For a twenty-something Bangladeshi who moved to Britain a few years ago, not much has changed back home. Memories of my childhood – from pollution to political corruption – are rejuvenated every time I return. Yet I must admit some things are different now. Sexual minorities, for example, were never seriously discussed during my college years in Dhaka. With limited access to information and no local resources, I lived out this period of my life hiding my sexuality. Over the last few years, however, it seems that an increasing number of Bangladeshis are speaking about sexual diversity and their own sexuality. Or at least this is what it has seemed like to someone looking in from afar. But there is only so much we can learn from the news and social media, which is why I have been talking to members of sexual minorities who are closely involved with events in Bangladesh.
In 2013, the elopement and consequent arrest of two women – let us call them Sraboni and Oporajita to protect their identities – made the local news to the bemusement of many. Public reactions revealed much about Bangladesh’s ignorance of sexuality. Many wondered how two women could sexually satisfy each other, while others condemned same-sex attraction as an illness to be cured. Their story had a dark ending, as the police tracked the couple down at the behest of Sraboni’s parents. Oporajita, older at twenty-one, was charged with the abduction of Sraboni, who at sixteen years old was a minor in the eyes of Bangladeshi law. This is the environment within which sexual minorities in Bangladesh live, where we can never be sure if our families, neighbours and government will collude to bring misery to our lives. Gender and sexual diversity in the region of Bengal may predate the creation of modern-day Bangladesh, but the mainstream visibility of our people has so often brought us pain. Our experiences have taught us to be careful around heterosexual members of society, be they family, friend, government, medical professional or religious figurehead. Even here, in an essay on the current state of our lives, I’ve had to anonymise several names on the grounds of safety, and in many cases, on fear of death.