Life has always been full of vicissitudes for Abdul Rashid and his family. Poverty, poor shelter, social exclusion and exploitation, threats, injustice and negligence all made his life difficult. Rashid lives with his wife Mosammot Khudeza Begum, daughter Kulshuma aged around 28 suffering from speech and hearing impairment by birth, and two sons aged 19 and 14 respectively. He, his wife and two sons all are day laborers and do various different kinds of work over the year. His daughter, named Kulshuma Khatun stays at home and does most of the domestic chores of cooking and cleaning for the family. She is unmarried and unable to work outside because of her communication limitations. They live in village named Patharia, of Chondigor union in Durgapur Upazila, Netrokona.
They had been living in their small piece of land where they had a tiny little tin-roofed house with an unhygienic latrine in the back. The income they used to generate was never enough for the family to meet all their needs. Moreover, a good amount of money was needed almost every year to repair their tiny little home, especially before the monsoon.
This is how the family lived until 2014 when all of a sudden life turned upside down for their beloved daughter. In late 2014, their only daughter, who is deaf and mute since birth was physically abused by a neighbor and left pregnant. Like so many other countries, in Bangladesh too, being raped is considered a curse for the victim and their families have to suffer the not just the pain of suffering the incident but also the social stigma. Kulshuma and family were no exceptions to this heinous custom of victim blaming and stigmatization.
The person who assaulted her was a powerful man and belonged to an influential family in their locality. Efforts at seeking justice came to no avail. They had filed a case with the local police station against the rapist seeking justice for this crime but unfortunately, could the accused and his family used their money, power and influence to manipulate the entire process. Abdul Rashid, a poor day laborer who struggles to even meet his family’s daily needs was unable to spend extra money to expedite the case. Thus the warped system blatantly denied justice to those that rightfully deserved it, feeding into the hands of the rich and powerful. Soon, by the following year, Kulshuma gave birth to a baby girl who is now about three years old.
The house they used to live in was made of mud wall and tin-roof. It was dark inside and no sunlight or fresh air could enter, forcing them to live in a damp and unhealthy environment. Moreover, they also had to accommodate their only cattle inside the house which makes the environment worse. They had no tube-well of their own and needed to collect and carry drinking water from far away. They used the pond water for washing, bathing and other regular purposes.Being physically assaulted and giving birth to an unwanted child has brought enormous sufferings for their family. Poverty along with social exploitation, injustice, pressure from the accused family has made their existence even tougher. “I couldn’t sleep in peace as thoughts about our uncertain future and the impending miseries would constantly haunt me. My daughter was constantly left exposed to threats as she would have to stay home alone all day long and the house we live in was not protected,” said Abdul Rashid.
Habitat Bangladesh with the special support from 12 Presbyterian Churches in Illinois built a home for Kulshuma and her family. The home is quite unique compared to other Habitat homes. This house has been designed with the toilet and tube-well accessible from inside the and secured with a concrete wall and iron grates to ensure extra security. Their new house has windows that provide proper ventilation. This home has enabled the family to live with a sense of security. “I can’t explain how grateful we are to have this new home and what a difference it has brought into our lives. The most significant change is the safety and security we can now have. We can go about our daily work anytime without any concern knowing that our daughter is safe in our new home. This brings peace into our minds”, Abdul Rashid mentioned.
The brand new home did not only assure a comfortable place to live but also improved their social status as well. They no longer have to spend money on frequent home repairs and this alleviates some of their financial pressure. “The common food we could afford is rice and some vegetables on most days. Sometimes we could buy some fish and lentils but not more than two to four times a month”, Rashid mentioned.
Now they are able to spend a little more on better food, other basic needs and even have the opportunity to sometimes save a little money. This improved shelter has brought a huge difference in their lives and enabled them to afford a better standard of living. The new home ensured enough space for everyone and most importantly they don’t need to accommodate their cattle with them in the same place. Most of all this home has allowed them the peace of knowing they are secure in any situation, including natural disasters like heavy rainfall, cyclone, and tornado among others. “We are so happy that Habitat Bangladesh provided us a new home. It has been a great help to our family. We will not have to think about our safety, especially our daughter and her child when we are away from home. Nevertheless, this would certainly improve our standard of living and the status of our family. This will also save a lot of money which we needed to spend to maintain the previous home” said Khudeza Begum.
Kulshuma, the unfortunate young mother now has a beautiful smile on her face. She communicates using signs and her beautiful smile with her parents and daughter. She looked very happy in her new home and expressed her gratitude using signs and tears in her eyes. Her frustration at not receiving justice is also evident in her efforts to communicate so many diverse feelings. There is still a wounded heart which she tries to cover with her beautiful smile.
“We have nothing to demand as we already lost a lot. All we want now is to have justice from the court and a safe and smooth life where we can at least enjoy security, peace and a better livelihood. We are so thankful to Habitat Bangladesh for bringing hope back into our lives. May God bless you all”, Abdur Rashid, Kulshuma’s father added.