The Daily Star recently had a spread on its Rising Stars section about why people in Bangladesh don’t celebrate Halloween. I expected something about cultures, religion even, the clash between East and West or the other but mainly, it was a satirical piece about the possible dangers of trick o’ treating around Dhaka. It explained that trick o’ treating eventually leads to such common mishaps like being beaten by landlords, chased by dogs, and threatened by fathers of daughters, and getting robbed. It was pretty hysterical to me that Halloween as we know it in America is perceived in Bangladesh (at least by the writers of the Daily Star) as a time to dress up and go around houses for candies.
This spread revealed the extent to which common crimes in the streets are, well, common and taken as such- being robbed, mugged, chased by dogs, and yelled at by random elders is just another day in Dhaka and if you face it, you are asking for it. Such behaviors have become so common that they are seen as something to laugh at in the city.
I think about my own being so far in Dhaka. It has been a month since I came here and thankfully, I have not faced any petty crimes. I have also been forced to travel on my own, sometimes after sunset where suddenly I see myself in a rickshaw by myself, holding on tightly to my bag and hoping I get to my destination as soon as possible. But at most times, I don’t think about it- I know crimes happen, but will it happen to me? This is a naïve way of thinking, but I also wonder how I am perceived when I am on my own this way in a rickshaw or a CGN, day or night by the people around me. Do I come off as a confident woman or, just another Bangladeshi woman lucky to get away? I cannot possibly be an anomaly?
Resisting the social norm of woman not being alone after dark has been a tough one, and frankly, one to be followed because Dhaka is unlike anywhere else I have lived or studied abroad in terms of security. But me pushing the boundaries, for example, by using public transportation by myself makes me feel liberated, that I don’t have to depend on someone else to get simple things done, like going to the tailors, or picking up food. These should be easy tasks but I have never had to think so much about time, traffic, and safety to get my way. I hope that I stay as lucky as I have so far and I wonder how much more I can push myself to deem this independence.
I wonder if the perception in the streets about women traveling alone would change if more women did actually venture out instead of fearing the dark. I understand that there are risks but those risks would be reduced if only we saw more Bangladeshi women traveling alone in a CNG or a rickshaw. Everyone in the road will see more women alone and maybe begin to see this as a normal part of being in Dhaka, rather than something to stare at and make a possible target. Rather than increasing security (which has, to be honest, failed), making people into bigger risk takers- I wonder if that could even fly in Dhaka.