But another ordeal was waiting for her at the police station where she went to seek justice. The OC of Pabna police station along with a sub inspector forced the woman to sign divorce papers and marry one of the rapists! We can only imagine the kind of threats that were hurled at the woman when she became victim of such blatant violation of human rights. So how much power did these rapists yield to make an OC abandon his responsibility as a protector of the public and turn him into an abettor of a crime? One cannot help but be grateful that the Pabna district administration formed a probe body to investigate the incident which eventually established the fact that indeed the police officials had committed this terrible crime. The three-member committee was led by Additional District Magistrate and also confirmed that the woman was raped several times.
We are grateful because the way things normally go, it could easily have ended with the rapists going scot free after the marriage of the victim with one of the accused was established. What would have happened to this woman who had gone through such horrific sexual violence and then be forcefully separated from her family, her children, and made to call one of the rapists her husband? Would she be further humiliated by the perpetrators who would state that she had lied about being raped by these men?
Not that we know how she is faring after such unbelievable physical and psychological torture. But at least the rapists have been arrested, the OC has been “closed” and the sub inspector has been “suspended”. We certainly hope this is not going to be the end of this case. Is it really enough for a police officer to be “closed” when he has obstructed justice by burying evidence and instead of helping a rape victim, subjected her to further mental trauma and pushed her back into the clutches of her attackers? If any ordinary citizen did this he would of course be arrested and punished under law. But here a high-ranking law enforcer has committed a crime. Surely it cannot warrant merely being “closed” which only suspends him from work during the internal investigation and, at best, may result in dismissal from his job.
Again, the way these police officers will be punished, which they must be if justice is to be served, may determine how such cases will be handled in the future. One cannot help but be reminded of OC Moazzem Hossain of Sonagazi Police Station, who had interrogated madrasa student Nusrat Jahan Rafi before her horrendous murder, when she was set alight by a group of people assigned by the madrasa principal. The video clip of the interview in which Nusrat was asked humiliating questions was leaked on social media in a bid to discredit her. But Nusrat showed incredible courage by not withdrawing her case against the principal who had sexually harassed her. Unfortunately for her, she paid a heavy price for this bravery and died on April 10 after fighting for her life for four days.
The public outrage expressed on the streets and social media as well as publicity in the mainstream media, no doubt, helped in the culprits being arrested. The OC was sent to jail (although after 20 days of the arrest warrant being issued) in a case filed by the family under the Digital Security Act for recording the interview on his phone and releasing it on social media without her consent. Similarly, the fact that in the Pabna gang-rape case, the cabinet division sent a directive to the district administration to form a probe body and investigate the case leading to the confirmation of the involvement of police officers in covering up the crime, gives hope that justice will be served. Such decisive action against police officers should give out the right message to members of the police force. It should be made clear that no matter how powerful their position is in the law enforcement agencies or in political circles, everyone is accountable for a crime as dishonourable and despicable as colluding with murderers and rapists. We fervently hope that the police officers are tried and punished under law and that the administrative diligence with which the Pabna case has been handled, will not be an exception but the rule from now on.
Aasha Mehreen Amin is Senior Deputy Editor, Editorial and Opinion, The Daily Star.