In the summer of 2011, Rumana Monzur made international headlines after her husband viciously attacked her in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
He bit off part of her nose and gouged out her eyes as their five-year-old daughter looked on, all because of Monzur’s decision to continue her studies in Canada.
Two years later, she has made a triumphant return. Standing proudly in the noisy foyer of the law school at the University of British Columbia, where she is once again a student, Monzur says she is in her “comfort zone.”
“I can feel the positive energy of those young people and that makes me happy,” she says, laughing and adjusting her head covering.
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Monzur was an international graduate student at UBC and an assistant professor at the University of Dhaka at the time of the attack. She was well-educated and from a well-off family.
“When you belong to the privileged class, you never think domestic violence can happen to you,” she says now.
Bedside press conference
When it did, it was her reaction that made the world media take notice. With her eyes bandaged and bite marks clearly visible on her face, she gave a press conference from her hospital bed in Dhaka.
Students rallied, tying blindfolds around statues and demanding that her husband, Sayeed Hussan Sumon, face trial. The police found him the next day hiding at a relative’s house.
Manzur’s family received threatening calls telling them to withdraw the charges.
“With my legal experience in Bangladesh, I was thinking if I could be a lawyer, I could better represent myself,” Monzur says with a smile.
Her husband died in prison five months after the attack. The duty doctor said it was cardiac failure.
“It was not significant to me,” she says. “My daughter said, ‘Mama, I am glad, because now he cannot do the thing to me that he did to you.’”
'I am stubborn'
Immediately after the attack, Monzur was flown first to India for eye surgery and then to Canada. But the damage was irreparable. She was blind.
It was her friends at UBC who rallied and raised the money to bring her back to Canada. UBC backed her and now Monzur, her daughter and her parents all live on campus. They were granted permanent resident status on humanitarian grounds last September.
After surgeries in Vancouver, Monzur was given psychological counseling and prescribed antidepressants, which she says she has refused to take.
“I am stubborn and I told myself, ‘After what you have been through, nothing can be harder than that.’ Besides, they make me drowsy and I must pursue my studies,” she says.
It was a little over a year ago that Monzur made the decision to go back to school.
“I was miserable and brain dead. I don’t want to tell myself I have to learn to live like a blind person. Studies are my passion,” she says.
The skills that come with adapting to blindness, she decided, would take care of themselves over time.
Now she unfolds her cane, taps her way to her first class of the day and sets her tiny tape recorder on her desk.
“I love this class,” she says. “Law is fascinating. It is the foundation upon which you can build anything.”
Friends, and she has many, have volunteered as readers and she learns law by listening.
“My basic objective is to try to live a meaningful life. I can’t stop because I became blind,” she says. “I can’t accept that.”