On October 27, 2008, I lodged a complaint against Mr Anwar Islam [Pseudonym], Immigration officer at the then Zia International Airport, Dhaka, Bangladesh. I was working at the School of Public Health, BRAC University. I was traveling from Abu Dhabi, flight no EY 258 and reached Dhaka on October 26 at around 6:20 am. At the immigration desk I was sexually abused by one of the concerned officers mentioned above. The conversation went as follows: Anwar Islam: Your name? Shahanoor Akter Chowdhury: Shahanoor Akter Chowdhury. A: Male or female? S: Keno, amake dekhe ki bojha jachhe na? (Why, don’t you understand looking at me?) A: No, I am confused. Apnake dekhe bujhte parchhina (No, I don’t understand looking at you). S: Then look at my passport. It’s written there if I am a male or female! During the whole conversation Mr Anwar Islam looked at me in such a shameless and indecent way that I felt humiliating, insulting and sexually abusive. It was quite clear from his attitude and his way of looking that he was trying to find the visible female organs in my body. I should mention here that I was wearing a black trouser with a full sleeve purple colored shirt; a black scarf was hanging from my neck. I went out and made a verbal complain against his inappropriate behavior to his at once. Immediately after that I made a written complaint against Mr Anwar Islam to OC, Immigration, Bangladesh Police, Zia International Airport and urge the department to take necessary disciplinary actions for his act. I attached copy of my passport and boarding pass of that flight with the complaint letter. Besides emails I also sent hard copies of this complaint to SS immigration, CID, Bangladesh Police.
With knowing that nothing would happen, I still sent the written complaint to the Special Branch (SB) stating that the officer misbehaved and used inappropriate or I would rather say abusive words to me while I was traveling from UK to Dhaka on October 26, 2008. To my greatest surprise, I received a letter a couple of months later from SB, Bangladesh Police stating that they were doing an investigation based on the complaint and that they wanted to talk to me for finalizing the report. Well, I went to SB the next morning and met Md. Aurangzeb Mohbub (ppm), Special Supdt. of Bangladesh Police. He apologized to me for his officer’s misbehavior and said that they already took initial disciplinary actions against him. They transferred that officer from the Airport duty and he will never be posted there unless he improves his behavior. Mr. Aurangzeb also mentioned, although they have resource and other constraints, they are taking initiatives and working hard to make reforms in the Bangladesh Police. He requested me to inform you all that there are stickers at the Immigration in airports and land borders with names and phone numbers of concerned police officers. If you face any kind of problem or harassment or see others facing it traveling outside the country, please call them and they will take actions then and there. This is an example that positive reforms are taking place in Bangladesh Police and I believe in many other sectors. And this is possible for our joint efforts!
This example of good practices made me more and more interested to work with law enforcement agencies. In one of my works with legal service providers, I provided a good number of gender-sensitization trainings to police officers. My negative view towards the police administration changed after that event. They are there to help general people; we just need to knock at them with the right approach.