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Rumana Monzur, UBC Student Attacked In Bangladesh, Returns To Vancouver

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RUMAN MONZUR
Rumana Monzur speaks to reporters after arriving at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., on Tuesday July 5, 2011. The University of British Columbia student was allegedly beaten and blinded by her husband during an attack in Bangladesh in June. The 33-year-old was visiting her daughter and husband in Dhaka earlier this month when her husband allegedly gouged out her eyes and gnawed her nose. | CP

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- VANCOUVER - A University of British Columbia student whose eyes were gouged during a trip home to Bangladesh asked for prayers Tuesday, as she returned to Vancouver for treatment she hopes will allow her to see again.

Rumana Monzur, a 33-year-old political science graduate student, struggled to speak through tears after arriving at Vancouver airport, where she sat in a wheelchair pushed by her father.

Monzur, a Fulbright scholar who is almost finished her master's thesis, said she's eternally grateful for the emotional and financial support she's received from her friends and the university community since she was attacked and disfigured last month.

"They are the ones who have given me the hope to live again, to be able to stand again and confront the situation I have gone through, because I felt terrible, I thought that my life ended," said Monzur, wearing a white and pink head scarf and dark glasses over her eyes.

"I have hope that if people love me so much, maybe God will help me, too," added Monzur, a devout Muslim.

Monzur had returned to Dhaka, Bangladesh, to visit her family when she was attacked June 5. Her eyes were gouged and her nose was gnawed during the assault.

Her husband, Hasan Sayeed Sumon, is in jail in Bangladesh facing charges of attempted murder.

Since the attack, students at UBC have rallied to support her and her story has become a rallying point to protest violence against women.

The university launched a fundraising campaign, and has so far collected more than half of the $75,000 the school believes Monzur will need to cover her living and medical expenses.

After landing back in B.C., she was taken directly to a local hospital to be assessed by ophthalmology specialists. She said experts from UBC will be overseeing her care.

University officials declined Tuesday to speculate on Monzur's prognosis, though doctors in India have suggested her injuries may be too severe to treat.

Still, Monzur said she hasn't given up hope.

"I want to see all of you beautiful people again, I really do," she said as a crush of journalists surrounded her wheelchair in the airport's international terminal.

"My eyes are not in a good situation. I only hope the UBC doctors will treat me, and for that I want your prayers."

Monzur said little about the attack itself, but did speak briefly about her husband.

"I think he was jealous and like he was planning that when I came here (to Canada)," she said.

Her young daughter and mother stayed behind in Bangladesh, but Monzur said they will be joining her in Vancouver soon.
She plans to spend the coming months focusing on her recovery and obtaining her master's degree.

"After finishing my studies, I wanted to do a PhD, so I just hope that I am able to do that, and I am able to see again," she said. "That's my only prayer now, finishing my studies and my eyes."

Janet Teasdale, UBC's director of student services, said the school will do whatever it can to ensure Monzur can finish her schooling, including offering space for her, her daughter and her parents in the university's family housing units.

Monzur has already finished a draft of her master's thesis, said Teasdale. The next step will be reading it over and making revisions before submitting the final version.

"The department of political science and her supervisor stand ready to provide both financial and scholarship support so she can continue to study and additional resources that are appropriate for a woman who, at this time, cannot see,'" Teasdale told reporters at the university Tuesday morning, before Monzur arrived.

Priya Bala-Miller, who befriended Monzur while working on her PhD, said it's been a difficult month hearing about what happened to her friend.

"I was absolutely horrified. It was heart-wrenching to see her in the media, so vulnerable. As a friend, that was extremely difficult to watch."

Bala-Miller described Monzur as a strong woman who is dedicated to both her studies and her family.

"Rumana really has an incredibly gentle nature, I think that's something everyone was really struck by, but she also has a quiet strength," said Bala-Miller.

"What also stayed with me was her love of being a mother. She's very devoted to her daughter."

Monzur's case has prompted rallies and petitions both in Canada and in her home country of Bangladesh, where a high proportion of women face violence.A study released by the United Nations Population Fund in 2000 indicated half of women in Bangladesh experience domestic violence at least once in their lives.

A report posted to Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board website cites 2003 data that suggested 65 per cent of Bangladeshi men believed "it is justifiable to beat up their wives," while 38 per cent didn't know what constitutes physical violence.

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