Simi Banu [1]

The Blessings of a Woman

Shabnam Nadiya

E-mail: [email protected]


 

"When I'm worried and cannot sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep,
And I fall asleep
Counting my blessings……"

-- Irving Berlin


There appears to be a negative feeling pervading this country these days. There's no improvement in the law and order situation, every other day we get to hear of different and new types of atrocities visited upon religious minorities (as if the perpetrators have entered some macabre contest), the regular wave of rapes, dowry killings and acid throwing go on and on…Sometimes it's as if I am shut up in a room whose walls are gradually closing in, cutting off my air, cutting off my life.

So instead of thinking of all the things that is wrong with my country, my people, instead of thinking about all the disappointments and all the indignities that I have been through because I am a woman living in a third world country where to a frightening extent my gender determines who and what I am, I will think of good things. I will think of the things that I should be grateful for.


I am grateful -

That even though we sometimes do not get the chance to an education because of our gender,
I was allowed an education
That even though we are not allowed to take part in the most important decisions of our lives,
I was allowed to make my own
That even though ours is the last voice to be heard in whom we marry and when,
I had the privilege of choosing for myself
That even though other people decide for us whether we should work outside the house or not,
I had to ask no one
That even though I have had to bear with leering glances and listen to rude comments in the streets,
no one has dared to tell me that I do not have the right be there
That even though I (too) once slapped a man in public,
no one told me that I could not do so because I was a woman,
that he had the right to beat me up because I was a woman
That even though I have had to deal with groping hands in crowded places,
I have never been raped (or face something worse than rape)

These are my blessings, the things I am grateful for.


But above all, today, I feel grateful that I am not a young woman named called Simi, who was abused systematically to a point beyond all human endurance, that I am not a girl who was made to feel that there was no one to help her, there was no one there for her, a girl whom tragically her society as well as her state had failed to protect, a girl who had felt so desperately, so inhumanly alone in the world that the only response she could make to it was to choose death.

Since childhood I have been taught that suicide is an act of supreme cowardice -- that suicide is chosen as an easy way out by those who lack the courage of facing life. For a long time I held that tenet to be true. But Simi's suicide has forced me to rethink that easy categorization.

As women, our whole lives are a process of being stripping of our power, our identity. As we progress in life, the process of making us more and more dependent on others, of having other people decide for us, of other people determining who we are and what we are continues - until all we are is someone's daughter or someone's wife or someone's mother; until we are no one and nothing by ourselves and the only way we can be identified is in relation to someone else. There are a few of us who resist that process, who try to face our lives on our own terms, those who take the supreme step of trying to decide/determine who we are by ourselves. Not by rejecting society, and not by rejecting what norms society forces us to, but by adapting ourselves to society and in the process forcing society adapt to us. And through our acts of self determination - we change society.

And that is what society fears abysmally - the women who take control; the women who bring change. Simi was one of those. She had exercised her right of choosing. Instead of merely conforming to the mold of what a "good" girl, a "nice" girl is, she chose to be herself. Therefore, society visited its horrors upon her in the persons of those undisciplined boys who harassed her, the self righteous neighbors and the morally superior policeman. What they were truly condemning was not just her way of life, but the presumption she had made in daring to choose a way of life for herself.

I don't believe that by committing suicide Simi was just taking the easy way out. Simi's suicide was her final determination of her identity, of her life. She had chosen her way of life. And when the time came when that right of choice was threatened, she again took control of her life --by choosing death. The society that judged and condemned her could presume to seize control of her life - she would not allow it to take control of her death.

So, finally, being a woman, living in Bangladesh, what are the good things, what really are my blessings? I am still blessed with the privilege of breathing; I have had to make hard choices in my life - but never have I been faced with as hard a choice as Simi had. I am alive - as a Bangladeshi woman this is my ultimate blessing - perhaps the greatest of my blessings but also the worst.

I wonder if Simi was counting her blessings when she finally fell asleep.

======================================================================

Simi Banu [2]

Simi Banu's Suicide and Some Thoughts

 By Lopa Tasneem

E-mail: [email protected] 

Even though I raise this question with an ailing heart whether there is a future for women in Bangladesh or not when I hear stories like Simi's suicide, I would like to be an optimist. I would like to think that the future women of Bangladesh would be strong enough to fight all injustices perpetrated against them and not choose the path of suicide to protest. Neither suicide nor taking up arms in one's hand should be the language of women's protest against any social injustice. Those might temporarily solve the issue, but to seek a long-lasting solution, we need to search our souls first to see what is the root cause of these injustices. 

I do not observe much change in the mind-set of women, more acutely and specifically among the mind-set of Bengali middle class women. The same old stories: worries of the mother of an unmarried girl and arranged marriages of girls to men twice their age. I do not sense much hope when I learn that my young feminist friend's family pressures her to leave her work in order to get married and settled.  As long as women elect to remain the weaker sex and succumb to the myriads of society's unfairness, there will be more stories like Simi's.

The solution, IMO, lies in education and financial independence for women. It might take several generations of education for women before they would recognize an injustice as an injustice against women. But the protest has to come from within first. As long as our womenfolk do not realize that marriage and family cannot be the ultimate goal of a girl, we would remain in the dark. When the mothers will teach their sons to learn to better respect women, only then we would see the number of abusive men decrease. We create this social awareness through education. The women need to realize first that the society has been unfair to them and one way of protest would be to become financially independent so that they can take full control of their own lives. Until then, we need keep our struggle alive.

The Police inspector Abul Bashar who blamed Simi instead of punishing the hoodlums does not come as a surprise to me. We face many Abul Bashars at home and on the streets in our everyday life. In a traditional, patriarchic society like ours, Abul Bashars who may quote religion to their advantage are quite normal. There is not much difference between the mind-set of the hoodlums and that of the police inspector in respect to their thoughts of women,  as our society does not teach us that women should enjoy equal rights as men. It can be very frustrating for the women at times, especially when our own parents blame us too for going against the norm. Most of the times, we make compromises by giving up the fight. Our mothers teach us to compromise on every steps. They tell us that women are meant to be the weaker, inferior sex. We get brainwashed by our mothers, aunts, friends.

We, the women need to educate ourselves first to collectively realize that we are mistreated by the society and therefore, need to protest.  We, also, should educate a son like Abul Bashar regarding women's place in the society and a daughter like Simi to stand up on her own feet. That will require several generations of proper education. But we, the women need to start the process. 

Financial independence will give women the power – power to make their voices heard. Women need to become government officials, business entrepreneurs, doctors, engineers, political leaders, artists, teachers equally with men to have the power to reform the society. We can create such mass awareness only when we have the power to do it.

Simi was an under-graduate student and perhaps, was working towards achieving her financial independence. The achievement of financial independence would have led her to take full control of her life when she would not have to listen to the parents or a husband if she chose to be so. She might have been all alone in her journey and I can, very well, feel her pain. Still, I would like to think that other Simis would not put such an untimely stoppage to their journey.  Simis would come out united and keep their struggle alive. The sun has to come out after the stormy nights!