On November 25, 2015, the B.C. Chapter of the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers (“FACL BC”) held its 4th Annual Gala at the Vancouver Convention Centre. More than 270 lawyers, judges and law students attended the popular event. By way of background, FACL was founded in Toronto in 2007 by members with an interest in promoting equity, justice and opportunity for Asian Canadians in the legal profession and the wider community. FACL BC was subsequently founded in 2011.
There were notable speakers at the gala in previous years but I was particularly interested in hearing this year’s keynote speaker, Rumana Monzur. I had first heard about Rumana in the news a few years ago – a story about an international student in a Master’s program at the University of British Columbia who had returned home to Bangladesh during the summer when she was brutally attacked by her ex-husband for wishing to continue her studies in Canada. The horrific attack resulted in Rumana losing her eyesight and having her nose bitten off. To be honest, I had not followed up on Rumana’s story since that time. When I found out that she would be the keynote speaker at the FACL BC Gala this year, I knew that I could not miss it.
When Rumana was introduced to the audience, she came up to the podium with the help of her friends who were seated at the same table. It was fitting that Rumana was the speaker at this event on this particular day, as coincidentally, November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Once on the stand, Rumana told us about how she grew up in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in a Muslim household where education was valued and where she was treated no differently than her brother in pursuing an education. It was only after she was married that she realized that there were different expectations for men and women. Rumana spoke of how she silently tolerated physical and emotional abuse by her ex-husband with whom she had a daughter, describing her as “the only good thing that came out of that relationship”. Rumana obtained her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in International Relations at the University of Dhaka and also lectured at the department. In 2010, she began her Master’s degree in Political Science at the University of British Columbia.
Rumana calmly described the horrific day when her ex-husband came to her parents’ home in June 2011, where she was staying while she was visiting Dhaka, and viciously attacked her causing her to become blind. As she told the story, the atmosphere in the hall was so silent and somber that one could probably hear a pin drop on the floor. After the attack, Rumana had to undergo multiple surgeries including facial reconstructive surgery. Unfortunately, her eyesight could not be restored.
When faced with such change, I would guess that most people would become socially withdrawn, struggle with the unexpected feeling of incompetence and then slowly learn how to adapt to their new life. Remarkably, Rumana did not let her new circumstances change her goals that she had set before she lost her sight. With the support of her friends and many others, she completed her Master’s degree from UBC in June 2013. If that were not enough, she then decided that she would apply to law school and wrote the requisite Law School Admission Test, before she could even read Braille. Rumana is now in her second year of law school while raising her daughter as a single mother.
It was inspiring to hear how, instead of languishing in her circumstances as most people would, Rumana showed life what being resilient truly means. And while she had achieved so much more in a short amount of time without sight than most people do with sight, Rumana graciously attributed her successes to her friends who had provided her with support throughout her journey.
Near the end of her speech, Rumana said something that struck a chord with me. She said, “not everyone is as lucky as I am”. It was humbling to hear that she would characterize herself as lucky while most of us would find it very difficult to feel such gratitude in similar circumstances. With the holiday season fast approaching, perhaps it is a good time for all of us to take a moment to reflect, recognize that all limitations are self-imposed and be appreciative of the things that we already have. I know I will.
* Rumana Monzur’s website can be found at http://rumanamonzur.org