesh, or else, why would it not criticise Saudi Arabia? If muslims were killed by jews in Gaza and their dead bodies dumped by bulldozers, such an act would have evoked the strongest of reactions in Bangladesh. But when ISIS, Boko Haram and their likes slaughter muslims, muslims do not feel any pain. Saudi Arabia’s mismanagement of the Hajj lead to the deaths of countless muslims. But those muslims haven’t even raised a murmur of protest.

The stampede killed 1,300 pilgrims and many in Ban­gladesh protest in anger and protest. Why then did the Bangladeshi government cho­ose to punish Mohan Kumar Mandal alone? Was he punished because he is hindu? Was he punished because a crime against a hindu does not strike a chord with muslims? Soon, Saudi Arabia is going to head the UN human rights panel. How is it possible for a country where women, non-muslims, homosexuals and transsexuals have no human rights to head the UN human rights panel?

Will nobody protest against this travesty? Those of us who protest are punished. As long as we keep our mouths shut, things would be fine. The moment we open our mouths, all hell breaks loose. Even when Saudi Arabia commits a cr­ime, we cannot blame the country or its government. We can’t say that the country has violated human rights even when there is strong evidence of that. When China violates human rights, processions are taken out on the streets. But since Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Prophet Muha­mmad, even the most heinous crimes by the present custodian of the faith in that country are overlooked by other nations. Even when 1,300 innocent pilgrims lose their lives because of the reckless attitude of a few Saudis, we are supposed to keep mum and believe that those lives were taken because Allah willed so, and those who died could not have found a holier place to depart.

Saudi Arabia will never be ashamed of its transgressions. This is because their rulers are a shameless bunch. I humbly pray that Saudi Arabia should not be allowed to head the UN human rights panel. When a nation does not care about human rights, what is the point in giving it a leadership role. Saudi Arabia will destroy whatever semblance there is left of human rights in this world.

Will Saudi sex slavery ever end?

An intriguing news item was published in the Arab world a few days ago — a sex shop is coming up in Saudi Arabia’s holiest city, Mecca. Not just any sex shop but a halal sex shop. I have no clue whatsoever about terms and conditions upon which a sex shop is deemed halal or haraam. I also want to know, whether in this sex shop, a woman would be able to shop alone for her personal needs. In a country where women don’t have minimum personal liberty, and have no other identity beyond being sex slaves to men, there cannot be any doubt that the sex shop being opened there will be exclusively for the sexual pleasure of men.

Men from Saudi Arabia spend a lot of their ample wealth on sex. They go to various countries on sex tours to enjoy the company of expensive call-girls, and they roam around freely in the sex shops of foreign countries. From now on, however, they will no longer have to undertake the trouble of a foreign tour for sex-shopping, at least. For, EL Asira, the Sharia-compliant sex brand originating in Amsterdam and backed by Germany’s Beate Uhse, will soon branch out to the holy city.

Till now, the sex shops of Europe and America have not yet arrived in the progressive countries of Asia, but they have managed to reach Saudi Arabia, the most conservative and orthodox society in the world, where women are perceived only as moving genitalia.

The Saudi king, Abdullah, had 30 wives. Out of those, one was Alanoud al Fayez, who had been divorced by the king in 1985. But her four daughters are prisoners in the Saudi royal palace. Jawaher, Maha, Sahar and Hala are incarcerated in every sense of the word. They are not free to set foot outside the palace walls. They are hardly provided food twice a day, and their half-brothers beat them mercilessly. Some of the sisters are nearabouts or over forty years of age but have not been allowed to marry.

Alanoud, who is in self-imposed exile in London for the past few years, has broken her silence and spoken about the abuses inflicted on her daughters to the international media. To no avail, of course. If the most powerful nation on the planet, the United States, bows its head and pays obeisance to the mighty House of Saud, who else dare protest?

Barack Obama paid a high profile visit to Saudi Arabia a few months ago, accompanied by his wife. One does not recall any request from him to alleviate the situation of the sisters trapped in the royal palace, or even the general condition of women in the country.

This is the thing with Saudi Arabia. It’s kind of like a bratty child — whatever strikes its fancy, it shall go ahead and do. Saudi women cannot step out in the open without being covered from head to foot. They have no right to free speech. They can’t talk to strangers of the opposite sex because it’s considered haraam. They can’t take a car ride with someone without the fear of execution. They are punished cruelly if they happen to be victims of rape or torture.

The primitive laws of a seventh century society still prevail over a 21st century Saudi Arabia. Freedom of speech is unheard of. Writer-activist Raif Badawi, creator of the website, Free Saudi Liberals, is still being lashed liberally every other week for daring to have freethinking aspirations. Saudi Arabia doesn’t give two hoots about tenets of modernisation and civilisation. It is making first world nations dance to its tunes on the one hand, and exporting islamic terrorism to other muslim states, on the other. This state, without a shred of ethics and character, is going unpunished since there are no countries that can be brave enough to face the ire of a wealthy, oil-rich nation.

Such are the circumstances under which Saudi Arabia has opened its gates to a sex shop. What can this novelty do for Saudi men? Well, they can now be provided with leather belts, shackles, masks and an assortment of other weapons which they would now be able to use liberally to further treat women as sex slaves. To force them into dominant-submissive sexual role play. To bring into actual force the brutal primitivism of their patriarchal attitude against women by inflicting a new kind of sexual torture on them. And as usual, this too, shall remain unpunished.

If there is indeed any pleasure to be gained out of those shops, they would be exclusively for the men. The women are not to partake in any such thing. Those who do not have basic human rights must never aspire to sexual rights either. And those that do not have sexual freedom or rights, have no sexual pleasure. Sex slaves take no pleasure in sex — they need to be freed of their slavery first.

The world stands wondering when, if at all, the new generation of politically and socially aware Saudi youth shall spell the death knell of this dystopic dynastic rule. Time waits for them.

‘This valley of death is not my country’

There isn’t much difference between what’s been happening recently in India and Bangladesh, with rationalists and freethinkers being butchered by fundamentalist elements. Na­rendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi were mercilessly killed because they advocated freethinking and rationalism. It’s noteworthy that, of late, a certain section of the hindu community in India is turning intolerant to progress. The only thing that probably differentiates them from their muslim counterparts across the border, is that they are clad in saffron and sport sandalwood tilak on their foreheads. So, when you look at it carefully, a fanatic’s faith in a particular religion or sect doesn’t really matter. That person is a th­reat to human society as long as he is against democracy and free speech.

We can carry on speculating who really killed Kalburgi and we would not be wrong in our assumption. Earlier, religious fanatics threatened him with imminent death if he did not mend his ways. He apparently provoked them by once famously insisting that idol worship was a lost cause and “if one wants to, one can even urinate on idols”. Staunch hindus didn’t take those words kindly. An Akademi award winner and an academic, Kalburgi had served as the vice-chancellor of Kannada University in Hampi. He was always vocal about blind faith and caste-based discrimination. It is not surprising that his views did not go down well with people blinded by their religious ideologies.

Narendra Dabholkar, a resident of Pune, met a similar fate in 2013, when he was out for his morning walk, as did another non-believer Go­vind Pansare who was killed in Kohlapur earlier this year. The chief minister of Karnataka has issued an unconvincing statement that his government would try its best to bring to justice Kalburgi’s yet unidentified murderers.

That citizens across the Indian subcontinent can no longer voice their beliefs is shocking. And we are not talking about muslim zealots al­one. Intolerance towards free speech and reasoning has been taking a regular toll across Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. What makes it wo­rse is the extermination of freethinkers and progressive citizens in the democratic republic of India.

A nation cannot progress if it kills citizens who educate the masses about breaking free from mental barriers and outdated convictions. Such societies are condemned to live in the dark ages.

Bangladesh has already lost young and free-spirited citizens like Abhijeet and Ananta to islamic fanatics, who like Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi, in India, can only be blamed for standing up to religious intolerance and bigotry. People who place their faith in wrong beliefs and religious boundaries are afraid of those who speak the truth and show them the folly of their ways. Having lost to reason, these fanatics can only resort to violence to make a point. Societies that accept terror as a means to silence thinking do not understand the value of free speech. Wh­ich is why their religious advocates insist that free speech should not hurt the religious sentiments of anyone or any sect, without even underst­anding that that is exactly what free speech is all about; it comes without any guideline or restraint.

Change agents, who set out to transform societies have always faced resistance and persecution from those who hold on to their old ways. Most are either put behind the bars or mercilessly killed. Yet, they seldom manage to restrain dreamers from altering the flow of civilisation. We might have started to consider ourselves to be progressive because we have made scientific advances and raised out standard of living, yet the truth remains that there are still certain hidden corners of our society where the glow of knowledge and truth cannot penetrate.

India is unlike Pakistan or Bangladesh. Its democratic upbringing is not a hoax or a stunt; it is more religiously tolerant than its neighbours. But then, it has not managed to stop the killings of Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi; neither has it brought its killers to justice. This is a matter of shame for India. Despite being a far stronger nation than Pakistan and Bangladesh with a superior intelligence set up, its government has failed to book the perpetrators of the 2006 and 2008 Malegaon blasts, or th­ose responsible for the bombing of the Samjhauta Express that ran between Pakistan and India or those responsible for bombing its numerous mos­ques.

We can only hope that such apathy towards human life in the name of upholding religious values does not continue forever in India and its government actively intervenes in identifying and punishing the terrorists. It is India’s heavenly and historic mandate to remain a safe haven for those who believe in free speech and progress. If India fails to do so, it would be far worse than its neighbours. And that makes it appropriate to quote the famous Indian radical Na­barun Bhatta­charya: “Th­is valley of death is not my country.”

Bangladesh no country for atheists

It’s a matter of pride to be a freethinker, atheist and blogger in a civilised society; as such people are loved and respected by the masses. The renowned among them bask in adulation. However, in the dark corners around the world, where society is still in its primitive and brutal state, such intellectuals are shunned for being progressive and speaking their minds or writing what they wish to say. Such societies silence the voices of atheists who try to wake citizens to a new dawn.

I started my writing career 30 years ago, to make obscurantists understand their follies and how they were pushing our society into a deep abyss where the light of truth would never reach. After all these years, I have failed in my crusade, even as these bigots have become more strident. As the lone crusader, my voice could not be heard across the entire country. Bangladesh might have ach­ieved its independence, but without many more voices joining the chorus, the cost of freedom has been high.

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina and her son Sajeeb Ahmed Wazed, who acts as her information and communications technology (ICT) adviser as well as political campaigner, have announced that they will not stand with the atheists, at least openly. But the point is that the atheists are not aliens, they too are citizens of the country.

So, it is apparent that the government of the day is with the bigots.

I wonder when atheist became such a hated word that everybody chooses to maintain a safe distance from them. This, when the government is bound by its own policy to not differentiate between citizens on the basis of their religion, colour, gender or language. Sadly, the Awami League government has turned its back on those people who need its support the most, in order to safeguard its own interest.

Sheikh Hasina’s statements voicing concerns about the recent murder of bloggers opposed to radical islam are words of false hope aimed at attracting a certain vote bank. More enigmatic is her silence on those who can upset her applecart.

No wonder then, Ban­gladesh runs on doublespeak today — one that sympathises with victims of terrorism and the other that remains eloquently silent against fundamentalism. Sheikh Hasina doesn’t want her world to know whether she or her government has any connection either with the atheist or with the fundamentalist, so she chooses to weave tales to appease both the votebank at home and her liberal global constituency, on which she depends on aid.

Bangladesh has never been a true democracy, because a democracy does not have affinity to any particular religion, whereas Bangladesh has an official religion. Till the time this country gets rid of that state religion, till the time atheists become as accepted as bigots, Bangladesh cannot be called a democratic country. Here, the word atheist is almost a profanity. It’s very unfortunate when a country hates atheists because of being just that.

There has always been a marked conflict between religion and science and every time science emerges as the winner, as science doesn’t base itself on faith but on facts. It supports what is tested and is true and truth cannot be hidden by lies for a very long time. To abolish all kinds of hypocricy from the country, we need more atheists to speak the truth even at the cost of their lives. We need more Abhijits, Anantars, Rajibs and Washiqurs.

I came to learn that Muhammed Zafar Iqbal has said that the silence of the government on the death of the bloggers is a strong indication that this is going to be the new norm for the country. At times, I really feel that one shouldn’t expect anything worthwhile from Bangladesh. Its political parties will turn it into a fundamentalist islamic state. And the commoners will just sit and watch the unfolding horror. A rational mind might say this is strongly condemnable, but for the masses, it is not such an appalling place to be. They have been so blinded by religion that they wouldn’t mind being another clog in the giant wheel turning Bangladesh into “darul islam.”

Citizens who are resisting this anarchy with courage will be slowly and systematically eliminated by those who will never be punished, because they serve the vested interests of shrewd politicians.

Bangladesh was earlier known to the world because of the annual floods that devastated the population. From a country that suffered from natural calamities, it is now emerging as a nation that suffers from manmade catastrophes, remorselessly butchering atheists and bloggers. Unless politicians don’t stop the business of using religion for vote bank politics, several talented youngsters will bleed to death in the country.

Once Sheikh Mujibar Rahaman had moved the people to reject the Pakistani soldiers who massacared the Ban­gladeshi intelligentsia. Today, his own daughter is indulging criminals whose hands are red with the blood of bloggers. Sheikh Mujibar protested and acted on the crisis, Sheikh Hasina is but a mere shadow of that past.

I no longer feel ashamed to say I feel scared to think of myself as a Bangladeshi.

Another blogger was brutally killed in Bangladesh

Niloy Neel, the secular humanist blogger who was brutally killed in Bangladesh was the member of Taslima Nasreen supporters group. 11868828_723769511062681_686877920_n

Niloy Neel was speaking at the rally to express his solidarity towards me.

Niloy Neel got a master’s degree in philosophy from Dhaka university. He was 27-years-old. He was brutally killed by Bangladeshi Islamists only because he was enlightened critic of Islam. Niloy Neel criticized all religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam etc. But he was killed only for criticizing Islam.

Bangladesh government does not take any action against the killers.

He had to die for his crime of being a free thinker.

Hate in the time of bhaijaan

A few days ago I went to watch Bajrangi Bhaijaan, in what happened to be my first movie outing since the 1980s. Bollywood flicks have improved by leaps and bounds in the past couple of decades, though melodramatic quirks still dominate along side the irrelevant song and dance routine. Bajrangi Bhaijaan retains all the elements of a Bollywood potboiler. Nawazuddin Siddiqui has done a commendable job in a masala movie that tries to deliver a rare message in these divisive times. The story is not without flaws, interspersed, as it is, with highly unrealistic situations.

Yet, its highpoint is a rather simple message that while politicians create rifts between communities, the common man, irrespective of his faith, still remains simple at heart. Which is why a devout hindu intoxicated by the righteousness of his faith, finds a higher purpose in serving humanity, transforming from an orthodox Bajrangi to a beloved bhaijaan in rabid Pakistan. And humanity triumphs in the end.

Most of us lay citizens are aware how political parties and governments deploy religion to spread communal hatred. Yet, the spirit of humanity guides our soul.

Recently on id, the Pakistani Rangers reportedly refused the traditional exchange of sweets with Border Security Force personnel at the Wagah border, even though India’s prime minister Narendra Modi graciously accepted the mangoes gifted by his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on the occasion. The rift between Pakistan and India has its roots in the years long before partition separated the people in 1947, when at the height of the freedom struggle, politicians incited communal hatred to carve out their respective territories of influence among the ordinary masses. Partition only resulted in the slaughter of millions of hindus at the hands of muslims and vice versa. I strongly believe that this could have been averted and we the people could have shared a common destiny had our leaders chosen humanity over bigotry.

The Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 could never be won had India not aided the citizens of East Pakistan to vanquish the oppressors from the other extreme of the subcontinent. Without India’s intervention, the death toll in the liberation war would have been several times higher than the officially recorded three million. Yet strangely, as it often happens with the turn of the wheel of history, many Bangladeshis now consider India an enemy, rather than a friend and benefactor.

A few days ago I happened to chat up a progressive young Bangladeshi living in Norway. For better connect, let’s call him B, but not Bajrangi, of course. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation:

B: Whenever we get into an argument on the trial of Bangladeshi war criminals, there are many who invariably argue that only islamist leaders are being brought to trial and sent to the gallows. Few are willing to concede that only those people are being tried who collaborated in the massacre of three million innocent lives by the Pakistani army in the name of islam. That might have been then, but even today, I can’t accept that Bangladeshis should be friends with Pakistanis all over the world.

Me: I understand your pain, but why must every Pakistani be blamed for the atrocities carried by their army at the behest of their masters? What’s wrong with Pakistanis and Bangladeshis living in peace and harmony in distant Norway?

B: I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments. But when Pakistanis still consider Bangladesh as a part of their country, it’s hard not to take offence. It’s not possible for Bangladeshis to forget their past and embrace Pakistanis, when there is still so much of residual hatred among us.

Me: Why generalise? Certainly all Pakistanis can’t be thinking alike. There have been several Pakistanis who have strongly condemned the massacre. Not every Pakistani is a bigot; the few who still sow hatred, are usually misguided… If you look at it carefully, you can find a fair share of progressive individuals in the Pakistani society, as in any other, who raise their voice against injustice. It’s another matter, of course, that stringent islam has no place for liberal thinkers.

B: I agree that generalisation doesn’t work. Yet, I am not in the game with Pakistan.

Me: That’s generalising again. What’s the harm in two like-minded liberals being friends, irrespective of their nationalities or their histories?

As I bid B goodbye, I couldn’t help wonder why even educated people living in progressive societies far away from home, carry the heavy baggage of hate. Perhaps, hatred, not love, is the second nature of us humans. Which is why, only a select few among us who overcome hate walk a higher purpose in life.

Is ISIS’ cause a true act of fana ?

Religious fanaticism has a new name. It’s called the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or as we know it, ISIS. Just the other day, ISIS imposed a ban on namaz during eid in Mosul. In their words, “Namaz during eid has got nothing to do with islam. True muslims never offered namaz during eid”. Therefore, they decreed that no muslim inhabitant of Mosul had any right to namaz on eid. Anyone choosing to do otherwise was threatened with summary execution.

Iraq is held captive by armed fanatics professing to be the pillars of islam, a religion that is no longer preached through love, but imposed through naked aggression and violence.

Over the time that it has held the people of Iraq hostage in the name of faith, ISIS has destroyed relics, masjids and museums showcasing islam’s rich heritage. In deploying terror in the cause of islam, it has gone against the very tenets of a once-tolerant faith.

This is why, we need to ask if, one day, ISIS will eradicate the practise of namaz altogether, citing that infidels and not the religiously inclined offer prayers to god? Will it insist that the jews and christians worship the divine by bowing down in reverence, and therefore, such an act is unislamic in nature?

In insisting that all places of worship must be demolished, they have said masjids are a replication of idolatry in the garb of islam and have no religious sanction. There are hundreds of advocates of such a cause, arguing that ISIS alone can return islam to its pristine state, as it existed a thousand and four hundred years ago,

If ISIS succeeds in eradicating many of the islamic traditions and customs that are practised worldwide today, citing that these are corruptions brought in by the infidels, and therefore, unsuitable for a true believer of the faith, I wonder if there would anything left in islam to practice. From food habits to prayers, everything can be cited as a corruption introduced by another religion and banned. After all, the story of Adam and Eve too was introduced by heretics and must, therefore, be silenced. This, when the fact is that islam has not only picked up several practices from the other faiths, but is itself derived from another religion. If we were to return everything that we have acquired over the years, the religion itself would have to be abolished.

In the modern age, no voice of reason will ever insist on reverting to the practices of a bygone era. Society is meant to progress and not revert to the regressive ways of the past. It is the civilisational need of our times to insist on educating women, placing our faith of science and discoveries and technologically leapfrogging into the future, rather than get stuck with religious obscurantism. There can never be a positive outcome of harking back to the past.

Humans have a right to their faith; each one of us is entitled to our native beliefs. Despite being an atheist, I support the right of everyone to choose his or her faith. If there are downsides to religious beliefs, that must be debated, not condemned.

What surprises is that muslims are not vocal in protesting the atrocities committed by ISIS. Why do they not take it upon themselves to wage a war against the ISIS, as it threatens their religious integrity? Why do they join a cause that by its own logic must annihilate the religion they profess? Do muslims, the world over, believe the cause of ISIS, as their cause of conviction? Do they see in it the true act of fana, that Sufis otherwise see as an act of annihilation of the self? Or are they drawn to ISIS by the unbridled power that comes from dehumanising society?

IS is following Muhammad the prophet.

The Yazidi women are held as sex slaves by IS.

No individual or organization or state follow Islam as accurately as IS or Islamic State. Muhammad Killed non-Muslim men and used their girls and women as sex slaves. IS guys did the same. They killed Yazidi men and held Yazidi girls and women as sex slaves.

Islam always advise Muslims to do everything what Muhammad the prophet did. Eventhough Muslim men love their prophet, it is extremely rare that they marry 13 times or marry a 6-year-old girl or their daughter in law. It is IS that shows the courage to behave like true Muslims and adapt the character of the prophet. The prophet loved swords or knives to kill people, IS does the same. The prophet treated women as sex slaves, IS does the same. The prophet occupied land by arms and violence, IS does the same. The prophet destroyed non-Muslims’ temples and sculptures, IS does the same.

Gender stereotyping needs to end

It was around 1993 when some women working in Bangladesh’s garment factories used to come visit me. The problems they faced at that time were less wages, long and extra hours of work, no transport back home, no matter how late at night it may be, absence of maternity leave, and to top it all, sexual harassment. Today, 22 years on, the problems remain just as acute. The same poverty, the same abysmal work conditions, the same low wages and the same rampant sexual harassment. Occasionally, we come across news of how there was a fire in some factory and several women succumbed to it.

These factories came into being somewhere around 1976, hit a peak period around the 90s and continue to thrive till now. So much so that today, Bangladesh’s chief export is garments. A majority of workers in these factories are women, and therefore, largely neglected by the nation’s lawmakers. If the country understood the worth of this workforce, it would have created a better working environment for them. But what it has inflicted upon them is a labyrinth of lies and deceit, completely setting aside all international labour laws. MisogyBangladesh has, in fact, honed its skills in keeping its women in the worst possible scenario.
There is no benevolent attitude in offering employment to women, instead, the attitude is that of looking at women as “cheap objectified subjects” rather than as human beings. These women cannot ask for better, more humane conditions of employment, but can be forced to work ungodly hours to suit their masters’ needs. The idea of labour is the means to an end. If there is death along the way, there is always more cheap labour available to fill the space.

But then, there is a gender bias of wages not only in Bangladesh but across the world. Gender stereotyping — the judgment passed on a human being based on their gender — is an inherent vice that has dug deep roots in society. Some familiar examples are the notion that a woman doesn’t need money to survive because a family is run by its male head. Thus, her earnings are but a frivolous sum and her work outside is trivial. It is the men who carry everything on their shoulders; women do not have it in them to work at higher posts or to take important decisions in a workplace. They are emotional by nature, prone to sentiments and frail, hence more suitable for raising children rather than raising professional issues. This gender bias makes it easier for women to lose jobs than to get them.

The world is changing rapidly and women these days are not only handling their families but are also instrumental in sustaining them. But still, they lag behind men in all facets of life. The roots of this gender bias are so deep that they are impossible to get rid of no matter how many times a woman puts herself through a trial and comes out victorious. The standards by which women are measured even today are their beauty and not by their qualifications. And because women are looked upon as sex objects rather than human beings, it is easier for young beautiful women to get jobs — we have all heard about terms like “casting couch” and sexual favours asked from women to give them a job that they deserved on merit in any case. Women are targeted for harassment wherever they are. This is more rampant in places where their basic rights are denied on a daily basis.

Just a few days ago, an acquaintance argued with me that the muscular superiority of men entitles them to a higher place than women who are by nature weaker. I refuted it by asking if every job was a physical test that required brute strength? The reply was “No.” So I asked, “Then how did brawn found more favour than brains?” I received no reply, but I am certain he was hurling the choicest of profanities at me in his head.

What we first need to do is to get rid of such anti-women myths. If not, these will further fuel the gender bias that has become so predominant in society. To cure any illness, we must first eradicate its cause, else it will always lurk behind the shadows bidding its time.

About half the world’s population consists of women. If such a force is considered to be weak, denied the opportunities they are entitled to, and their contributions go unacknowledged, then it is matter of shame for the entire human race. As I have so often repeated, women are not meant only for household chores and sexual pleasure. They are more than capable of holding their own ground, and it is time to recognise that and demolish these demarcations of society, or suffer at our own peril on its outcome.