Supriti Dhar has worked as a journalist and editor for the last 20 years, working across the media spectrum for media outlets such as Prothom Alo, BBC Bangla radio, dnews24.com, Jamuna TV.
In 2013, Dhar founded the women’s rights blog Women Chapter. Challenging taboos, it emerged as a progressive platform to which many were eager to contribute, women as well as men. Women Chapter reaches 78.25 million individuals – almost 50 per cent of the population of Bangladesh. Only a year after its creation, Women Chapter received the Global Media Forum People’s Choice Award of the Bobs International Best of Online Activism Award. But her journalism and blog has also provoked orthodox groups in Bangladesh, and has caused her a lot of trouble with threats and harrassment for many years.
Supriti Dhar addressed the ICORN general assembly in Malmö earlier in May. This is her speech:
When Every Day was my Last Day
I am Supriti Dhar, Editor of Women Chapter.
Women Chapter is not only an online portal, it’s a Movement, Towards a Change. By creating this platform, I wanted to bring changes to women’s everyday’s life. I want to continue to do this, but I have to fight with religious giants, a patriarchal extremist society, and consumerist politics.
Ladies and gentlemen
I am greatly honoured to be here. And of course I am so grateful to ICORN that has given me the chance to be here, and speak.
I have come all the way from Bangladesh to Sweden, which was not so easy, it was full of uncertainty.At one point, I lost all my hopes. I thought, my destination is to live with constant threats, and more precisely, to be killed at the hand of the cowards.
Fortunately, and suddenly, I got the offer, the offer of love, the offer to live further.
Today, I am here, to share my experiences with you, as a human rights defender, as a journalist, and of course, as a women rights activist.
How was my life in Bangladesh?
While I am here in Sweden, one case has been filed against me on 18th April, they included my daughter, and Taslima Nasrin in this case. I think you all know the name, Taslima Nasrin, who is living in exile more than 25 years.
They accused us of having hurt Muslim’s religious sentiment by criticizing Islam and the Prophet, and that the Women Chapter has been trying to establish anti-Islam propaganda through writings. These are their accusation so far. And they mentioned, that they are following Women Chapter and its Editor for a long time. Just imagine, where I was!
The case was filed under Section 57 of the ICT Act, which gives the authority to arrest anybody without asking, and put into the jail for 14 years.
Recently the Government has brought some amendment to this law. The Digital Security Act 2018, formerly known as the Cyber Security Act, grants security agencies extensive power to arrest anyone suspected of a cyber-related offence without a warrant at any time, we call it ‘Black Law’ for us, who speak, raise voices, criticises.
The Section 57 of the ICT Act, which is the major concern with regard to freedom of expression. The pro-Islamist sued against me without knowing my hideouts. I narrowly escaped the arrest.
Unfortunately, only one person of my three-man family has stayed in Bangladesh. He is my unlucky son. Anything can happen with him while me and my daughter are not there. Here are so many people, so powerful you are, my humble request to you all, please help me to bring my child here, please.
What was my mistake?
Only one thing I know so far about what we are doing. We are trying to establish women’s voices, gradually, which has become a huge protest against patriarchy. And we all know that patriarchy and religion walks parallelly. So, the religious extremists have found their ground to silent us.
Not only the extremists. When we started writing against violence, oppression, and discrimination about our freedom, rights, choice, our so-called bloggers and free-thinkers also criticised us, they harassed us online, trolled us, which is so unfortunate, and unexpected. It only helped the religious extremists’ hands.
And unfortunately, it’s not new for me. I am that person, who always go against the tide.
I was living in constant threats from various groups, not only from radical religious extremists, also from the ruling party, and from the government. I had always been under surveillance from agency people. When I was coming to Europe to attend on conference on last March, I could not inform anybody, and say goodbye, because they tapped my phone, my friends were scared, that they could stop me at the airport.
I had to relocate my son before coming here. Because ‘They’ know my address.
Every time, when I had to go outside my home, I had the feeling that someone is following me, when I climbed up my stairs at home, I had the feeling that someone is waiting on my rooftop. After the tragic death of a journalist couple in Bangladesh, who were my colleagues, and family friends, I couldn’t resist myself saying publicly, which made me more vulnerable, the government agencies started monitoring me so closely. Since then I could not turn off my light in the room, though I lived on the 6th floor, it scared me.
I don’t know whether you went through such situation to live with threats, or not.
As you know, I am a journalist and the founder and editor of Women Chapter, which provides women with a safe space to express their views that rarely get heard in the mainstream media.
While radical Islamist groups are trying to bring back women to the home, a number of women are writing, speaking, expressing their feminist views through the new media like Women Chapter. And so the portal is being targeted, and as an editor, I got various kinds of threats, not only from radical groups, also from individuals.
Since the bloggers killing started in our country, so many times, I was threatened to death, they threatened that they will gang-raped me, will hang me, will kill me, hack me. They call me Leader of Prostitutes. In their language, I have been spreading prostitution, I have been breaking the family life by empowering women. They said that it’s me who spoiled the word ‘Feminism’, it’s me who are spoiling the girls. They told me that my name is in their own list, they are monitoring me, so I have to stop my work if I want to live.
So many times they tried to hack my portal, they disabled my facebook accounts, blocked me, banned me for several times. I came to know that, there is a list of 30 people, who are very much vocal in social media, so agencies are actively looking after these people, I am one of them.
Tomorrow is 3rd of May, the World Press Freedom Day. On the eve of this day, I can say that people have very little Freedom of Expression in Bangladesh. Whenever someone criticizes the activities and/or any policies of the Government that go against the benefit of the people, government authorities take all actions to shut the critic’s mouth by force.
In some cases, the authorities abduct them and kill critics without disclosing any information to the public, their friends and relatives. If these people are lucky, they can return to their beloved, but since then, they keep themselves silent, or they leave the country. This type of democracy, we have in Bangladesh.
At present, media in Bangladesh very much lean to Government. There is embedded journalism in practice. When I wrote an article about torture on minority and indigenous people, I was forced to leave my BBC work, and since then, I could not find any job. As I am vocal against all odds, since it is political or social, my name is red marked. It’s already two years, I was without job. As a single mother, life became terrible. You can imagine.
I had the feeling that everyday is my last day, I count every morning as a blessings, as a new extended life. When I went out from home, I didn’t know that I can return home safely, it was good that my daughter has managed to leave the country, and continue her study quietly, but my son couldn’t. He lived with me, with my fear, with my threat. He was also attacked twice. He could not cope, and left himself alone behind closed door.
I thought I would meet again our beloved UN Rapporteur, Michel Frost. First time we met in Dublin in 2015, the second time was in Nepal.
In Nepal we had long discussion with him about difficulties of women rights defenders. Why they cannot leave their country easily. I informed you my situation. As a single mother, I am the only person for my children, though they are now adult. I was waiting to bring my son with me, but the situation got worse, and I could not wait. I had to leave my son alone in uncertainty, in danger situation, as a mother, which is so unbearable. Please help me in this case, please feel a mother’s urge. If a man can bring their family, why cannot a mom!
The situation of Human Rights in Bangladesh is very critical. Our present government is in their second tenure, our last national election was just eye-wash, there is no accountability for any action, any wrong-doings, any corruption, or any activities of government of Bangladesh.
Ladies and gentlemen, in my experience, the Government of Bangladesh does not have any respect towards any individual’s Human Rights. There are hundreds of cases of violations of Human Rights in Bangladesh. Most of these are not reported by the international media. The local media also does not have the courage or power to bring these cases to public attention. This means that the government thinks it can act with impunity.
There are many things, the international community can do to support human rights defenders, who are truly at risk. I will say, there are lot of women in Bangladesh who are at risk now.
Thank you for listening to me, and as I finish, I must express my wholehearted gratitude to the organizers for inviting me to attend this conference.
Recently I was reading one quote of a famous person. She said:
I think we have the power to move mountains. To me, feminism and the strive for gender equality compound a modern view of global politics. Change is possible, necessary and long overdue.
I fully agree with her comment. We can do this together. I have extended my hand.
Thank you everybody.
In the media
31 May 2018 in Kultursidan: Supriti Dhar får fristad i Norrköping
31 May 2018 in ne.se: Supriti är Norrköpings nya fristadsförfattare