Independent lawmaker Rezaul Karim Bablu on Tuesday told parliament that feminists are to blame for the rise of rape incidents across the country. He even advocated the implementation of the "tamarinds theory (women are like tamarinds, men will salivate at the sight of them, and so they must remain covered)" of late Hefajat-e-Islam supremo Ahmad Shafi.
Regarding his remarks, which caused outrage, The Daily Star spoke to the Bogura-7 lawmaker over the phone yesterday.
Following is an excerpt of the impromptu interview:
DS: How did it dawn on you that feminists are responsible for the rise of rape incidents in the country?
Bablu: Bangabandhu formed the Women's Rehabilitation Board on February 16, 1972. That board gradually became the Ministry of Women's Welfare Foundation and the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs. The government has been working for the rehabilitation of women and their rights all the time, especially under the leadership of our prime minister.
Bangladesh has a culture of its own. Parliament has approved death penalty for rape, and we all appreciate this as a timely measure. There is a social custom in Bangladesh.
It would not be right if anyone takes what I meant by "feminists" personally or organisationally. What I meant was not to go beyond the policy of the government or religious norms. For example, when I go out on the street, if I don't wear proper clothes, if I walk around wearing a T-shirt -- that was what I meant.
DS: What do you mean by proper clothes? Is there any law in the constitution that forbids women to wear T-shirts? Why would it be an offence if a woman comes out on the street wearing a T-shirt and what does it have to do with rape incidents?
Bablu: Of course, rape has something to do with wearing a T-shirt and going out on the streets. Whenever a grown-up woman walks down the street in indecent clothing, perverted men with evil intention will look at her.
DS: Then the problem lies with the man.
Bablu: We will have to get to the root of that evil.
DS: So, where is that root?
Bablu: We all have to understand that.
DS: We want to know your understanding. Nusrat and Tanu used to be all covered up and they did not wear t-shirts, yet they were victims of rape. How do you explain that?
Bablu: We cannot take those incidents as examples. We will have to focus on the overall issue. The evil desires of those perverted men stem from watching people on the streets or online pornography. Their lust is created in one place and they abuse it in another.
DS: Do you think maintaining hijab will put an end to these heinous acts?
Bablu: Not really, but will curb it greatly.
DS: You wanted the implementation of the "tamarinds theory" of Hefajat's late amir Ahmad Shafi.
Bablu: We are aware of the explanation given by Maulana Shafi Sahib. We have our own culture and social system. We cannot compare our culture with that of the "free-sex countries" of the West, which is not acceptable here.
DS: You are talking about free-sex of the West. Will you be more specific about which countries you are referring to?
Bablu: I have visited France and Spain.
DS: Do you mean France and Spain are free-sex countries?
Bablu: If you consider things lexically, then it won't help. In these countries, women enjoy complete freedom. After the age of 18, a girl can no longer be ruled by her parents. In our country, families follow different social norms and we need to abide by them.
DS: You are talking about our culture. What is the culture of Bangladesh -- shari, hijab or jeans and t-shirt?
Bablu: I don't mean shari or t-shirt as reference in our culture. It is about dressing decently.
DS: What do you mean by dressing decently?
Bablu: It's not all about clothes but also about how we move around. One dress code will not define how decent we are.
DS: Are we not acting like decent people?
Bablu: Many of us are following, but I also notice deviation.
DS: That is why you want the "tamarinds theory" to be implemented?
Bablu: It is not necessary that we will have to implement that theory. It is all about our mothers and sisters going anywhere and presenting themselves in a certain way so perverts will not get an opportunity and be provoked to rape.
This will definitely reduce rape incidents. At the same time, the way the government is enforcing the law will also curb it. But a law alone cannot solve this problem. We will also have to combat this heinous crime socially.
DS: Do you think decent clothing needs to be included in the anti-rape laws?
Bablu: A law alone will not help if we as citizens do not have the awareness of the law. Legal obligations must be associated with our awareness.
DS: A few days ago, you came to the discussion with a picture of weapons in your hand on a Facebook post. What is the state of law and order? Why do you need weapons?
Bablu: It was not like that. Many people, including MPs and contractors, can keep arms for their own safety with the permission of the government. I also took it for my safety. If you take a good look at the picture that has been published, you will see that I was just having a feel of the weapon in the showroom. One of the people who was with me posted the picture.
DS: The photo was posted from your own Facebook profile. Does it mean the law enforcers are not enough to protect an MP or contractors like you or others? And is this the reason that you are keeping your own weapons and forces?
Bablu: What you said is exaggerated. The fact is that that the present government has upgraded the Bangladesh Police and made it stronger.
DS: Then why do you need personal weapons?
Bablu: As people's representatives, we have to travel a lot and go to places at night. Sometimes we don't have police with us. So, we need weapons for personal security.