On 5 June, 2011, Rumana Manzur, an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the Dhaka University, became the victim of a horrific case of domestic violence when she was brutally attacked by her husband Hassan Syed, who allegedly beat her mercilessly, tried to gouge out her eyes and bit off part of her nose in a fit of rage. It is being said that their 5 year old daughter was in the room and was a witness to this inhuman act.
A Fulbright scholar from Bangladesh, Rumana was pursuing a Masters degree from the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver. She was visiting her family in Bangladesh during the summer break when this incident took place. Hassan absconded after the incident and was picked up by the police on June 15 from a relative's house where he was hiding. [The arrest came hours after the High Court took suo moto notice of the case based on media reports and asked the police to appear before it to explain the delay in arresting him].
Soon after his arrest, Hassan gave an interview to journalists where he blamed Rumana for having an extra-marital affair with an Iranian man during her stay in Vancouver. According to reports, he said that a fight broke out between them when she found out that he had deleted this person's name from her Facebook friends list while she was in the bathroom. He denied having assaulted her and said that possibly she got injured during the scuffle.
Rumana now risks losing vision in both her eyes. She was flown to India for treatment but had to return home to Dhaka disappointed after doctors there informed her family of the severity of the damaged caused to her eyes and saw little hope of restoring her vision. Currently Hassan has been remanaded to police custody where he is being questioned about the case.
The Rumana story has shocked Bangladeshi society – both at home and abroad. Her students and colleagues – both at the Dhaka University as well as UBC have come forward in her support and strongly condemned this brutality. Bangladeshi families in Vancouver and the UBC have also sent an open letter expressing their sentiments about the incident.
Much is being discussed and debated both offline as well as online. Friends and supporters of Rumana have set up groups on Facebook such as Justice for Rumana where they are seeking exemplary punishment for her husband. Bloggers too have lent their voice in this demand for justice, expressing anger, outrage and shock.
Taef Ahmad writes in Choturmatrik [bn]:
দশটা বছর সংসার করে, নিজের সন্তানের মমতাময়ী মা’কে সন্তানের সামনেই মেরে অন্ধ করে- চেহারা বিকৃত করে দেবার জন্য কতদুর নির্মম-পাষন্ড হতে হয়? জঙ্গলের নখ-দন্তবিশিষ্ট হিংস্র পশুও বোধহয় আরেকটু বেশি মানবিক!
পাশবিক নির্যাতনের শিকার এই মায়ের অপরাধ তিনি তাঁর পেশার সর্বোচ্চ ডিগ্রী অর্জন করতে চেয়েছিলেন এবং তার যোগ্যতা অর্জন করেছিলেন।
At Sachalayatan, blogger S.M. Mahbub Murshed expressed his anger at the husband, whom he compared to a cruel animal. Mahbub warns that MSM may soon forget the story but it remains the reponsibility of bloggers to keep this story in the limelight until the culprit is suitably punished. He also urged women to recognise the early signs of abuse in the relationship and take appropriate steps before the situation gets out of hand.
An online petition has been started to seek speedy justice for Rumana.
Amidst all the expression of outrage, a small segment of netizens have also been blaming Rumana for her current plight. Amongt them a few have even expressed sympathy for Hassan, especially after his initial claims about his wife's ‘infidelity’ .
The arguments put forward by the sympathisers mainly veered around the premise that Rumana must have given her husband a solid reason for his uncontrollable anger. Others argued that Rumana is to blame for not walking out of this marriage earlier. Other bloggers have been quick to denounce these arguments using strong words.
Blogger Zakaria Swapan comments[bn]:
প্রথমেই কেউ কেউ রিএ্যাকশন দেখালেন এভাবে – ডাল মে ক্যুছ কালা হ্যায়। যার অর্থ হলো, নিশ্চই মেয়েটি এমন কিছু করেছে, যে কারণে স্বামীটি এমন খর্গ হস্তে আভির্ভূত হয়েছেন। তাদের জন্য উত্তর হলো – আপনি একজন মানসিক রোগী। সেজন্য আপনার মাথায় প্রথমেই এমন একটি চিন্তা এসেছে। আরেক দল আছেন যারা মনে করছেন, মেয়েটি কেন এতোদিন এমন একটি ছেলেটির সাথে ছিল। তাই মেয়েটিরই দোষ। এখন ভোগ করো শাস্তি। আমরা বাংলাদেশে মেয়েদেরকে যেভাবে বড় করি, যেভাবে গড়ে তুলি, তাতে কয়টা মেয়ের পক্ষে সম্ভব সংসার ছেড়ে চলে যাওয়া?
Other netizens are discussing, not only about this specific case but about the broader issue of marital relationships, domestic violence and the culture of silence that exists around it.
Hers was an extreme case, perhaps, and the ‘shobhbhyo shomaj’ (civilised society), as one newspaper called it, has been stunned by the sheer brutality of the crime. But this very ‘shobhbhyo shomaj’ would regularly pressurise the woman to ‘compromise’ (maniye cholo) in the other not so brutal (to-be-more-brutal) cases.
Rubana Huq at Priyo.com points out the irony that despite South Asia having an impressive number of women leaders, the region continues to have such a poor track record as far as women's rights are concerned.According to her, “women are one of the easiest commodities in the market of abuse”.
Blogger Upopadya however feels that an instance of gender related crime should not be escalated to the extent of blaming all men, thereby placing the genders on a path of conflict [bn]:
নারী-পুরুষকে পরস্পরের বিপরীত অবস্থানে আনা বা মুখোমুখী দাঁড় করানো উচিত হবেনা। আমাদের বুঝতে হবে সমাজটা নারীর একার না, সমাজটা পুরুষের একার না, সমাজটা নারী-পুরুষ সকলের
Today, Rumana waits for a miracle that will bring back her vision and allow her to see her daughter's face once again. She wants her husband to be brought to justice. Hassan is still in police custody. And the discussion on domestic violence continues unabated.