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ZAFAR SOBHAN
DATELINE DHAKA

Zafar Sobhan is editor of the Dhaka Tribune, a daily newspaper.

Monster in the mirror

On 5 June Rumana Manzur, assistant professor of International Relations at Dhaka University, was tortured by her husband Hasan Sayed in her home at Dhanmondi.

umana Manzur, an assistant professor in the Dhaka University international relations department, today lies in a hospital in Chennai as doctors fight to save her eyesight following a brutal attack on her by her husband on 5 June in which he bit her on the face, chewed off part of her nose, and attempted to gouge out her eyes.

It has been reported that doctors fear that one eye is beyond repair and their only hope is to be able to preserve partial sight in the other one to save Rumana from a life of total blindness.

Rumana's husband, Hasan Sayeed Sumon, an unemployed engineering graduate, had been absconding since the incident but was apprehended on 15 June, after 10 days on the run.

It had been suggested that Sumon, who regularly abused his wife during their 10-year marriage, was motivated by a sense of inferiority and insecurity with respect to his more accomplished spouse, who had recently returned from a PhD programme in Canada, and that he wished to stop her from returning to Canada in the fall to resume her studies. At a press conference following his arrest, Sumon claimed that he had been motivated by suspicions that Rumana had been having an affair, though he took care to stress that any injury done to her had been accidental as he had merely been trying to protect himself after she had attacked him.

The truly disgusting thing is that there are already people who seem to think that if Rumana had indeed been having an affair (for which there is zero evidence, by the way) that this somehow goes some way to justifying her husband's attack on her.

The monstrous nature of the assault has shocked the nation, but the sad truth is that domestic violence is a casual and accepted part of life in Bangladesh. Studies suggest that over one in two Bangladeshi women suffer violence or abuse at the hands of their husbands, and given the culture of silence and shame that surrounds such things, it is likely that the actual tally is even higher.

Had Sumon merely contented himself with beating or slapping Rumana as he had been doing for the past decade, chances are that no action could ever have been taken against him, and if she had tried to leave then she would have faced pressure from well-meaning friends and family to stick it out and put a brave face on things, for the sake of her daughter, for the sake of her family reputation, for the sake of her professional career.

Nothing should detract from Sumon's culpability. To beat your wife is despicable and the province of a truly pathetic and disgusting excuse for a human being.

To attack your wife with the venom and vitriol he did shows that you are not fit for human society. If he ever gets out of jail, it will be too soon, and life behind bars is too good for him.

But where does a man get the sense of entitlement, the sense of impunity to think that he can batter his wife senseless or worse?

And where does a battered wife get the conviction, the certainty that if she opens her mouth to complain that she will be silenced lest she embarrass her family and that if she leaves she will be condemned by society and that she and her child would be better off if she just soldiers on through the abuse?

I will tell you where they get the idea. They get the idea from society, they get the idea from us, and they get the idea because to a distressingly large extent it is true.

omestic violence is an epidemic in Bangladesh. The reason it is an epidemic is because, in the final analysis, we accept it. We accept that a husband can sometimes lose his cool and batter his wife and that it is no big deal, and we accept the notion that disobedience and infidelity are reasonable grounds for domestic violence.

And we further agree that it is a woman's lot to patiently suffer the tortures inflicted on her by her husband, her in-laws, and her extended family, and that if she were to speak up or complain or heaven forefend decide that she wants to leave, that she would be bringing undying shame to herself, her children, and her family.

In the end, Rumana's plight is not just about her and a monster of a husband. It is about all of us and the monstrous society that we have created, and that we are a part of, and the monstrosities that we acquiesce to every day by our tacit acceptance of the prevailing value structure.

Rumana is paying the price for our refusal to look squarely at ourselves in the mirror and acknowledge what a sick society we are. We all failed her.

 
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