Fahmi Ela (Translated by Sadia Rahman):
“You are coming from a distant place. But you people are our friends. Because we all are women”- Sanowara Begum (disguised identity).
If you look into the map of Bangladesh’s furthest south corner, on the edge of it you’ll find a name- Shahpori Island (Pori means angel in Bangla). This is a ward under the Sabrang union of Teknaf subdivision in Coxbazar. I had a chance to visit one of its parts recently. I was not there to enjoy the natural beauty of the place. I went there with an official agenda.
There are myths about the name of the island in the area. They say it was named after combining the names of Emperor Shah Suja and his wife Poribanu- Shahpori. Ironically no “Pori” or “Angel” was seen of my way but a handful of “Shah”s was seen. Angels have taken inhabitants inside the curtains. A few numbers of angels were seen inside some vehicles and my assumption is they were out because there was some sort of unavoidable causes were before them. The condition of the road was dangerous and we had to take local CNG into three kilometers to reach our destination. Some roads were totally destructed and were risky even for local CNG. I was wondering about the people who have to use this way every day for their daily purposes. I did not know till then so many deaths were also fated in this very road. Travelers who travel only for natural beauty probably cannot hear these particular screams of death.
It was a hut and the wall of the hut was made of plastic that contained the logo of a famous foreign NGO that was trying to hide the poor condition of the hut. Inside the room, 15-16 women of different ages are sitting on a carpet and each of them holding kids in their lap. A “women session” is about to be run in text for one and half hours. As soon as we entered the room they started talking among themselves and they were cheerful. They enjoyed the sight of a foreigner who was our teammate. It can be their only entertainment in life that is full of struggle through the entire year. I could understand their language but I don’t have the practice of speaking that so I had been listening to them for quite a long time. Almost 100% of them are victims of exploitation of some kind. This may be physical, psychological, sexual, or economic. They do not know it but we kept on noting those from the stories we heard.
**Here occupations of people are fishing, working in salt fields, taking care of domestic animals, or small business. A few women take part in the fishing process with a contract of 200 to per day. Most of the women are far from earning system. Men earn at home and shops daily and they take care of household chores and children. Then few demands women here has are food, clothing, shelter, and a husband.
**Drug dealing is at its peak here. Husbands come home addicted and beat their wives which a regular incident here. The term “marital rape” is unfamiliar to them but not the experience. They think of it as their duty to fulfill their husband’s demands. They cannot fall sick and their will is something beyond imagination. If they do not abide by their husbands they get beaten or their husband brings another wife home. One of them stated –“Why do we need such hassles, so it’s better to do what they wish for.”
**Each home has a minimum of 4-5 children and a maximum of 14-15. One of them informed us she has 8 kids and she was spared because the last one is a boy and age distances among the children are of a year. This reflects the traditional rigidity that each baby boy is an earning source and baby girl is just another expense to bear, a machine that will come to aid in someone else home. One of them told us how her sister died giving birth consecutively to children. She informed me that her sister was getting sick and she was unable to breastfeed. Still, she was forced to conceive and she died in childbirth and they could not take her to the doctor.
**child marriage or early marriage rate is almost 100% here. Girls are married off at the age of 13-14. The danger the risk always surrounds them from the time a girl reaches puberty. At the same time, they claim to have better marriage proposals for girls at an early age. Sometimes they support polygamy just to ensure the safety and demand of food and clothing of their girl child.
**There is no health complex in this place. The first thing that came to mind what happens to the girls in emergency case of delivery. In that case, they are taken to Tanka in that case which is 13 kilometers from that place through the uneven road to this area. Those who are to be taken to the hospital in most cases lose their lives on the way to the hospital. Sometimes they miscarriage and sometimes they die after giving birth to the kid.
**There is a government school in the area but that is of no use. They do not get the purpose of education. Boys will go fishing and farming when coming to the age or get involved in business and the girl will get married and carry children, will do household works. Why do you need education for that? Rohingyas who have been living here for 15-20 years don’t hold the right to go to school.
**Rainy season is on hand. Flood will evade their homes then. They will make entresols and will live on shelves then and boats will be the only vehicle of communication. Even a few years back there was no cyclone center here. Now a cyclone center has been built with a capacity of 600 people and the population is ten times more. Rest people will probably head off to Teknaf then.
The information is collected from them. Another information or statement we heard that is –“this is our fate”. Probably this is what we call stoic acceptance where at a certain point people start thinking the highest misery as their fate.
Here women face two folded disasters. They face natural calamities as well as manmade calamities like patriarchy every day. Their dreams are limited to having food and minimum clothing. Fundamental needs like education or treatment are like a luxury to them. Women live in the most vulnerable condition here. They are trying to understand the fact that physical torture can never be a fate to them just after one sitting of a “women session”. They are rethinking early marriages and the polygamy system. They are considering improving their condition by being united.
Recently a woman came with a charge of physical abuse against her husband. Community leaders had made a treaty but right after that, her husband is back in the previous state. She was saying with bandage in one hand –“when he beats me he goes out of his mind. That is quite natural thigh cause usually when he does that he is drunk. How are you supposed to have senses then? He comes home drunk beats me and my kid. Sometimes starts fornicating in front of the kids. He beats again if I protest.”
What can possibly the solutions to these? Generally, solutions come off of an educated mind. We asked them what can be solutions to these problems as they know better how the situation goes and they’ll know better what’s best for them. We asked them what will make them able to fight this situation. They look at us bluntly. It is unreal to them that there may be any solution. At last, they expressed their will to sit with the men and discuss their activities. They want a hospital for them and wish to have the safety of the girl child and so on. But they cannot offer any solution. Living in dark for too long has made them blunt.
I have been losing grasp while writing. It seems unable to organize the facts. I don’t know how to write about the disastrous life they lead. The woman sitting at her door has no dream or aspiration in her eyes. The look has pierced my heart. I was remembering the statement- “ You are coming from a distant place. But you people are our friends. Because we all are women”.
Life maybe not this nightmarish but there are always some women in the furthest corners of the world who have been tired of fighting patriarchy and now accepted it as their fate. Maybe they will deny being born as a woman again if they were given another chance. Who wants to live a nightmare a second time?
Fahmi Ela has completed MSS in Anthropology, Jahangirnagar University. Women empowerment is her only passion towards which she wishes to contribute through her writing. She is a regular writer of Women Chapter Bangla.
Sadia Rahman is pursuing an M.A. from Rajshahi University, Bangladesh. Other than writing, her passions include writing, debating, and anchoring.