In a momentous turn of events that is likely to spark off the MeToo movement in the country, the Bangladesh Human Rights Commission (BHRC) has asked the Home Ministry to take cognisance of serious allegations of sexual misconduct in workplace raised by a former woman assistant vice-president of the City Bank.
The City Bank, one of the leading banks in the country, is the sole franchisee of the American Express in Bangladesh and the AMEX credit cards are one of its important line of business.
Monira Sultana Popy, the City Bank's former assistant VP, filed a general diary complaint of sexual harassment against three top officials of the bank in Gulshan Police Station in Dhaka in August 2019 -- after "failing to resist the continuous sexual advances and even attempts to rape".
The case named City Bank Managing Director Mashrur Arefin and two other top officials -- Abdul Wadud and Kafi Khan -- as co offenders, with Popy claiming they even tried to rape her in the conference room of the City Bank's head office on January 21, 2019.
Popy's services were terminated within two days of the complaint and five cases were brought up against her -- charging her with various acts of omission and commission -- in a vicious counter-bid by the bank's topbrass.
Her salary has been withheld since March 2019 when she first protested sexual advances by Arefin and the other two.
Popy has bravely fought the cases against her and pursued her allegations of being a victim of "continuous and repeated sexual misconduct".
The BHRC asked the Home Ministry in a letter dated March 21, 2021 to investigate the case thoroughly, pointing out that "to punish a woman physically, mentally and to terminate her from job unethically is a serious offence."
BHRC said in its letter that "these criminals are powerful but they should be punished according to the existing law. "
This commission has also copied its letter to the Finance Ministry, Chairman of City Bankk and the Prime Minister's office.
The victim Monira Sultana Popy has filed a fresh complaint on 30 th March 2021 to the Ministry of Women and Children (complaint No: 1617078036062) seeking justice and redressal of her grievances.
Popy feels her case has been strengthened by a report submitted by the Crime Investigation Department (CID) which said it found no merit in the cases filed against her by the City Bank officials who she accused of sexual misconduct.
"If I am guilty of any of their charges, why did they file them after I had filed my case alleging sexual misconduct. It is a clear case of afterthought," Monira Sultana Popy said.
Popy's case received extensive coverage in Bangladesh and also in the West. The banker hit the streets during protests against the growing incidents of rapes in Bangladesh, highlighting her case before thousands of protestors.
"I have suffered so much in the last two years that I don't care what happens to me ultimately. But I will continue my fight for justice. I am without a job for two years, I have exhausted my savings educating my younger sister and my daughter and providing medical treatment to my parents," said Monira Sultana Popy.
She said she hoped her case and a positive legal verdict punishing the offenders would trigger a MeToo movement in Bangladesh, where sexual misconduct in the workplace is not uncommon.
"I hope to get the kind of justice that the women in India got against M.J. Akbar, the powerful Indian editor-politician," she said.
Mashrur Arefin and other officials of City Bank did not respond to calls seeking their reactions.
In the wake of #MeToo movement in 2018, Priya Ramani, a journalist had made allegation of sexual harassment against Akbar. Pursuant to this, he filed criminal defamation case against her and resigned as Union Minister.
"It is a victory for women and the MeToo movement. It feels great to have the truth validated before a court of law," Ramani had said minutes after a Delhi court acquitted her in the criminal defamation case.