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Festival of color or harassment?

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20th-Mar-2017       
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Barrister Miti Sanjana :
Holi is know as "Festival of Colours ". It is an ancient Hindu religious festival which is generally celebrated in India. However, it has also become popular amongst non-Hindus in many parts of other countries. Revellers play with colours during celebrations for the Holi festival and it includes covering one another with powdered color dye. Youth play with colours to celebrate Holi and throw colors each other with dry powdered color and coloured water. This year, youths across the country celebrated the festival. Sadly in the heart of our capital city, a group of miscreants at old town assaulted a number of women and girls while a string of festivities were being held, celebrating Holi. A lot of women including students, office goers have become victims while the perpetrators tried to take the advantage of being smeared with Holi colours. Many girls did not even realise that they were being harassed. Many of them were being drenched in colour put on them by strangers without their consents as those perpetrators made an effort to make others believe that the idea of consent does not exist during Holi. The festive spirit has completely been ruined by the wrongdoers in order to fulfill their sexual lust and by inappropriate intentions. Some video footage taken by the witnesses showed how the attackers were misbehaving with the women on the streets or were forcefully touching them to apply colours on their face and body. Thankfully three perpetrators have been put behind the bar.
The Parliament enacted many laws to protect the women and children of the country from various typical offences. There are many relevant legislations e.g. Penal Code 1860, Dhaka Metropolitan Police Ordinance 1976, Nari-O-Shisho Nirjaton Daman Ain 2000 (as amended), Mobile Court Act 2009 etc.
Section 76 of Dhaka Metropolitan Police Ordinance 1976 provides for imprisonment for 3 months or fine or both if someone uses indecent language or behaves indecently in public places or street etc. Section 76 of Dhaka Metropolitan Police Ordinance 1976 provides for one year imprisonment or fine or both if for teasing a woman.
Section 354 of Penal Code provides for two years imprisonment for assault or criminal force to a woman with intent to outrage her modesty. Section 509 states that whoever, intending to insult the modesty of any woman, utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object, intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen, by such woman, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.
In response to a Writ Petition filed by National Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA) (No. 5916 of 2008) the Honorable Court, issued an eleven-point directive on 2009 which suggested a detailed definition of sexual harassment.
Under Article 32 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh (Constitution) a woman cannot be deprived of her personal liberty. A woman has the right to move throughout the country under Article 36 of the Constitution. Besides there is National Helpline Centre for Violence Against Women and Children with a dedicated 24 hour telephone helpline.
As per the Hindu mythology the festival symbolizes the victory of good over evil. In past, there have been numerous incidents where sexual harassment took place on women who joined the Bengali New Year celebrations or other national celebrations. Such instances have happened many times before, and the proper actions have not been taken. Therefore men are taking such festivals as permissive atmosphere to justify their inappropriate and unlawful advantage on women. Holi can never be a festival for men to sexually harass women. It is a gross violation of human rights to humiliate a woman physically by playing with colours without her consent with the pretext of religion. It is also a criminal offence to bully and harass women. Every man should learn to respect women making each and every place safe enough for women who participate in the celebrations and also for those who do not participate in the celebration. It is high time men understand that this kind of behaviour is punishable offence under the laws of land.
(The writer is an Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh and an activist.  sanjana@legalcounselbd.com)

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