Death Uncalled For
The recent untimely death of Sutopa, a student of the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism at Dhaka University, has become yet another piece of news on the television channels and newspapers, thus, flickering away slowly until forgotten. Besides the fact that Sutopa's suicide is just amongst the hundreds that happen every day in this country, her death was initially thought by many to have resulted from depression, like many young women in the country. But as the case unfolded and marks of torture and merciless beatings were revealed on her body, the law enforcers and the respective legal bodies involved became all the more confused. This was clearly not a dowry-case. In fact, the coroner's post mortem report also announces that Sutopa had killed herself. But how would one explain the marks of torture on her body?
Mafruda Hoque Sutopa was just 25 years old when she breathed her last. The youngest child in her family, Sutopa lived in the dormitory halls of Dhaka University. Hailing from a middle class family in Chuadanga, Sutopa's friends say that she was the quiet type, someone who spoke very little. However, she was loved by all. Her quiet yet loving nature could win over anybody. She was the kind who remembered birthdays and would plant little gifts inside her friends' bags. A very organised and hardworking person, her friends knew her as someone who was trustworthy, dependable and patient -- someone who could listen to your problems and solve them. Sutopa was the baby of the family to her parents and older brothers and sisters.
On September 19, 2009, Sutopa was allegedly murdered by her husband. While her husband Imrul Sadat Abir and in-laws claim that Sutopa hanged herself, Sutopa's friends and family believe otherwise. “She was the kind of person who strongly spoke against committing suicide,” says Tania Noor, Sutopa's friend. “In fact she would often term it as un-Islamic. I believe she was murdered by her in-laws.”
Sutopa was no different from the other girls her age. She was ambitious and would often talk to her friends about getting a well-paying job so that she could help her middle-class family back in Chuadanga. “Even though she was a student of mass communication, she would always speak about working in a multinational company,” says Nure Salehin Panna, Sutopa's classmate and also a dorm mate.
Sutopa was married off right after completing her Bachelors, to a man who would probably be considered a dream match by most parents of daughters deemed to be of 'marriagble age' -- earned a BBA degree from India, after which he acquired an MBA degree from a private university in Dhaka, earned enough at a private bank to keep his family going comfortably and had a home in Mirpur.
Panna talks about Sutopa's sudden change right after her marriage to Abir. No longer was she the ever-smiling young girl with dreams, but a caged bird trying its best to adapt in an alien habitat. “Sutopa was always mentally tortured by her in-laws,” says Panna. “She would of course never share the details with us in the beginning, but she would leave hints unknowingly now and then.” Abir was said to be dominating with a supporting set of parents behind him, always ready to take sides with their son.
“During our Master's finals, Sutopa was not allowed to study in the bedroom,” says Panna. “Her husband would not allow her to switch on the lights at night. Sutopa could not study in the dining room or elsewhere in the house either. Her mother-in-law would not allow it. As a result she had to study in the bathroom for her finals.”
Sutopa was not allowed to go outside, since her husband and her in-laws never liked it. Hence, she would sometimes make up class times and tell her in-laws that she had to go to the department at Dhaka University. “Even when our classes were suspended, Sutopa would come to the hall very early in the morning,” remembers Panna. “She would talk to me for a while and then go to sleep. She would sleep for hours together until her father-in-law came back to get her.”
Fahmina Yasmin, Sutopa's friend and also a friend of the family, says that Abir had struck her a week after he married Sutopa. “He hit her again after a month and a half,” she says. “Sutopa shared this with me. I told her to just come home. Someone who could hit his wife once would hit her again and again. And that is exactly what happened.” Sutopa was not tortured mentally and physically only by her husband, but also by her in-laws. Sutopa's sister-in-law, who currently lives in the United States of America, had also struck Sutopa once during an altercation.
At one point, Sutopa tried to make the relationship work. Even after the fact that she was often rebuked by her in-laws and was not allowed to visit her family living in Chuadanga for a year, she tried to console herself by trying harder to make her in-laws love her. “Sutopa once told me that it would probably need time for her in-laws to adjust to her as well,” says Panna. “She was scared because she had nowhere to go if she broke off the marriage with her husband. She thought that she would ultimately be blamed for everything.”
The case of Sutopa's unnatural death is currently lingering around inside the halls of the legal buildings. “Sutopa's death has become an issue, which will be used as a reason to conduct seminars and protests,” says Panna. “But, we want the perpetrators to be punished, which is more important. I am not so sure if that is possible here.”
Clearly, Sutopa did think of leaving, but she feared the rebukes that she would face in society. Like all other girls here, she was raised to think that an unknown man and an unknown family who she would eventually learn to call her own would determine her destiny. If only she had the confidence and the courage to overcome her fears, she would have realised that there was nothing wrong with living one's own dream, that she could, once and all for all, walk away from her abusive husband and her in-laws and build a life for herself. Sutopa's death should be an example to young women in this country who want to live their dreams and stand up to those who put them down. As we wait for justice to take place and see Sutopa's murderers behind bars, it is high time we start to rebuild the broken and incomplete pillars that our society stands on today.
(R) thedailystar.net 2009