A Place to Hide

When Rumana Manzur, Assistant Professor of the Department of International Relations at the University of Dhaka, abruptly returned to Dhaka from Canada she had only one thought preoccupying her–she had not seen her 4 year old daughter Anusha for more than a year. Forgetting her assiduously earned commonwealth scholarship she had rushed into Dhaka only for her maternal love. And now when she returns back her life will never be the same again.

On June 5, while Rumana was working on her computer her husband Sayeed Sumon entered her room and locked the doors from the inside. Immediately in front of their 4 year old daughter he assaulted her and gnawed her nose, throat and cheeks like a ghastly beast. He shoved his fingers into her eyes and pulled her eyeballs as Rumana tried to save herself from being strangled by him.

While blood trickled out profusely from her mother’s eyes, nose and cheek, Anusha screamed her father to stop. Immediately the two domestic helpers in the house tried to open the door and after finding that it was locked they fetched the duplicate keys. Sumon fled as soon as the doors were opened leaving behind an unconscious Rumana who was then rushed into a nearby hospital.

Rumana in the hospital

For 10 years Sumon and Rumana had led a happy marriage life together at their flat in the city’s Dhanmondi area. Before that, they had dated each other for 9 years. No one had ever had any doubts about their marriage. Sumon was the son of a friend of Rumana’s father and both the families were happy about the couple. It was once that they had got married that Sumon began to reveal the brute that he had manifested under the disguise of an intellectually brilliant student from the country’s renowned Bangladesh University of Engineering Technology (BUET). Quite frequently he used to lose control over his emotions, and as confirmed by Rumana later on, he was always bitter about the fact that while he himself could never excel in anything that he ever did his wife on the other hand was achieving constant successes in her field. And sometimes his rancor reached its zenith when he even used his natural masculine power to beat up Rumana. However at the end of the day he had always asked for forgiveness and Rumana being the typical Bengali wife forgave everything willingly. With time such occurrences began to get more frequent and Rumana even informed ofSumon’s malicious character to his parents, who instead of taking any firm stance against their son appeased their daughter-in-law by asking her to adapt herself to their son’s malevolent nature. But what surprises me most is the fact that never in those 10 years did she ever speak of her despair to any of her colleagues at work nor even to her parents, who had always been proud of her accomplishments.

In spite of all this I have to reconcile myself with the fact that this is the Indian subcontinent we are talking about. Here women are oppressed, and even if the heads of state here are mostly women the society is submissive to male subjugation. There is a Rumana in every household—I wish I could deny that—surviving in terrible tyranny, dominance and oppression from the male members of the family. Women here seem to have only one task: to look after their family. If she chooses not to, she becomes a stigma in the society. Every house has a suppressed voice and only a few which reach the extremities like that of Rumana Manzur get heard after suffering permanent damage. In Bangladesh it does not matter whether you are rich or poor, literate or illiterate, domestic violence is a prevailing social problem. Hardly a day passes here without the newspapers reporting wives killed by their husbands for dowry, wives burned alive by their husbands, wives committing suicide after knowing about their husbands’ extra-marital affairs and so on and so forth. Our society has been cursed by male subjugation.

For 10 days after the crime was committed and a lawsuit filed, Sumon eluded escape. On the 15th of June the High Court summoned the police to provide reasons explaining its inability in arresting a criminal hated by everyone in the country. Magically, the police, who were apparently until then unable to find even a trace, got hold of the brute in the city from one of his relative’s home within a span of 2 hours only after the order was placed. Once again the law-enforcers of the country seemed to have played a questionable role in determining a criminal’s ability to keep him out of the jail. Smoke is in the air that his family ties with top government officials really helped but what is truly evident is that he has had 10 days to prepare himself by fabricating a thrilling story of deceit, contacting the best lawyer that money could buy and also get in contact with his family who were at that time in America.

And what a story the man constructed! A dramatic story of how Rumana was involved in an extra-marital with an Iranian-Canadian, how she attacked him first for a really trifle reason and all this coupled with the financial losses he had incurred in the recent stock-market scam which had led to his mental breakdown—-the perfect recipe it was for a marketable Hollywood thriller for the public. In fact such was the nature of the story that the public rage at that point seemed to have melted and males throughout once again showed what can happen to a happy family if females were allowed to work outside their homes. Forums and blogs which had initially been abuzz about supporting Rumana suddenly seemed to have shifted sides and instead began talking about absurd female guile in the Bengali society.

Nevertheless, people nowadays understand when they are being fooled even if it is in politically malevolent countries like Bangladesh. Human rights workers, political activists, column writers and other social workers did not give an inch to the wonderfully crafted story. The judicial system proceeded to an unbiased inquiry and the case for prosecution was taken up by several women rights lawyers.

Given our present judicial state, it will take at least a year for the final verdict to arrive. But what has happened to Rumana and in fact continues to happen to Rumanas all over the country remains irreversible. The criminal will be punished, there is no doubt about that, but at best he will be faced with a 15 year-long imprisonment and financial assistance to help with his daughter’s education, payment to mitigate Rumana’s medical expenses and the lawyer’s fees throughout the process. After that he will be again at large, as if nothing had happened and will continue to inspire other potential criminals hence endorsing further impertinent acts of domestic violence in the future. The damage to the victim Rumana Manzur and her life, on the other hand, will be permanent. One of her eyes has been immutably damaged while the other is not relaying any nerve impulses to the brain. The doctors could do nothing but provide their condolences. Hence she has been permanently blinded right now and probably will be for the rest of her life. She will not be able to witness the growth of her beloved daughter for whom she had desperately returned from Canada at a short and untimely holiday. The beautiful world to which she had taught democracy, nationalism and socialism as an International Studies Professor will cease to emit light for her eyes any more. Everything will be dark for her Universe; her husband had made sure of that.

As long as judicial loop-holes continue to exist people like Sayeed Sumon will persist. And for most of us it will take at best a few months for the story of Rumana Manzur to erode away from our memories. The newspapers have stopped the front-page updates of the incident so as to make more space available for the raging social issues like political disorders, latest economic policies and other countless problems faced by the society today. But can we give back to Rumana  all that she had lost from her life? My question is to the conscience of the entire world today: What if the next person to suffer irrevocably like Rumana Manzur is your very own daughter, sister, grand-daughter, or someone really close to you? Would you still have allowed criminals like Sayeed Sumon to escape and again be at perfectly ease in the society? Could you dare to look at those eyes of Rumana Manzur and assure her that life will once again be the same for her? Could you offer something beyond condolences to all the women out there who are constantly being oppressed from their dreams, happiness and above all, the right to live life normally? Could you give me a place to dwell in where I will not have to open the daily newspaper and see the regular head-lines about terrorism in our own household? Could you give me place to hide where those innocent eyes of Rumana Manzur will never haunt me? Could you assure me that I can find solace in you, or rather women like Rumana Manzur can find solace in our conscience? Could you tell me that we will one day build a world devoid of such horrendous acts of malice?

Today I dream of buildinga world devoid of all forms of social injustice and until that day comes I guess I will have to find a place to hide myself from the victims of social oppression………………..

Rumana with her daughter Anusha