Their only time for relaxation happens when they stop by Parul’s grocery store for a sweet betel leaf while purchasing a few kilograms of rice and potatoes, onions or garlic, and a handful of chillies to cook the fish or the chicken skin they bought at a discounted price from the kitchen market.
Parul is in her mid-teen years, her face shows intelligence with keen eyes and sharp mind, but she is a school dropout. She is the sole earner of her big family of five siblings and ailing parents.
It is Parul’s busy time of the day. Her bamboo and cane top store is buzzing with activity and it is becoming quite hard to keep up the pace. Yet she attends to all her customers with a smile, as if they were godsend angels.
I came across Parul, and many like her, during my many reporting stints at the urban slums. And all their stories are similar. School dropouts, married, divorced, working; you would almost say that it is the slum scenario, but if you looked quite closely, you would be able to discover that most girls in our country were in the same condition, even beyond the boundaries of the shantytown!
Despite making strides in economic and social indices, women or a girl child in Bangladesh still suffer from discrimination and abuse from their family and society across Bangladesh. It is an age-old social value that the ‘ijjat’ — dignity, or the family status of the house — will be ruined if the women cannot protect themselves from physical or sexual threat.
When a girl is born, the first thought that possibly crosses minds of all new parents is about security and how to protect her from the obvious sexual threats she might face growing up. Thus, begins the drill of instilling family values, social, cultural and religious principles into her that she is the custodian of her family’s collective respect, status and dignity.
“Another religious feeling that is practiced in Bangladesh is that a woman’s body becomes unholy if someone touches her before her husband. And the constant hammering of this need to protect herself ruins her self-dignity and respect; she feels burdened by the need to protect her body.
“Consequently, her boundary becomes limited for which her actions get restricted, since there is no one to protect her, so she moves in her own boundary,” says U M Habibun Nessa, Advocate, Supreme Court, Bangladesh and former President of Naripokkho.
This week Star Lifestyle has few interesting reads on orthopaedic disorders, something every sedentary Bangladeshi would benefit from reading I am sure. The article on investing in your car music system is also a mighty helpful read, especially when you consider those grueling hours stranded on Dhaka roads; you do need music to keep you going.
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