We live in a culture where one's accomplishments are obtained at the cost of another, where one's success is sometimes defined by another's failure and where submissiveness is considered a virtue in the case of women. While a woman is made to prepare herself to one day let go of her identity and live the dreams of someone else, a man is bestowed with the power to judge and the opportunity to choose his destiny. A woman, in this society, no matter how accomplished she might be, is always an object for her in-laws to express their frustrations in the form of verbal taunts or mental and/or physical torture. In the case of Munira as well, she went through the usual 'rites of passage' thanks to her in-laws, once she had started her married life.
Dr Tamanna Haque Munira, in her late twenties, was found hanging from a ceiling fan at her Bibir Bagicha residence in the city's Uttar Jatrabari on August 29. Even though her autopsy report declared that she had actually committed suicide, her family members and friends would not believe it. They alleged that her in-laws had actually killed her. Munira's mother-in-law, Selina Begum, chairperson of a private bank in the city, was remanded for a day, while Munira's husband Dr Fakhrul Islam has been absconding since then. Munira was buried at Kalkini upazila in Madaripur on August 30.
Cases like Munira's tend to give rise to several questions, not to mention generalisations. For instance, many had termed the incident as an open and shut suicide case. Munira was a young doctor and also the mother of an 18-month-old boy. Altercations between Munira and her husband might have led her to kill herself. However, Munira's friends and family members say that for Munira, suicide would never be an option. “And if she did kill herself, one can just imagine the amount of torture she had to go through at her in-laws,” says her classmate and friend Dr Jahanara Begum Shikha. “No one would leave an 18-month-old child in the next room and kill herself over a household row.”
Munira (L) with her friend Shikha (R).
Munira had come to Dhaka to study at Salimullah Medical College where she met Shikha who had come from Chittagong. They ended up sharing a hall room right from the beginning till the end of their medical studies. According to Shikha, Munira was a very silent person and seldom shared her feelings with others. “I studied with Munira for six years at Salimullah Medical College and also shared a dormitory room with her for those many years,” says Shikha. “Munira would share her thoughts and feelings with me and a few close friends but was not the kind to be loud about her views in front of others. Even though she was an introvert, she was always loved and respected by everyone around. She was a very serious student and would always try to excel in whatever she did.”
Three months after Munira was married to Dr Fakhrul Islam, arranged by their families, the couple had gone to Chittagong for a visit, when Munira confessed to her friend Shikha about her discomfort in her new home. “I could see that Munira was very confused about something and so I tried to make her talk. She said that everything was okay with her husband. But her mother-in-law happened to be extremely dominating and had a certain power over her son's activities. Fakhrul's mother's influence was so strong, that Munira believed that she was capable of even making him commit crimes.” Thinking that Munira was probably going through the normal jitters, which all newly married brides go through in their new homes, Shikha did not prod her for further information and hoped for the situation to get better. Something that did strike her though was the fact that Munira, who was well aware of the risks regarding giving birth to a baby well into her 30s, was suddenly not willing to have a child. That was a hint clear enough to suggest that things were not going well between the newly married couple.
After a child was finally born, Munira's husband was posted in Jamalpur and would have to stay away from the family for months together. “That was when her mother-in-law would mistreat her,” says Shikha. “She disliked the fact that Munira was doing an honorary at Mitford Hospital and also did not like her attending classes or spending any time there. She would often tell her to skip classes, study from home and only go to the institution to give exams.” Shikha says that around this time, Munira's mother-in-law would often taunt her and abuse her verbally. “She would often tell Munira that she had given her daughters flats,” says Shikha. “What had Munira's father given her, she would ask. This finally took the form of a constant mental torture everyday, indirectly taunting her for dowry.”
A domestic worker who had worked at Munira's in-laws later told Munira's parents that her mother-in-law would often beat her (Munira). “It is kind of strange to think that an educated woman who has achieved so much in life would treat her daughter-in-law in this way,” says Shikha. “When Fakhrul would be in Jamalpur, his mother would openly show her disgust for her daughter-in-law and compare her to her own daughters who she claimed were geniuses.”
When Munira's parents heard about the physical abuse, they urged her to return home. In fact, Munira did go home for a few months with her son to run away from the mental trauma she was going through. “But she never wanted to leave her husband,” says Shikha. “Neither did she ever want to live separately from her mother-in-law. She could not bear the guilt of separating a mother from her son, she would say.” Munira finally returned to her in-laws and waited for her husband to return from Jamalpur so that she could sit down and talk to him about the problem and solve it. Three months before she died, Fakhrul returned home. According to Shikha, after Munira discussed the problems she was having with her mother-in-law, Fakhrul simply asked her to adjust. One week before Munira died, she was offered a job at BIRDEM, which she was forced to let go of by her in-laws. “And then the next thing we know, Munira is dead.”
Munira's body was kept at the Jatrabari Police Thana from 10 am to 3 pm. “There is no good reason for this,” says Dr. Shikha. “Munira was kept for over five hours at the police station and was sent to Mitford Hospital for an autopsy so that the doctor in charge at that time, who was Fakhrul's relative, could take advantage of the autopsy report. It is simply not normal to keep a body for so long in a police station.” Reports say that several marks and bruises were also found on Munira's body, which raised questions.
Munira's case is yet another forgotten case, which is now gathering dust on the shelf of a government office. Fakhrul is still absconding and his family, according to Munira's friends and family members, is bribing the authorities from moving forward with the case.
Munira's is a classic story, occurring in all corners of our country. Even though girls today are sent to school and educated by their families, there is still a wide gap, which unfortunately is increasing by the moment. Instead of gaining freedom, it seems that the women in our part of the world are being tied down. Their education is not helping them build a way out of the age-old problem; rather it seems to be weighing down on them. Women seem to be losing out when it comes to tying the knot, starting a new family with a new set of family members and trying to build a career at the same time.
It is not only the women who must change so as to eliminate such evils from our society, but the men are required to modify their thoughts as well. Parents must teach their sons to respect women, instead of demonstrating and highlighting a woman's so-called weaknesses, which make them a burden to society. Only then can the people of this country bring about a revolution and build a stronger society.
(R) thedailystar.net 2009