BANGLADESH: Blinded Woman's Plea for Justice Highlights Dangers Faced by South Asian Women

Thursday, June 23, 2011
Montreal Gazette
Southern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Bandaged and bruised, Rumana Manzur is pleading for justice after suffering a brutal assault that left her blind.

The 33-year-old University of British Columbia graduate student and assistant professor at Dhaka University in Bangladesh recently had her eyes gouged and her nose bitten by her husband, Hasan Sayeed Sumon, who claimed she was having an affair in Canada.

"He has made my world dark, I can't see my daughter," Manzur told The Daily Star, a newspaper in Dhaka.

Anusheh, Manzur's five-year-old daughter, was reported to be present during the attack when Sumon locked the door and began battering his wife in an attempt to kill her. He is now in police custody.

Domestic violence, forced marriage and human trafficking are some of the harsh realities women in South Asian communities face.

On Wednesday, the Ontario government announced a $150,000 grant to the South Asian Women's Centre in Toronto to help women escape abusive situations.

The centre's director, Kirpa Sekhar, said the grant came during a critical time since their federal funding was scrapped in December 2010.

Ontario Attorney General Chris Bentley said the grant will focus on training frontline staff to deal with victims undergoing domestic violence and forced marriage.

It will also help produce a guide that will advise women of their rights and the support services available, along with tips on how to stay safe. It will be published in English, French, Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Bengali and Tamil.

"Every community has issues with domestic violence, but reaching communities with the services available presents different challenges," Bentley said.

"Sometimes language is a challenge, sometimes culture is a challenge, so this funding will help the SAWC reach those women who need to be advised of their rights and the need to stay safe with our existing services that is culturally appropriate and linguistically appropriate."

In March, the Ontario government also promised $15 million over four years to help prevent sexual violence and improve support for survivors of sexual assault.

Sekhar said her group has helped 14,000 women so far.

"Forced marriages are used to enhance family fortunes, to protect parents, for business relations, so many reasons. A woman's life is not her own, it's used, it's trafficked," said Sekhar, who tells a story of a 26-year-old woman who had to start her life from scratch when her husband sent her back on a plane to India without her Canadian documents and identification.

According to Statistics Canada, South Asians are the largest visible minority group in Ontario, accounting for 28.9 per cent of all visible minorities in the province.

Ninu Gou from MOSAIC, a Vancouver group that helps immigrants and refugees with settlement and integration, said themes of patriarchy, objectification of women and subservience are more prevalent in traditional cultures.

"Men say they see themselves lose power when they come to the western world. They think women are getting corrupted," explained Gou, who has also counselled men.

"Men are struggling with losing power and that anger is being accelerated inside them. Quite often, when you see these horrific situations, it's usually when women are starting to step up and challenge them or to share that power," she said.