Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Tale of the 'Yaba Babes'

Some newspapers in our country thrive on sleaze. The more the merrier, it seems.

In the last few weeks the Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) has made some significant breakthroughs in arresting some of the alleged top Yaba dealers of the country, some of whom have made this deadly drug readily available to the youth of our country. Their claw has been long; while most of their victims belong to the upper class of the society, the revelation that this vile trade has been going on for the last ten/fifteen years, under the very eyes of the police, is indeed alarming. The Rab deserves kudos for doing such a courageous and timely job.
Having said that, the way some of the Bangladeshi newspapers have covered the Yaba news is deplorable. Two women's names have kept turning up in the front pages and almost in every instance they are referred to as 'yaba sundaris' (Yaba babes). Some newspapers have gone a little too overboard, a vivid and gruesome description of what used to take place in the dens of the traders have been described. It is as though the concerned reporter (or a bunch of them), undercover, was hiding under the bed when these Yaba-infested men and women indulged themselves in a world of degeneration. Calling a woman Yaba Shundori, when it is printed in the headlines of newspaper, stinks of bad taste. No male arrestee, some of whom are quite good looking, has not been described as Yaba shundor (Yaba Hunks). Any journalist with a shred of respect for women and law will not allow these words to make their way to the paper. Moreover, the concerned women have not been proven guilty by the law of the land, this practise, besides demeaning women also undermines the rule of law, which some of these papers blame our politicians not to uphold. According to the law of the land one is presumed to be innocent until and unless one is proven guilty by a court. In fact a certain law is at work here: According to an Indian act titled the Indecent Representation of Women Act 1986 (Indian laws are considered to be 'persuasive' in Bangladesh, British law being the Mother Law.) representation of women in an indecent manner or in a way that may harm her image is a cognisable offence. In the civilised world names and photos of juvenile offenders are never printed. This is because of the stigmatisation attached to such a practice. This should be applicable to women offenders too. When a woman commits a crime, the kind that sex workers allegedly commit, and is exposed in the way we do before the world does not only destroy her image, her family, specially her children bear the brunt of it too. Women in the traditional media are always victims, either of rape or of a brutal marriage. Their success, their achievements take a back seat. And if she commits a crime she becomes an object of gossip, fun, ridicule. The woman's story is never told, she becomes yet another Yaba Shundari, or Jalshagher Nachnewali. It is absolutely different for men, as the country and its society are fundamentally male dominated.
Poet, writer and dramatist Anisul Haq once wrote that if a bull slammed its horns into a woman and killed her, some certain newspapers would describe the young girl's red sari and her breasts, the place where she took the blow, to titillate their male readers. Haq wrote this about 16 years ago, and it has not changed since then, whenever a woman commits a crime she goes through this media trial, this humiliation of her private life being exposed to the world. Even though the number of paramours the woman in context has had nothing to do with her crime, it will inevitably be mentioned in different reports. This practise of punishing an alleged offender long before the judge has handed down his or her verdict is deplorable. These are instances of irresponsible journalism; this practise should be immediately dropped. History has taught us that sensationalist journalism does not work in the long run. In the civilised world the newspaper industry has evolved over the years, neo-journalists like Tom Wolf, Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson, Norman Mailer and Robert Christgau have changed the face of reporting long ago. Journalists in Bangladesh cannot afford to remain a bunch of male chauvinists calling sex workers 'gay girls' or unnecessarily blowing-up certain parts of women's body in photographs just to add a little magic to the circulation of their papers.
We must not forget that with independence comes responsibility, which demands of us more stringent editorial ethics. Pen has proven to be mightier than the gun long ago, but pen can also be used as a gun. We must be reminded of our job to use it for the right cause.

© Ahmede Hussain