August 22 - 28, 2002 Issue No. 600

Shaikh Azizur Rahman

Private business

Poverty, corruption and market-demand combine to make pornography a Bangladeshi cottage industry Shaikh Azizur Rahman, in Dhaka, reports

Human rights groups, women activists and religious organisations have strongly condemned the growing pornographic film industry, in which Bangladeshi men secretly film themselves having sex with their wives and sell the tapes in markets in Bangladesh and abroad.

The condemnation follows seizures of thousands of pornographic films and the arrests of more than 35 men across Bangladesh in the last four months. While most of the men were arrested on charges of illegal production, sale and rental of pornographic materials, some were arrested for appearing in such films.

The production and sale of pornographic materials are banned in conservatively Muslim Bangladesh, where public displays of affection between men and women are frowned upon. Acting in porn films is illegal and carries a maximum punishment of six months in jail.

However, human rights activists claim these punishments are not enough. "Keeping their wives in the dark the husbands filmed the videos and sold them in the market. It is extremely offensive. These men deserve very harsh punishments," said Rakhi Das Purakayastha, a leader from Bangladesh Mahila Parishad the country's largest women's rights group.

In Jessore district police arrested one man on charges of forcing his bride to have sex in front of a camera. The bride of one month was brought to the police by a women's group. Activists say that most of the wives who are forced to act in such films cannot speak out because they cannot afford to go against their husbands publicly.

"In a conservative society the average woman, who is totally dependent on her husband, would rather commit suicide than take him to court or to the police," says Sigma Huda, president of Bangladesh Human Rights Implementation Council.

"One day a bus conductor shocked me by saying that he had seen me in a blue movie. Later, I found out that my husband had filmed us during our intimate moments in our hotel room at a sea resort… and he sold copies of the film," said a 27-year-old woman from the port city of Chittagong. To escape further embarrassment, the woman left her hometown and has sought refuge in a slum in Dhaka where she is still living with her husband.

"I have had to forgive my husband because I have no place to go." Now to protect her identity she has put on a head-to-toe veil (burq'a niqab) for the first time in her life and said that she could never return to her hometown.

The woman recently found a job as a cook and told her new employer, "I am afraid to face friends and relatives. He has exposed our bedroom to the public. Yet I cannot take any action against him because he is my husband and I have to live my whole life with him."

Recently, in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, police seized and destroyed more than 10,000 pornographic video films, many of which were made in Bangladesh. Police in Saudi Arabia arrested a group of Bangladeshis whom they suspect of smuggling and selling pornographic material. Intelligence sources in Dhaka claim that the smuggling and sale of illicit videos has been happening for about three years. Since these films are made in a "natural" atmosphere and the women are amateurs they have very high demand in the Gulf countries.

In Bangladesh police are now searching for a doctor and former minister of parliament who have been charged with appearing in pornographic films.

Bangladeshi government's drive against pornography also includes crackdown on the domestic porn film market. Pornographic films including Videos, CDs and DVDs are freely available in some of Dhaka's most chic shopping plazas.

The Bangladeshi government is quite concerned with the spread of pornography in the country and is planning drastic measures to "eradicate the culture of pornography", said Altaf Hossain Chowdhury, the home minister.

"Only a few husbands have reached such low morals so as to shoot their wives in the nude and sell the pictures. We will be sure to eradicate this menace of pornography in our country… we consider it to be against the fundamental tenets of our religion," he said.

But concerned activists believe that the government will not be able to take the necessary actions against the men pursuing careers in pornography and its sale. "Sellers set up in posh areas of Dhaka by bribing corrupt policemen. Police visit the culprits at their places regularly to collect their bribes. These policemen will never act against those men," said Sumana, a Dhaka-based TV actress and women's rights campaigner. Much needs to be done in the public sphere, it seems, before the privacy of that most private of places, the bedroom, can be adequately protected.

© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly

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Last modified: September 9, 2002
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