I was often asked while growing up, “If you were given another life would you want to be a boy or a girl again?” When I was little I used to enthusiastically, happily answer “I would want to be a girl again!” without even thinking. The more I grew up the longer I took to think and answer. I grew up in a very liberal, non-practicing Muslim immigrant family where my parents never encouraged me to follow any religion or practice any rituals even when I was in Bangladesh. My parents were never disappointed with the fact that I am their only child and they don’t have a son. Not every South-Asian family wants boys or think only boys bring prosperity and name for the family, neither do they think only boys are needed to continue family name. People have changed, education, globalization, modernity brought a big change in society in my other country as well. Women pursue higher studies, are in charge of million dollar companies and projects just like men. Things have changed, time has changed. At least that’s what I thought.
I spent last summer taking an overload at school and working a horrible part time job. I spent my days complaining about life, luck and the world until Rumana Manzur’s news came about. Rumana Manzur was pursuing a Masters degree from the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver. She went to visit her family in Dhaka, Bangladesh in June 2011 where she became the victim of a horrific case of domestic violence. She was brutally attacked by her husband Hassan Syed, an engineer, who beat her mercilessly in front of their 5 year old daughter, bit off part of her nose and face in rage and tried to gouge her eyes out. Later the doctors announced she lost both of her eyes and will never be able to see again.
Reason? He “thought” she was having an extra marital affair with a colleague here in Canada and was jealous of her academic success.
For a week I just read news about her and watched interviews in shock and horror about her suffering and her pain. And I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that someone could justify gouging one’s eyes out, biting off one’s nose by claiming he has been cheated on. I talked to many of my friends and family around the world discussing where the heck he gets the idea that it’s okay to do such thing to a woman just because you “think” she is having an affair.
Of course one can argue that there are many factors that played significant roles in this case. Such as education. Maybe Rumana’s husband wasn’t educated enough so he didn’t know how to treat women. But wait a minute, wasn’t he an engineer? Didn’t he go to the most prestigious institute of Bangladesh for education? Is it because of his family; is it because of his socio-economic position? No, he comes from an educated, rich, powerful family. There must be another underlying reason for this kind of behavior then.
History shows how India, Bangladesh, Sri-Lanka, Pakistan has built a culture of disrespect towards women. That tells “us”, the South-Asian people, that we can abuse women, rape women, and throw acid at women and there will be no punishment. During the 1971 Liberation War, that created the independent nation of Bangladesh, the Pakistani army raped more than 200000 Bangladeshi women and haven’t been punished. It’s the mindset of the South-Asian society that tells women “No matter how modern you become, how educated you are, you need to understand that men need to be pampered. It’s in their nature to be angry and distracted and it is your responsibility to adjust accordingly.” That quote by the way is from a dear old friend of my parents. That is the reason, the mindset that leads to today’s blind Rumana Manzur.
What shocked me more about Rumana’s case is when I read various comments on articles and blogs by people from different countries, including Canada, who were trying to justify the husband’s attack by saying she deserves this if she really had an affair. Some agreed with her husband’s claim that she was “out of control”, living an irresponsible, careless life here in Canada while getting into inappropriate relationships. Interestingly those comments were coming from Bangladeshis and other South-Asian people. I see no difference between these people justifying Hassan Syed’s heinous crime and the media justifying murder, disappearance and rape of aboriginal women and minority women in general; when media questions their character, appearance, class and space ignoring the fact that they are the victims here. Why can’t we as a society accept that a woman can be a victim of violence or domestic violence without “asking for it”? What does their color, occupation, appearance, clothes, behavior has to do with the fact that they have been abused? Which makes me wonder that maybe, unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if it’s the east or the west; violence against women in every male dominant society is always validated and justified.
The Canadian-Bangladeshi community of Vancouver came into Rumana Manzur’s rescue with a “character certificate” proving that everything that her husband and her in-laws were saying about her character is all a lie and Rumana was a faithful wife who managed to follow an acceptable and appropriate code of conduct. I am happy for Rumana that at least “socially” she got “saved” by her friends, family and peers because she behaved the way she was expected to behave. But what if Rumana really had a wild, “out of control” life, did not follow her religion and dated multiple guys? What if she was selfish and rude? Would that make her less of a woman? Would that make her less of a person? Would people have really supported her then? Here or back home? I don’t know. I think I don’t want to know. I think I don’t want to know because I wouldn’t like the answer to that question.
Rumana Manzur’s case has made me question about my own safety. True, I’m not in Bangladesh; I’m in Canada but what about the people who justified this horrific crime? Many of them were from Canada as well. I don’t follow my religion, I’m loud and obnoxious with multiple piercings and I often have purple hair. I have lots of male friends. Who is going to come to my rescue with a “character certificate”? I can’t help but wonder. Maybe nothing has really changed. Things haven’t changed, time hasn’t changed.
Genre: Community and Culture
Mohaiemen, Naeem. “The Poison of Male Violence.” 16 June 2011. Web. 2 Mar. 2012. <http://www.thedailystar.net/newDesign/news-details.php?nid=190093>.
“Rumana Manzur: UBC Student Blinded, Husband Arrested In Bangladesh Attack.” The Huffington Post. 22 June 2011. Web. 02 Mar. 2012. <http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/06/22/rumana-manzur-ubc-student_n_882094.html>.
Ryan, Denise. “UBC Student Rumana Manzur starts over as blind mother.” http://www.vancouversun.com. 5 Dec. 2011. Web. 02 Mar. 2012. <http://www.vancouversun.com/news/student Rumana Monzur starts over blind mother/5534707/story.html>.