Brave recovery of mutilated Bangladesh woman

By Anbarasan Ethirajan
BBC News, Dhaka

Image caption,
Several months after the attack, Ms Akther can write legibly, appears confident and chats without any hesitation to a stream of visitors

When doctors in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, told Hawa Akther Jui that she would be able to write again with her mutilated right hand, her joy knew no bounds.

Ms Akther, 21, had lost all hopes of writing again after her fingers were cut off, allegedly by her husband because she started attending a college without his permission.

Doctors at the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP) in Dhaka carried out a series of surgical operations on Ms Akther's hand, which involved setting up a splint between her thumb and wrist so that she can hold a pencil or a pen.

"The fact that I can write again has given me lots of hope and confidence. I have slowly started practising. I will continue my studies and achieve my aim of becoming a lawyer," Ms Akther said while sitting in her parents' one-bedroom house in the town of Narsingdi.

Ms Akther has just finished sitting her exams. She is not yet able to write independently. She dictates answers and her sister writes them. The college has given her extra 20 minutes for this.


She said that her husband, Rafiqul Islam, attacked her soon after paying a surprise visit from his job in the United Arab Emirates in December.

Image caption,
Activists say that women from all classes are at risk of domestic violence

When she met him at a relative's house, she said, he blindfolded her, taped her mouth and chopped off her fingers with a meat cleaver. They could not be attached again as they were recovered too late from a dustbin.

Ms Akther said that her husband, who is not well educated, did not approve of her enrolling in a local college for higher studies.

Mr Islam is in custody.

Although domestic violence in Bangladesh is rife, the brutality of this particular incident shocked the nation and there was an outpouring of sympathy for Ms Akther.

When I met her soon after the attack, she appeared shocked and traumatised and broke down repeatedly while explaining what happened. At that time, she said, she had begun to practise writing with her left hand.

Months later, she appears confident and chats without any hesitation to a stream of visitors to her house.

Her wounds on the right hand have healed but there are no fingers beyond her knuckles and only a half thumb is remaining.

'Example to everyone'

The mutilation has definitely not dented her resolve to continue with her studies. She proves that by writing a few sentences using a pencil.

Image caption,
Ms Akther was lovingly nursed by her family immediately after the attack

"All those horrible things happened to me because I wanted to study. So, I will pursue my education. Doctors say I cannot write [in] my exam for three hours at a stretch. So, I need a writer for the exam. But I will continue practising with my right hand," she said.

Her determination to fulfil this objective has even tempted her to break rules at home.

"I had to register and pay exam fees three days after my fingers were cut off. So, my parents told me not to sit for them this year," she said.

"But I didn't want to miss it. So I took money from my mother's handbag without her knowledge and paid my fee," she said with a giggle.

Ms Akther also said she did not want to go back to her husband's family again and will seek a divorce "once everything is settled".

Her family is gradually coming to grips with the situation. They said despite promises of help from various quarters, they did not receive much financial assistance for Ms Akther's medical expenses.

"We want her to get educated so that she can be self-reliant. We will do whatever we can do to fulfil her dreams. I think my daughter will be an example to everyone," said Musammat Parveen, Ms Akther's mother.

"We need to make sure that no girl goes through this kind of suffering."

Women's rights activists in Bangladesh point out that the brutal attack on Ms Akther is part of a growing trend of violence against educated women.

In June last year, a university lecturer lost her eyesight in an attack allegedly carried out by her husband. She said it happened because he was jealous of her academic achievements.

He denied the allegations, but was unable to face trial because he died in prison before the case went to court.

The 2011 Human Rights Report by the Odhikar organisation points out that violence against women is on the rise in the country.

It said that more than 300 women may have been killed in dowry-related violence last year. In addition to this, dozens of women were also killed in rape and acid attacks.

"Domestic violence happens in all sections of the society and it is increasing. But very few women come forward to report these abuses because of the social stigma," Odhikar spokeswoman Taskin Fahmina said.

"Ms Akther's attempts to talk about this openly are a positive sign. The awareness is increasing, but the law should be implemented properly to punish those found guilty. That will send out a clear message to others."

The stoicism of women such as Ms Akther proves the old argument that education plays a vital role in creating more awareness of the scourge of domestic violence.

"I think women should get an education like men. Once they are educated, they don't have to rely on others," she asserts.

More on this story

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.