Why some women in relationships are pushed to do the unthinkable
The phone rang at half past one at night -- late night ring tones have an ominous sound. The voice on the other side was distraught: “Sir, apner bonre maira falaise” (sir, they have killed your sister).
The man on the other side was wailing uncontrollably, and I could hardly understand what he was saying because in grief, he was using his Feni dialect. But this much was certain -- some catastrophe had occurred. “Come to Kurmitola General Hospital” was all I could decipher.
Soon on the road, with my trusted acolytes, Dipok and Yasin, we were on our way. When you hear that someone whom you held in great affection has committed suicide, unable to face the torment of family life, it’s hard to keep your mind on the road.
But eventually, we got there. In an almost deserted hospital, in a spacious room, the young girl, once effervescent, vivacious, and fun-loving, was lying motionless. She was 21.
I has known Masuda Akhter for three and half years. She was a gifted dancer whose penchant was to be a journalist. But since she did not have the right qualifications, I told her to start by taking photos of events and collecting information -- a bit like an on-the-road reporter.
Masuda had come to the city to make a living from roles in drama, theatre, and dancing. She looked after a large family, including the daughter of a younger sister who had died a few years earlier of blood cancer.
Promises of roses and honey
Naturally, with prices of essentials rising in the market, she had difficulty running her family and took to giving dancing lessons to young girls in her area. From time to time, I asked her to be my photographer and short-hand note taker at interviews, and thus she managed to make ends meet.
But like all young girls, she had a desire that someday, a Prince Charming would come and lift her off the life of struggle.
Then, like many other girls in town, she met a young boy, one Rubel Ahmed Babu, claiming to work at a Chinese-owned garment buying house in Baridhara.
As per Masuda’s account, the guy used to call her regularly, woo her, and though she did not like him in the beginning, the pestering had an impact eventually. A relationship developed, though the relation was bound by many restrictions.
As per Masuda, the guy made lofty promises: Will buy a car for you, get a flat in an upmarket area, look after your sister’s orphan child (the father had disappeared long ago) and take over as a guardian of your family. The point is, during the courting period, truth is embellished 10 times, fiction is presented as fact, and the spectacular case of roses and honey is created.
Masuda -- a girl who had seen privation, humiliation, and suffering for almost 16 years of her life, saw a chance to break away from a cycle of deprivation and settle into a secure life.
When the rose-tinted glasses fell off
The harsh reality hit her quite early during the marriage when Rubel, the husband, refused to pay her any monthly allowance. The previously made promise to look after the child of her deceased sister evaporated and soon, the paltry jewelry given to her during marriage had to be pawned. Added to this was regular beatings.
The final straw was when Rubel, the husband, broke Masuda’s smartphone, which she had bought with her hard-earned money. In fact, soon after marriage, the husband broke another phone -- at that time, some of us collected money and had bought her one.
This time Masuda was inconsolable. “Sir, unless he gives me a mobile I will shatter everything and bring down hell on earth,” she told me a few times and I replied: “Fix the phone first and then try to reason with him to give you a phone during Eid.”
But the husband, ego-driven, vicious, and misogynist as he was, refused to even budge. Instead, he began taunting the girl. As per the niece’s comments, the girl on March 6, gave an ultimatum that unless she was given the phone, she would take her life, to which the response was possibly more ridicule.
It would be wrong to say that it was the phone which drove Masuda to take her life -- this was the last straw. Relentless abuse, torture, and a torrent of sardonic comments topped with derision led her to take the extreme step.
The newspaper report is never enough. The Bangla newspaper which carried the news of the suicide just mentioned that a housewife took her life. But a woman does not commit suicide for nothing.
There are complex, perturbing factors behind such an unfortunate end to beautiful lives. Simply reporting it and then forgetting about it will not solve the grave social evil which has been lurking underneath our so-called puritanical façade.
Masuda had a world of dreams -- a flat designed in white furniture, a small garden, nice clothes, trips to a magical holiday spot abroad, and to raise her daughter’s son properly.
But ensnared in a trap of lies, deception, and charm-laced duplicity ended it all.
There is a common (read abominable) tendency to settle such matters with money, using the preposterous rationale: “Je chole gese shey to ar ashbe na.”
We simply cannot let news like “housewife takes her own life” appear on paper to elicit “so sad and unfortunate” responses. We have far more to do, and first is to ensure young women shun men who in the name of romance want to impose restrictions.
One rule leads to more rules and finally, the girl becomes a slave. In this case, she became a corpse.
Towheed Feroze is News Editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.