The Vancouver Sun
Victim’s story has unleashed a Jerry Springer-like circus in the Bangladeshi media.
UPDATE: The University of B.C. has set up a secure donation site to help Rumana Manzur. All donations through the site will go directly to Manzur: https://rumana.givecentre.com/donate/11
DHAKA, Bangladesh – Rumana Manzur said she was quietly working on her UBC thesis, with her five-year-old daughter by her side, when her husband Hassan Sayed burst into the room and unprovoked, unleashed a vicious beating.
He grabbed her by the neck, threw her to the floor and went for her eyes, the part of her he knew was elemental to her studies.
The June 5 attack left her blind and battered.
Manzur, who spoke to a Vancouver Sun correspondent from her hospital bed in Dhaka, Bangladesh, said she now fears for her and her daughter’s life.
With her tiny daughter clambering around the hospital room, she sobbed and trembled as she recalled her husband’s words.
“He told me – ‘I will kill you if you try to leave the country.’ That was the last thing I remember him saying to me. I don’t know what to do.”
Overcome with emotion, tears streamed from her swollen, sightless eyes. “I am in a terrible condition.”
Several days passed before her husband Sayed was arrested for the attack. Although he confessed to resenting her pursuit of education, he later changed his story and claimed at a press conference that Manzur had been communicating via Facebook with an Iranian lover, and had instigated a physical attack on him when he confronted her.
The story has unleashed a Jerry Springer-like circus in the Bangladeshi media, where her husband’s accusations of infidelity are getting more ink than calls for justice.
Manzur, adamant that the accusations of infidelity are not true, sobbed quietly in her hospital bed.
The last thing she remembers from before the assault was downloading reports from the UBC website with her five-year-old daughter by her side.
“I was working on my university thesis when my husband rushed into the room and locked the door. He grabbed me by the neck and pulled my hair back. The attack was pre-planned, we were not having a fight,” she said. “He put his fingers in my eyes.”
The next thing Manzur recalls was waking up in a pool of blood at the hospital’s ICU unit.
Manzur and her family fear that fear that Hassan, who is related to a powerful local prosecutor — could use political contacts to gain freedom.
Although Bangladesh is a secular democracy with strong laws against domestic abuse laws that were enacted in 2010, corruption and an ineffective judicial system allow well-connected criminals to escape punishment.
Transparency International rates Bangladesh a five out of six (six being the worst) for accountability and corruption in the public sector.
Domestic abuse is often “actively tolerated” by the country’s police and public, said Sara Hossain, who heads the Bangladesh Legal Aid Services Trust. “The laws are here, but the enforcement is not there. There are lots of cases where violent domestic abuse and attempted murderers go free.
“This is an exceptionally violent case and it’s really a test for our judicial system.”
A 2004 Immigration Canada report stated that Bangladesh ranks fourth globally in terms of violence against women, quoting a UN report.
Manzur, who is also an assistant professor at Dhaka University, said that she saw no clues to Hassan’s violent instability before their marriage in August 2000.
“He was very nice and he didn’t have a bad temper. We used to talk all the time … it wasn’t an arranged marriage.”
But things quickly deteriorated after they exchanged vows. “He beat me for the first time a few weeks after we were married. It was for some silly reason – he said I was ignoring him or something like that.”
But even as the violence escalated, Manzur stayed with her husband.
“He was always sorry after. He always promised the beatings would never happen again.”
She kept the violence a secret from her family and friends – a decision she says was the worst she ever made.
When Manzur was awarded a prestigious scholarship to pursue graduate studies at UBC, Sayed was furious.
“He was so angry when I told him I wanted to enrol in a Canadian university. He hated the idea that I would become educated.”
Sayed had dropped out of engineering school in Dhaka and was surviving by speculating on the local stock market.
Manzur said she faces massive medical bills and travel expense bills for treatment to try to restore her eyesight.
Although her family rushed her to a top eye hospital in India, surgeons said there was no hope of saving her sight.
Now Manzur is desperate to return to Canada with her family to seek further medical treatment and finish her studies.
“I fear for my daughter … I can’t even walk properly any more – I am a cripple”, she says as she breaks down. “I used to be so independent.”
What keeps her going right now is her family and the support from friends and strangers in Canada. “It means so much, the president of UBC, St John’s college, they have helped so much, even though I have nothing to give back.”
Catherine Duvergne, Senior Advisor to UBC president Stephen Toope, said “It’s absolutely possible for Manzur to continue her studies once she has recovered.”
Manzur has not given up hope that something can be done to restore her sight.
Duvergne said “Certainly the university would use all its resources to help her make contact with any medical professionals she might need.”
One thing that is certain, said Duvergne, “whatever decisions Manzur makes from this point going forward she is going to need financial support. We are working on setting up an online donation site for her at www.ubc.ca.”
A rally of support of support and fundraising will be held Sunday, at 3 p.m. at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
With files from Denise Ryan