How does a man arrested on rape charges get to skip out on jail so he can represent his national team? And how does anybody in his country not see a problem with it?
On Monday, Rubel Hossain established himself as Bangladesh's national hero. Playing against England in the ongoing Cricket World Cup, he took four wickets, two of which came within a gap of three balls in the penultimate over—for the uninitiated, this is very good. Bangladesh was staring at a defeat until his last-minute heroics helped the team make history. As Hossain's ball took the bails off for James Anderson, England's last man standing, Bangladesh reached the quarter-finals of a World Cup for the first time ever.
For a cricket-crazy country like Bangladesh, and its 160 million people, this was as big as it gets. Coming into this World Cup, Bangladesh cricket was desperate for two things—success in the one-day format and reclaiming its dignity after a fixing scandal hit the Bangladesh Premier League, resulting in an eight-year ban for its former captain. The turnaround for their team—from being winless in its first 13 matches in 2014 to ending England's World Cup campaign—was phenomenal, and arguably their finest cricket moment.
The fans chanted one name in particular—that of Rubel Hossain. The man who had taken the last two English wickets, and given them a reason to finally celebrate. The same man who two months ago spent time in jail on rape charges.
On December 13, a 19-year-old Bangladeshi actress, Naznin Akhter Happy, who said she had had an intimate relationship with the cricketer for the last nine months, filed rape charges against Hossain. Happy then came out publicly to support her claims and said Hossain had also made a "false promise of marriage," which under Bangladesh law is a criminal offense.
While the investigation against Hossain was underway, a magistrate court rejected his appeal for a bail. That put him in prison on January 8, and put a big question mark on his appearance in the Cricket World Cup in Australia.
But there he was, on the pitch in Adelaide on Monday, playing the role of cricketing "hero" to perfection. How does this happen? How does a man arrested on rape charges get to enjoy a privilege reserved for so few?
Here's how: even after his bail plea got rejected, Hossain's lawyers were able to get him out of prison in three days' time. They argued that he was too important for the national cricket team's chances to leave him behind for the tournament in Australia. They pleaded that Hossain be granted bail in "national interest," and this reason was considered to have enough merit for the request to be actually approved. Hossain was given bail until the end of the World Cup so he could help win his team a couple of matches, never mind that he was being investigated for rape. Cricket comes first. The condition was that the case would open for hearing after the tournament ends.
Those who cover the sport in Bangladesh also said that, if anything, support has increased for Hossain since the case came to light because the public wants to huddle around this "rare talent"—a fast bowler unlike any that Bangladesh has seen in recent years. Television reporters from Bangladesh also agreed that there was no point harping on the Hossain case—a negative cricket story, as in his case, would destroy their viewership numbers, no one would watch or appreciate it.
This is the kind of larger-than-life status that cricket enjoys in the South Asian subcontinent. This is the privilege that its heroes get—a shortcut out of a rape case in lieu of "national interest." And there's more scumbaggery in this one. Once Debul Dey, Happy's lawyer in the rape case, saw the victory celebrations, and how much Hossain's performance mattered to his countrymen, he decided that he would no longer stand for his client. He announced in a Facebook status that he is dropping the case against the country's hero "in honor of his performance."
"From now, I'm no longer Happy's lawyer. Congratulations Bangladesh Cricket Team!!!," he wrote. "I want to inform Bangladesh cricket fans that I took Happy's case as a professional. I no longer wish to fight against Rubel after seeing Bangladesh succeed. Rubel should feel no pressure."
"Rubel should feel no pressure." That's the message Bangladesh as a country is sending to an athlete, and hundreds of other aspiring ones—that performance on the cricket field comes above everything, including law and order. Happy too appeared on a local television channel and said that she has "forgiven" Hossain, and is withdrawing all charges against him, possibly because she too, like many others in the country, felt that at this time, it's important that their team think about only one thing—how to win more matches.
"I'm not going to testify or give any evidence against him. And if I don't carry on with the case, then there is no case," she said.
Hossain has always rejected the rape charges and stuck by his version—the young actress is trying to "blackmail" him. Whether he is guilty or not is not up to anyone but the law to decide. But what's more concerning is why did no one see a problem in allowing a suspected rapist to be a part of the national team? And why is it not disconcerting that people are proudly supporting, embracing, and worshipping a man who a month ago was in jail on rape charges? How does a cricket win change that?
For now, all that matters is: "Rubel should feel no pressure."