Meet Rabbi Apa, the only woman car mechanic in Dhaka

Within the past few years, women have participated in job sectors more than ever. However, ‘Mechanic Rabbi Apa’ is an exception to it all. Breaking fences in the field of mechanic and automobile workshops, Rabeya Sultana is the only female mechanic working for CARE Bangladesh.

Started from the bottom but she’s here

Rabeya Sultana Rabbi could never attend her S.S.C examination. Growing up with extreme poverty, Rabeya Sultana learnt to take care of herself from a very young age. Her father could barely afford for his eight-member family.

The young drop out student is now earning approximately 550 dollars per month and she can comfortably afford for her husband, her young son and her parents as well. Her husband was very supportive throughout her journey and helped her pursue her career by co-parenting.

Source: Arab News

Rabbi Apa’s journey

Rabbi Apa initially started training as a driver with other female members, but she was not confident enough to drive around highways. She then took the decision to take up her career as a motor mechanic.

In an interview with Arab News, she mentions how girls in Bangladesh hardly come to a profession which is heavily dominated by men in general. However, she has always been as a kind, friendly and hardworking employee. Selim Sheikh, manager for transport at CARE Bangladesh mentions how proud he is of her. She took in the knowledge of a motor mechanic in a short period of time. He also mentions how she is always enthusiastic to learn new techniques.

Rabeya dreams of opening her own garage in her hometown and give chances to others to pursue their career with motor mechanics. She wants to help her son achieve her dreams, and help him succeed in life.

May we have more Rabbi Apas help the society construct itself into a positive space for all women.

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The case of Nusrat and our “rape culture”

At first, when I was told to write about Nusrat, I was very keen on doing it. I was very eager to voice a wave of scream towards all the men and women who are defending the rapist. I was excited to talk about the girl who, with a body 80% covered in burns, wanted justice. She used what little breath she had left to demand justice.

Justice for all the time she’s been molested. Justice for all the time that pervert Siraj-Ud-Doula got away with it, not just with her, but with plenty other people before her as well. Justice against all those puny perverts who grew to power under his careful guidance. Justice for all the blatant abuse of power for personal gain and coverage.

How many of us can say the same for ourselves? How many of us stayed strong in the face of adversary, threats and in the end, literally death?

The culture of denial

Remember how I said, just a few moments ago, that I “was” keen on writing about Nusrat? I am not anymore.

Because even now, there are marches going on demanding the release of a man who’s been accused of sexual harassment multiple times (by multiple I mean countless times) throughout many years. Because there are still people everywhere, who are defending a system that’s producing generations after generations of repressed youth. Because even after this gruesome death, there are people who think she deserved it. Because she had to be burnt alive to have her allegations be taken seriously.

What exactly is wrong with us?

We are straight-up denying the rape culture that’s been nurtured within our society for as long as I can remember, or for as long as my mother can remember, or even for as long as my grandmother can remember. We think marriage is a ceremony where the father hands over his autonomy upon his daughter to another man. We believe women owe men their body whenever, however, wherever they ask for it.

So we end up getting triggered over something as basic as a t-shirt that says “don’t stand too close”– because who’s a woman to tell a man where he can or can’t stand? Isn’t a molester’s freedom to let their body parts roam far greater than the discomfort and molestation of a woman?

The blame game

Then comes the part where we are blaming “no-orna” for rape, then we are blaming not wearing hijab for rape, afterwards, we are blaming not wearing burqa, and then lastly, we are blaming Bollywood for rape.

Seems like we are blaming everyone and everything but the rapist for the rape.

This is rape culture.

When we are victimizing the criminal and criminalizing the victim, that’s rape culture.

When we are presenting reasons behind a rapist’s intention, we are stating the rapist’s action as reasonable- and that’s rape culture.

When we try to demean a man for stepping up to his peers against their sexism by calling him gay, impotent, trans. pussy, not a man– that’s rape culture.

Well, think about owning an alpha male cat. He will litter on your bed, or on your study place (wherever you spend the most time in) to prove he’s the number one of the house, not the other way around. Not because he couldn’t find any other place to litter, not because he had sudden diarrhoea- because he needed to assert dominance.

It’s the same with rape, or as we educated people like to call it “non-consensual sex”.

A toxic society

When someone has to force themselves onto someone else (usually vulnerable individuals of the society- females, or young boys), it means they’ve been denied their dominance over their prey at first. And in a patriarchal society, where dominance equals to power and strength, being denied means being weak, being defected (ladies, that’s why all the men you said no to think there must be something wrong with you or them to be rejected, not because you have free will).

Sometimes when I’m talking about this (who am I kidding, most times) I feel so tired as if I’ve been battling the Hydra for centuries, like two heads are sprouting from where I slayed one a moment ago. That’s not even completely metaphorical- you’ll know what I’m talking about if you just give the comment sections of these news a go. Or if you talk to any stranger on the road. The number of people saying “not all men” is far greater than the number of those actual men.

But then again, we think non-consensual sex and rape is different. Maybe we deserve this toxic, dying out society after all.

The battle against our obsession with fair skin

It always seemed perplexing to me that in a country of 16 million people where majority of us are of a darker complexion, we have somehow come to equate beauty with fairness. Starting from young girls and boys to older men and women, this notion has been embedded into our minds and has permeated over the centuries.

The constant slurs

Every brown woman living in Bangladesh can attest to receiving an abundance of unsolicited advice and derogatory comments from strangers to family members over their complexion throughout their lifetime. Maybe it was in the form of a backhanded compliment like “You’re pretty for a dark skinned girl”; an advice from next-door aunty to try out some skin whitening creams (fair and lovely the undisputed champion); a quick natural homemade remedy from a friend that promised to instantly brighten your skin; a warning from your mother to stay indoors and avoid the sun, and the list goes on.

Seriously, just stop.


Artwork by Nafisa Afsara Chowdhury

The other side isn’t pretty either

Growing up, I personally didn’t hear such remarks myself because I got “lucky” by being born with a lighter complexion in a society that’s obsessed with fairness. But I did experience something else which was equally problematic. People have said things like “ki shundor forsha gayer rong” and “tomake toh foreigner lage” to me, as if those were meant to be compliments. I’m sorry but no, you have got it all wrong. I do not aspire to look like a foreigner, I do not think my lighter skin is somehow a personal victory, and neither do I think that this should be an acceptable form of flattery for any right-minded person.

The ridiculous ads

It shocks me that it is still acceptable to promote fairness products in the 21st century and reiterate the idea that a fairer skin is more desirable than the rest. These ridiculous ads will try to have you believe that if you become a couple of shades lighter, you will finally get that job you want, your family and boyfriend will love you more, all your problems will miraculously go away and you’ll live happily ever after. (Don’t we all wish it were that simple?)

Why are we so obsessed with being “fair and lovely”?

Original concept and Photo by Zainab Anwar. Artwork by Triory.

This unhealthy obsession that we have with fairness is a lot more complex than we often realize. Some may argue that this stems from the remnants of our colonial legacy in South Asia and plays out in the form of internalized colonialism, while others say that this fixation dates even further back in history, dealing with issues of class hierarchy.

It also goes without saying that our deep-rooted patriarchy that constantly objectifies women only helps to perpetuate this enslavement even further.

We also cannot deny that the mass media today contributes towards keeping such insidious ideas alive by feeding us Western beauty standards since eternity.

The damaging impact

Most of us girls grapple with loving ourselves because we were conditioned to believe in these unrealistic beauty standards that were always far from our reach. So many girls like me, around me, were constantly trying to attain this standard of beauty, all the while, rejecting their own brown skin. Leaving them dejected and bathing in self-loathe. Can we really blame them though? We live in a society that constantly tells us that our skin color is “nongra” or “moila”, so trying to feel content in our own skin was never even an option to begin with.

Here are some Bangladeshi women sharing their bitter experience of growing up with brown skin in Bangladesh:

X, a 29-year-old woman from Dhaka-

“I remember when I was a teenager, I’d try all kinds of things on my face hoping to lighten it because I was always made to feel like it wasn’t good enough. Looking back, thinking about all the harmful things that I tried in order to gain validation from this society truly scares me. What makes me even more upset is that I still find myself fighting this battle within me sometimes. Suppose, when I’m wearing a very bright colored outfit, I’ll think to myself  “Is this making me look too dark?” But it’s only now, in my late 20s that I’m turning the conversation around and asking myself, “What’s wrong with looking too dark? Absolutely nothing”. So, thankfully, after years of struggle, I’m in a much more healthy relationship with my own skin now”

Anika, a 23-year-old student from North South University-

“I’ve been fighting this brown skin prejudice since my childhood. I remember when I was in school; I didn’t get accepted as the lead role of a drama because of my “dark skin”. My visits to the parlor were always accompanied with suggestions of bleaching my skin to become “fairer”. It’s not just the people who we love dearly that perpetuate such ideals but it is also embedded within our social institutions. It’s everywhere. And it takes unimaginable strength to unlearn years of such toxic internalization and begin to treat yourself right ”

Dare to love yourself

In a world that constantly reminds us women that the color of our complexion fails to meet some false notion of beauty, just loving yourself and being proud of your skin becomes a revolutionary act for us girls. It means to dismantle these narratives that we’ve been forcefully fed for so long. It means to reclaim our brown skin in all its glory.

So, go on, tell those aunties off, bask in the sun, wear that bright colored outfit you were asked not to wear, put on that red lipstick and own it!