Untying the Knot

The powerful story of Rumana Monzur, a Bangladeshi-Canadian woman who was viciously assaulted by her husband in Bangladesh, leaving her totally blind. Interwoven with Rumana’s story are the unfolding journeys of three women in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital city, whose relationships mirror aspects of Rumana’s own abusive marriage.
Available on CBC Gem

Untying the Knot

documentary Channel

It’s June 2011. A graphic YouTube video surfaces of a young woman, a popular student at the University of British Columbia, lying on a hospital bed after being viciously attacked by her husband in Bangladesh. It makes national news and is an enormous shock to the UBC community.

The student is Rumana Monzur, an exceptionally bright scholar pursuing a master’s degree in political science. The video shows her speaking to the press in anguish, describing the attack in graphic detail. Her husband has gouged her eyes with his fingers, beat her, and bit off part of her nose and chin. All because she recently informed him she was filing for divorce — after ten years in the abusive marriage.

Rumana escapes with her life but loses her sight forever. And yet, determined not to let her husband win, she refuses to give up on her ambitions. She returns to Vancouver to begin the healing process, and to complete the graduate studies she began as a sighted person. Eight years later, the incredible heights she reaches defy all expectation. 

Rumana’s awe-inspiring story is the focus of the documentary Untying the Knot. The film allows Rumana to speak her truth, exposing the darkness in her abusive marriage as well as the strength, courage and perseverance that have brought her to where she is today. Above all, she credits her daughter, Anusheh, for giving her the motivation to rebuild her life.

What happened to Rumana is not surprising in a world where one in three women have experienced physical or sexual abuse. Right here in Canada, Rumana’s adopted homeland, at least one in five women have experienced violence in their lifetime. Her story of survival is one that resonates with people around the globe, highlighting the universal pandemic of violence against women.

Survivor Rumana Monzur talks about why she stayed in an abusive marriage
A former wife abuser fights for change in Bangladesh
The powerful story of a Bangladeshi-Canadian woman who was blinded by her abusive husband

But in telling Rumana’s story, it is necessary to explore the backdrop of urban, middle-class marriage in Bangladesh, a country where 73% of married (or previously married) women have experienced some form of abuse by their husband.

The film examines factors that make women vulnerable to violence, often keeping them in abusive relationships — such as family pressure, traditional values, shame and social stigma. We meet three women who are struggling to cope with these realities, whose relationships mirror aspects of Rumana’s abusive marriage.

There’s Sharmin, a radio DJ and domestic abuse survivor, who is under immense pressure to remarry after divorce. The break-up of her marriage is a source of shame for her family and has a negative impact on her two younger sisters.

Naima is a young HR manager who is boldly setting the terms for her marriage. Headstrong and career-orientated, she refuses to compromise her lifestyle. But tension is building with her husband, Sadman, and even he — a progressive and modern young man — is growing impatient.

Meanwhile, Zasmin, an overqualified school teacher and mother of two, lives in constant fear of her volatile husband. He screams insults, throws objects and even threatens to kill her, all in front of their two young boys.   

Through the eyes of Sharmin, Naima and Zasmin, Untying the Knot sets the stage for Rumana’s story, exposing the unspoken sacrifices that women must make in the name of marital expectation. Reflecting on her experiences, Rumana offers powerful insights into her abusive marriage — and how her devotion to her daughter inspires her to move forward.

Combining chilling personal testimonies with stunning, dreamlike cinematography, Untying the Knot is a powerful exploration of unequal gender roles within the tradition of marriage, and an exposé of what happens when women fight to change the social codes that bind them.

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