Disability fails to hold back widow
Physically challenged Rozina Begum was left with two young children when she was widowed six months ago, at only 35 years of age.
But the physical impediment or social stigma could not hold the resilient woman down. She has been able to keep her head above water by driving battery-operated rickshaw on the streets of Mirzaganj upazila town.
This correspondent during a visit to Mirzaganj town came across Rozina, who is originally from Barishal's Agailjhara upazila, at a rickshaw stand where she stopped to catch her breath.
She said she was seven when her left leg was paralysed from typhoid, for which her poor father could not afford proper treatment.
After being married off to auto-rickshaw driver Sumon Khan, from Khejurtala village of Muladi upazila in the same district, she moved to Mirpur in the capital to live with her husband.
The family's struggle to make ends meet in the big city encountered a massive setback when Sumon was diagnosed with cancer and died of the disease six months ago.
After her husband's untimely death, Rozina tried for about three months to make a living by pulling rickshaw. But her income at the time was not enough to feed her children -- daughter Ritu, 7, and Hridoy, 4 -- and cover for other expenses including house rent.
Finally, taking the advice from a neighbour, she decided to move to Patuakhali's Mirzaganj where she would be able to manage her expenses better.
At the beginning the rickshaw owners were reluctant to rent their vehicle to an unknown woman. But soon, Rozina succeeded in convincing an owner to rent her a rickshaw for Tk 200 a day. After paying the daily rental, she now makes between Tk 150 and 200.
Rozina said her daily income is relatively lower than that of the male rickshaw pullers as she cannot pull long hours through the evening and "many passengers avoid getting on a rickshaw driven by a woman".
"I got Hridoy admitted to a local madrasa. Ritu is now in fifth grade. No matter how hard I have to work, I want to raise them as good human beings. They will get educated and rid me of my hardship," she said choking back her tears.
"If I had my own rickshaw, I could save up some money and get my children good meals twice daily," Rozina sighed.
Her struggle is not going unnoticed. Many locals told this correspondent that they find Rozina's hard work and courage in taking on life's challenges praiseworthy.
Rickshaw puller Abdul Karim said, "Even men have a hard time making enough money after pulling rickshaw all day. It has to be much more difficult for Rozina."
Sardar Jamal Hossain, general secretary of Patuakhali District Rickshaw Drivers' Union, said as far as he knows, Rozina is the only female rickshaw puller in the district.
Rozina's daughter Ritu said, "My mother suffers a lot for us and she works hard to support the family. I'm truly proud of my mother."
Mirzaganj Upazila Parishad Chairman Khan Abu Bakar Siddique said, "Despite her physical disability, Rozina didn't resort to panhandling. Instead, she is making a living by driving rickshaw."
Steps are underway to bring her under the government's social safety net such as the widow allowance, he added.