It was the time of Ramadan and I went to our village home to have iftaar and discuss social issues with local women and children. I along with my family members run ramadan tent in Chittagong where we feed hundreds of men and women breaking their fast. This particular day was exceptionally special because I went there not only as a girl who rooted from the same village but as a community worker thriving for development for these girls, women and children. I am a founder of "No Passport Voice", a charitable organisation born from the core of my heart. Through this platform I help, listen, communicate and act for those disadvantaged girls, women and children in my home town in Chittagong, Bangladesh. As I was going from girls to girls, women to women talking about how we could work together to fight various domestic and sexual violence issues this particular woman came to me with her body covered in veil. She was totally covered and I could only see her under her veil. She even covered her eyes. She just came to me and told me that she is extremely proud of me and she prays that every girl in every house is like me. I was quite taken aback by her words. I did not realise what she was getting at and took her words very positively. I told her to pray for me and asked if she has any issues at home or the community where I could help. She takes her veil off and as I see her I was totally shocked and my world just shattered. Her facial features were disoriented and her skin totally burned. She opened her veil to show me her bodily features and I went speechless because I was not expecting something like this. Let's call her "Shaheeda" for this story. I would not like to use her real name.
Shaheeda is a housewife with two girls. Her husband was a rickshaw puller who gave up his job for drug abuse. He does not contribute to anything in their family. Often he would beat Shaheeda up and abuse her sexually. To meet their hunger Shaheeda works in the local market and sell peanuts which would give her $3 a day to feed her children. She has her brother and parents at her parents' home in the nearby village but she refused to go to them or ask for help from them because in their community, it would be disgrace for a married woman to come and seek help from her own parents' or brothers. Infact, apparently, the parents would not rescue or help her and would only advice her to be with the husband and live with the dignity of a married woman. I know this because I have asked her who she has in her own family and she explained me fully without getting emotional even for a second about her standing in the community.
Now, the question arises of how she was burned? One late evening Shaheeda was having an argument with his husband when he returned home drunk and under the influence of drugs. He asked for sweets and Shaheeda could not provide him with some, as there was hardly any water in her house to feed on. He started yelling, fighting and abusing. Shaheeda's daughters were petrified and ran away outside of their hut and was hiding behind the trees. The fight got so intense that her husband lit the hut in fire and left. Shaheeda was inside and hearing her scream her daughters rushed in and one of them also got burned. The neighbours came and rescued them and took them to the nearest emergency where both Shaheeda and her young daughter was treated. The husband went missing and until today he never returned home.
This is just one of the many Shaheedas I came across in my country. What lead to such horrendous incident? Violence. The subject matter of the incident was very simple. The husband asking for sweets. But what happened as a consequence is alarming. Substance abuse has become very common unfortunately. The incident would not have aggravated to this level has he been in senses and not under any influence of substance. Shaheeda is living a very isolated and depressed life. Nobody in the community has the means or knowledge to nurture her trauma or even care about the mental and physical health of her and her daughters. Shaheeda is a woman like any of us who has a right of love, family, shelter and dignity. That evening we took care of her children and dedicated ourselves in helping towards their mental health and development. I have no words to describe my feelings towards such horrific incidents happening across the globe. One way of tackling such violence is through awareness and establishing counselling for women and families. After such incidents programmes tackling PTSD shall be enhanced and developed. Through our charitable organisation we try to reach out to as many women and children and help them with personality development, PTSD, depression and income generation programme for the advancement of the community. Love is a human right and in rural Bangladesh love is not practiced in families. These families need support to develop their mind set and support their daughters and sons. I wonder where is the family of Shaheeda's husband? Shaheeda does not know either. Through this story I am calling upon all the activists of violence across the globe to come forward and raise voices for those who do not have one. Together we can raise enough voices to suppress the voices of the VIOLENT. There are already NGOs and community workers working on the development sector for income generation, food etc but there is not enough buzz to help people build their personalities, mental health and sustainable income. I urge people around the globe to support such causes and help these domestic, sexual violence survivors thrive in the world. These women and children shall be protected to be able to lead a better life. At the same time men exposed to such violence also need counselling and help to be able to make the right choices. There is no alternative to peace be it at home, workplace, community, society. If we tackle violence at home one day we would be able to tackle violence in the community, society, country and globally. One Love!