When darkness falls
Morzina Begum from Daktarpara in Rangpur town works in a bidi factory, rolling cheap cigarettes. Aged 75, it's not an ideal retirement. But the work is manageable for someone who is blind. In any case, Morzina has more to worry about. The same darkness that found her a decade ago haunts her children. In their adulthood, a rare hereditary condition has claimed the eyesight of four of them. A fifth, her nineteen-year-old youngest son Shariful Islam, can still see, for now.
“I pray to God to save Shariful from such a disease,” Morzina says. “He is the only one who can work easily. He is the main breadwinner for all of us.”
One by one any dreams she had for the four of her children were dashed, as first they suffered from vision loss and then lost vision altogether. Since her husband Shahidur Rahman passed away in 2015, Morzina has struggled to hold the family together.
The oldest daughter, Hosne Ara, is now 38 years old. She got married in 2008. “My vision was fine at the time,” she says. Just two years later blindness took her. Eventually her husband forced her out of the house and she had no choice but to return to her parental home.
Son Abdul Ahad is 35. He completed an honours degree from Rangpur's Carmichael College in 2007, while working as a tutor. That same year he secured a job at a primary school, which brought hope of financial security for the whole family. He married and fathered a daughter; but then, in 2016, he lost his vision too.
“At first the vision went from my right eye,” he recalls. “I was working at the school then.” A few months later his left eye followed. Despite consulting many doctors in Rangpur and Dhaka, it seemed that nothing could be done. He wasn't able to continue working as a teacher.
“Now I am unemployed despite being educated,” he says. “Now I am dependent on the eyesight of my wife and daughter.” Ahad's wife Mahfuza helps the family financially, as she can. She brings in a meagre income doing garment work from home.
Ahad's younger brother Anisul Huq, now 28, started to work in a packing factory in Dhaka in 2009. He was married and the future seemed to hold promise. But two years later his eyes failed him and he lost his job. “Nobody offers work because of my blindness,” he says. “It's unsurprising that my wife left me.”
The turn for their youngest sister Shahanaz Parvin, now 20, to lose her eyesight came early, while she was preparing for her Junior School Certificate exams in 2012. She couldn't continue to study. The family has since tried to find her a husband, but nobody was willing to accept her condition.
“As a family, we only manage thanks to the help of others,” says Morzina. “My only wish is that my children could find jobs, despite their blindness.”
Ward councillor of Rangpur City Corporation Rafiqul Islam knows the family. “Locals support them as they can,” he says. “The family is wholly dependent on that.”
Rangpur ophthalmologist and surgeon Dr Mokhlesur Rahman confirmed that the family is afflicted by a hereditary condition. “Whoever carries this disorder will lose their eyesight at a certain age,” he says.