It was around 10:55 pm.
I was stuck in a traffic jam on Hatirjheel road in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka.
I was chanting in my mind, telling myself that I want to reach home safely.
I saw some men of my age, or rather younger than me, laughing and chatting by the side of the lake.
The question comes to my mind: Can I imagine myself or any other Bangladeshi girl having fun with female friends at this hour in the same place?
No, I definitely cannot!
Dhaka is one of the most unsafe cities for women. There is no place out there on the roads of Dhaka where a Bangladeshi girl can feel safe.
Sounds judgmental? Yet, it is very true!
I get harassed when I walk on footpaths.
I get harassed when I cross main roads.
And I get harassed when I ride auto-rickshaws, rickshaws and even Uber vehicles. I get harassed by the eyes of the drivers, by their language, and by the whispering remarks of pedestrians.
If you are a Dhaka woman and you are out on the road, you can easily understand that patriarchy has nothing to do with gender.
Rather, it is an ideology.
Women here will gaze at you and make you feel equally harassed as men can do. But do these women give men the same gaze?
No, absolutely not!
It is preserved for those women who are not wearing “modest dresses”.
Anyway, wearing anything that does not match their definition of “sober” and “good girl”, and does not include the orna (dupatta) to cover the boobs, will make you a victim of their intensely penetrating gaze.
They will also throw some comments at you that will teach you some lessons.
You get comments also from men. Let me tell you some of those valuable comments. One day, while returning home from office by a CNG-run auto rickshaw around 6pm in the evening, the driver asked politely if he could say something that would not spoil my dignity.
Before I even replied, he said: “Women should wear more clothes. They look better that way.”
I looked at myself. What was I wearing? Hah! I was wearing a traditional sharee with a sleeveless blouse.
The other day, I was riding Uber. The driver was giving horn for unnecessary reasons. When I told him several times not to do so, he said: “What does a woman understand about driving?”
I love to walk on the road. But alas! Hardly do I feel like walking on Dhaka roads.
Yet, sometimes I do take a walk.
One fine afternoon, I took a rickshaw to reach a destination that was ten minutes away, but I was stuck in traffic for twenty minutes. So, I decided to walk.
As I was crossing the road, a good-looking, well-dressed man was passing by and made an “ouch” sound. With no sanity, I slapped him twice and almost ran to my destination!
As I was running, I was thinking: What if he was following me to teach me a lesson?
And guess what? I was not even wearing a sleeveless blouse!
There are days when I walk and get slapped in my butt, hear lewd comments on my boobs, get pushed deliberately, hear sounds as if somebody was moaning as I pass by, and get wistful gazes from men as if they wanted to gulp me.
It is like the body of a woman is nothing but an object that a man can use to do whatever he wants to do. And I feel miserable. I feel powerless. I want to punish them.
But I cannot seek any help. The authorities responsible for helping the victims here are the ones who often nurture the victim-blaming culture.
So, what do I do then?
I cry, cry and cry some more.
I cry day in, day out.
Sometimes, for days, I cannot stop crying over issues I am dealing with.
The Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, is one of the most unsafe cities for women. There is no place out there on the roads of Dhaka where a girl can feel safe.
I cry for both necessary and unnecessary reasons.
I cry as I listen to songs.
I cry at the breakfast table.
I cry if I do not like dinner.
I cry because the Uber driver is late.
I cry while watching a silly movie where the characters are going through some issues.
It is like a button that pushes itself automatically and I start crying, but then I cannot turn it off.
Is that a victim’s cry? No, not at all.
That is a cry of being powerless.
That is a cry of understanding my ability and yet not taking any proper action.
So, what do I do then?
I do nothing.
I do nothing but think of leaving.
This article was first published on Mahmudul Islam’s Medium Profile here