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Rumana Monzur: Striving and Thriving Despite Adversity

By March 8, 2018UWCV Blog

The Hycroft Lecture is one of our Club’s signature events that is held to showcase women in our community who are actively living our motto of “leading the way”. After a year of significant action that saw women’s rights rise to the forefront of public conversation, we chose to focus our 2018 lecture on the theme of Striving and Thriving Despite Adversity. If there’s anyone that embodies this theme it’s Rumana Monzur. As our keynote speaker for the 2018 Hycroft Lecture Rumana graciously agreed to speak about her fight for justice against domestic abuse and courageous journey after being blinded and nearly killed.

Until her marriage, Rumana’s life in Bangladesh appeared charmed. Coming from a family where both the men and women pursued academic careers, she became equally ambitious and excelled in her studies, achieving first class honours in both her Bachelor and Masters degrees. Her successes led to her being offered a position as a Lecturer at Dhaka University.

On the surface, Rumana’s married life was successful. Her husband was charming and personable with her family or others. But life at home was a different matter.

“The first day of our marriage, I found his true face but I didn’t want to believe he wasn’t the person I thought he was. That’s why it took me awhile to understand the pattern: he would find an excuse to abuse me just before my exams or a deadline; then he would be violent or abusive.”

Rumana told no one about the reality of her existence. She spent most nights in her mother-in-law’s room, where she was asked to be patient and give him time.

“I shouldn’t have listened to her. I was worried about the social stigma, what my parents would think and what people would think. I was young, only 22 years old. At that age it’s hard to have that strength. No one knew what was happening. I was going through a trauma. Whenever he was around, I couldn’t be myself. I was always in fear about what will happen. I was scared to say anything in front of people. I was scared to be beaten up.”

Rumana applied and was accepted to the University of Toronto and UBC. When she saw the UBC campus, she fell in love with the natural beauty. “I quickly did my two terms and then went back for my daughter. I also wanted to collect data for my thesis.”

She applied and was accepted to Georgetown University but her husband wouldn’t let her study for her GRE. “That was the final nail in the coffin. I told myself the person who does not have any respect towards you or your career, cannot be a good father and will just make your life worse and, at that time I had the strength to take the decision I wanted to divorce. I had the confidence I could take care of myself and my daughter.”

That decision was to alter the course of her life and those around her.

Rumana’s story gained international attention when she suffered a horrific attack by her ex-husband which left her blind, with injuries that took over a year to heal. Incensed by her decision to ask for a divorce after years of physical and emotional abuse, he beat her severely, bit off the top of her nose and deliberately damaged her eyes. The brutality could have broken the spirit of any woman, but Rumana decided that she wasn’t going to allow this experience to define her existence.

“My ex-husband wanted me to live in grief but I won’t.”

The impact of the assault was devastating. While still in the hospital reeling from the physical injuries, Rumana endured the further betrayal of receiving anonymous phone calls threatening to kidnap her daughter or kill her father if she didn’t withdraw the charges.

When the government failed to arrest the perpetrator, Rumana’s colleagues at Dhaka University gave an ultimatum to strike if action wasn’t taken. Only then was he arrested and put in jail where he ultimately died of a heart attack.

Rumana’s family remained in a state of shock as the new reality set in, a reality where she was blinded, her career shattered, her family unsafe, and the future uncertain.

“It wasn’t until after I began to study again and regain my confidence that my parents came out of their trauma.”

The support of her colleagues in Dhaka was mirrored by the support of her fellow students at UBC who urged her to come back. UBC has a department of Access and Diversity with advisors who look after differently abled students, making sure the departments and faculty accommodate the students, as needed.

Rumana began the long journey back to health, suffering through several eye operations in Canada that raised and then dashed the hopes that she might see again. Unfortunately, the tissues inside her eyes were damaged so badly that the doctors could not succeed – Rumana’s blindness was permanent.

What gave her the courage to continue when the life she had worked so hard to achieve came to an abrupt end? “My faith. The one thing that came to me again and again was that if my creator thought I could handle it, perhaps I could. There was also my responsibility to my daughter. She was just five at the time and I needed to be the mother she needed and deserved. I decided I wouldn’t let anyone else decide how I’m going to live the rest of my life.

After coming back, Rumana completed her Master’s degree and then completed her law degree at UBC in April of 2017 and is now an articled student with a downtown law firm. The law firm invested in a program called Job Access with Speech which allows the use of digital aids to read and write. Learning the program has been another challenge for Rumana to overcome.

When asked what she is most proud of, she said this:
“I’m proud of my family and my daughter.  I’m proud of myself because I didn’t lose focus of my education. I’m proud to be the person I am and I’m proud that I didn’t let that incident change me as a person. I have the same personality. I’m proud of my friends here. I’m proud of my employers. I’m proud of the people who supported me because very few people receive as much love and support as I’ve received in my life so that did not let me lose faith in humanity. Especially men because most of my friends are men and the way they supported me and still do, it’s amazing. I was unfortunate, very, very unfortunate to end up with someone who does not represent men.”

Her message to other women in abusive situations? “First of all, when you are living through domestic violence, you lose your self-esteem and confidence. I had all the symptoms because I did not have confidence in myself. I was abused and thought, maybe I’m not good enough, and I was ashamed to share it with anyone else. Now I know that I’m not the one who should be ashamed. It’s the people who are inflicting it on other people, especially their wives, who should be ashamed of themselves. At that time, I didn’t have that perspective.

It’s not a good or wise idea to compromise your life for someone who does not have any respect for you or your career. We should all celebrate our womanhood. We are not inferior in any way. We are not weak in any way. We are strong, that’s why we were given the task of bringing life on this earth. That’s how I perceive my womanhood and how I celebrate my womanhood.”

“The way he attacked me I thought at one point I saw death with my own eyes and I thought I would die that day. Whatever I’m doing now is kind of a bonus for me. I believe in living a quality life and I will try to do that.”

Rumana moved to Vancouver permanently with her parents and daughter. Her parents spend much of the year in Bangladesh and Rumana takes care of her daughter herself, cooking and helping her with homework. Learning as much as possible in her articling year and studying for the bar exam are her focus now.

submitted by UWCV member Marlene Adam