On 19th August 2004, a nineteen year old garment factory worker in Savar, Dhaka Bangladesh was mugged, gang raped, viciously slashed and then left to die in the thickety Jahangir Nagar University campus. She was Rahela Lima Akhtar. There she lay amidst the thick foliage, undetected for three days. Her perpetrators returned, and finding her alive, splashed acid over her face and set her hair on fire, so that when her body was found, she would be unrecognizable. However, the same day, on August 22nd of 2004, a gardener heard her faint cry,”I am not dead, please save me”. Thus, Rahela, the woman who refused to die, was found and shifted to the Dhaka Medical College and hospital, where she battled for her life. She lost the battle on September 24th, 2004, but before she died, she named the main culprits.
Dead body of Rahela: Image credit Faysal Noi
One would have thought, in such a case, justice would be swift but that was not to be. While there was an initial outcry in the mainstream media it was followed by deafening silence. The case came up for hearing in 2006 only to reveal that important documents pertaining to the case had gone missing. In the meantime, the main accused had fled and others roamed free. Rahela's husband had remarried. Almost two more years went by. The case would perhaps have vanished from public memory but for some women's rights activists and Bangla bloggers. Rahela's case was first highlighted in leading Bangla blog platform Somewherein, by Manobi. Very soon, like-minded bloggers such as Faisal Noi, Shubho, Pothik, Jiner Badshah (from Sachalayatan, another Bangla blogging platform) and many others joined in, and the cry – Justice for Rahela grew louder. An online campaign was launched, which included blog , Facebook group, an i-petition etc. Offline, there were protests and human chains organised to raise the public's awareness of the case.
We, at Global Voices too have tried to amplify Rahela's case. Rezwan, in this post had mentioned Rahela's case while writing about violence against women in Bangladesh. Narijibon, the fantastic Bangladesh team who are part of the Rising Voices project, have also been writing on the issue.
The ongoing effort by the Bangla bloggers to put pressure on the courts to move the case forward was noticed by the media and gradually articles and TV reports began to reappear. The case was finally re-started in January 2008, and by April 2008 the ‘missing’ documents miraculously re-surfaced, thanks to the growing pressure from bloggers, MSM, activists and leading intelligentsia. The investigating officers, however, claimed that the documents ‘were always there’. Nevertheless, even now the battle for justice seems a long drawn struggle as there are rumors of non-cooperation from officials and key witnesses to the case. Watch the media report [bn] querying the resurfacing of the evidences.
And the bloggers are not giving up.The efforts are on to keep Rahela alive in public memory so that the guilty are brought to book and justice, though delayed, is not denied to Rahela Lima Akhtar. In a recent TV interview, Somewherein's Arild Klokkerhaug and Prof. Muhammed Zafar Iqbal , a respected Bangladeshi academician and writer, have reiterated the very point [bn]: