Making Peace between Two Families

 

In the mid 1980’s, I was responsible for introducing a Canadian and Bangladesh government sponsored road repair program in 400 ‘Unions’ around the Bay of Bengal. The objective in each ‘Union’ was to repair and maintain 15 of the most important miles of dirt roads, engaging 15 destitute women in each ‘Union’, either widowed, divorced or abandoned, usually a single parent, to do this road work on a year around basis. Altogether, 39 young Assistant Field Engineers (AFEs) were hired to introduce and implement the program.

In teams, they met each union chairman who identified 15 miles of the most important roads to be repaired and 15 ‘destitute’ women for them to work with. The AFEs then trained each group of women to fix and maintain the roads and also monitored them regularly for two years. Among the AFEs was Rahim from Noakali District. From the other AFEs I learned that his young wife Rosina had been ‘abducted’ by her father because she was not being allowed to finish her secondary schooling, as agreed to in the marriage arrangements. Neither had the family bought her the promised clothing. Rahim, extremely distressed about the abduction, was only prevented from several suicide attempts by his fellow AFEs. They finally asked for my help.

I initially refused, since I was non-Bangladeshi and non-Muslim, and therefore did not feel qualified. But they continued to badger me until I finally agreed. Kamal, a very socially skilled AFE, agreed to help me. Getting involved in this family problem required careful planning, including meetings with Noakali government officials, the couple’s match-maker, each family, as well as Rahim and Rosina - separately of course. Meeting Rosina at her father’s home was emotional. Rosina was deeply unhappy and when asked if she wanted to go back to Rahim and his family said that, according to her understanding of her faith, there should only be one husband and wife and they should be together. Her obvious wish to be reunited with her husband and to live with his family, spurred me on to try my/our very best for her.

In the meantime, we learned that her father also had some financial motives for this abduction.

Finally, after months of heart wrenching efforts, I managed to arrange an official meeting - as was traditional, made up only of male members from both families, the match maker and a government official. Surprisingly, Rahim was also allowed to attend, and of course I was expected to be there. When asked why I had called the meeting, I explained that according to my understanding of Islam all efforts should be made to keep a husband and wife together and not separate them without justification, which seemed to be the case here.

The animated, frequently tense discussions took several hours. In the end, it was concluded that, while Rosina’s father had some justification, he had acted wrongly. He was, consequently, to return his daughter to her husband’s family. They, in turn, had to allow Rosina to attend school and have new saris. While Rosina’s father was not happy with the overall outcome, he accepted the decision - including that he was to organize a meal for everyone to compensate for the abduction, with me as the guest of honour because of my effort to help make peace.

The next evening a fancy meal awaited us, and as so often was the case, I was the only woman among men. Following the meal, I was asked to go to the women’s section to see if the new saris met with my approval. After checking with Rosina, I approved the selection. I was then asked to take Rosina and Rahim back to his family compound – directly to the mother-in-law’s home. Why me? Because I had the only vehicle!!

After tear-filled and affectionate good-byes, I took Rahim and Rosina to Rahim’s family who welcomed her with open arms. While it obviously took more time and effort to ensure long term peace between the families, Rahim and Rosina’s reunion was the beginning of that peace. The following year, a child was born to Rosina and Rahim.

 

By: Ute Gerbrandt

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