A Tale of Bibi Zohora

by Turjoy Chowdhury



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Bibi Zohora with a severely broken neck lies unattended at the ICU of DMCH.

Note: This essay contains DISTURBING CONTENT!

Bibi Zohora, 19, was admitted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital with a severely broken neck. Tortured by her in-laws for dowry, she had returned to her parental home in Nolua, Kabirhat, Noakhali and had a failed attempt to commit suicide by hanging herself from a mango tree. Her poor parents had somehow managed to take her to Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) for her treatment. But what treatment had been awaiting her? Bibi Zohora was now at the ICU of DMCH, lying amidst another 21 critical patients. But there were only three doctors who seemed rather interested in their private talk. Her parents were the only attendants there to look after their gasping daughter though nobody except the medical staff is allowed to enter any intensive care unit. However, the mother at one stage made out that her daughter was no more alive and started wailing. The doctors hurried to Bibi Zohora and pretended to do everything possible- thumping, pumping and what not. Sensing the presence of a camera, one of the doctors gaped at the ECG monitor reading LOSS OF SIGNAL. He posed as if doing a grave job though the ECG monitor was not connected with the patient.

Bibi Zohora was a victim of dowry death who was driven to suicide by continuous harassment and torture by husband and in-laws in an effort to extort an increased dowry. Dowry death is considered one of the many categories of violence against women in South Asia. Most dowry deaths occur when the young woman, unable to bear the harassment and torture, commits suicide. Most of these suicides are by hanging, poisoning or by fire. Sometimes the woman is killed by setting her on fire; this is known as “bride burning”, and sometimes disguised as suicide or accident.

As per women rights organization’s statistics, from 01 January 2005 to 28 February 2011, 1257 women were killed, 348 were ill-treated and 243 committed suicide due to dowry related violence. Women in Bangladesh are still in a vulnerable situation in the society. To reduce violence against women, society should ensure gender equality, no economic gap between genders, social consciousness and proper implementation of law and order.

Editorial Note – Anil Cherukupalli
Of all the work we have featured so far on Aksgar this has been the toughest to write a note for so far. I made many attempts but each time the horror and tragedy behind the essay overwhelmed me. What can you add to what is so obvious? I cannot begin to imagine what the photographer must have gone through when he was shooting this. As Turjoy said in one of his emails, “I couldn’t sleep at least one week after this experience.” Bibi Zohora’s story is not the first and sadly won’t be the last but her story and situation must be one of the few that have been so graphically and intensely documented. And for that reason it is important to see this essay even if it can be a disturbing experience. Violence against women is in the news currently but it has always happened and will continue to happen if stronger steps are not taken to educate and sensitise men and even women. If violence against women continues to increase at an alarming rate it is because of the colossal failure of our educational, cultural and legal systems. But let me stop here and let the essay speak for itself.

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About Turjoy Chowdhury
Studying Architecture - 3rd year (Graduation) in BRAC University (2011).From my childhood I am connected with various cultural activities such as reciting, drawing, singing, acting, TV performance etc and also achieved some National, International and Asian-Pacific awards in all the sectors. I was Junior Ambassador (2002) and Peace Ambassador (2008) Of Asian-Pacific Children Convention (APCC) Organized by Bridge Club International Organization (BCIO- Japan) . Practicing Photography since 2008. Participated in some inter varsity and national photo exhibitions. Attended Documentary photography workshop “Changing Perspective” by MR Hassan and Sumon Yusuf. Some of my works got published in F-stop magazine, 1x.com and local sectors.

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  • Krishnendu Saha

    Brilliant work Turjoy. And I am not saying this because of the photographs or the excellent compositions etc. I am saying this because I could feel the “pain” through your story.
    Outstanding…
    These stories should come up more. The media mostly ignores these people as they are not influential.
    So I thank Aksgar Magazine too…

  • Excellent and very touching

  • Pingback: [Photo Story] A tale of dowry death | The Alternative()

  • Divya Chaturvedi

    Though as much sadness has been portrayed through the photographs, the judgmental tone in the article is hard to miss. The photo-journalist has left nobody doctors, in-laws, etc. Dowry related incidents ought to be condemned, may be as a narration of facts but not as a form of judgment by a photo-journalist. I’m personally appalled that the same photo journalist who has drawn a line on the attending doctors leaves no opportunity to click the woman trying to gasp her last breath.

    • Anil

      Divya: I hope Turjoy responds but if I may add my opinion I see nothing wrong in Turjoy’s brutally honest article and photographs. Violence against women should be condemned in the strongest possible terms, period. And it is even worse when people who should have protected and cared for her were responsible or abetted it. I don’t think you can be completely objective about anything. I don’t think that is possible even in a court room. The very act of photographing or writing about something is a subjective process. And such incidents need to be highlighted as much as possible, given the present state of women in South Asia which you are well aware of.

      There has long been a debate about what photojournalists can shoot or not, particularly on photos shot during war, famine, violence etc. It is always important to document atrocities, as honestly as possible, even if in the process of documentation fine lines of what is considered acceptable normally are crossed. In this case, I completely support the photographer’s decision to photograph Bibi Zohora’s last moments. It is because he has done it that we even know about her terrible story and what led to it. It is very easy to
      criticize after the fact but when faced with a situation as hopeless as this perhaps Turjoy reacted in the only way possible for him, picking up his camera and placing on record the tragic story of Bibi Zohora.

    • Divya Chaturvedi

      First thing first: I did not criticize his photographs or the objective behind them. I am more concerned with the judgmental tone of the article. Presentation of facts is one thing but for example to assess whether the doctors did a good/proper job or not is not in the competence of the photo-journalist.

      I am not against his photographs. Perhaps, to click a person facing death is very challenging. My comment on his clicking a person gasping for last breath was to drive home the point that a judgmental tone can spoil the spirit and shifts the focus from the facts to the feelings or personal views of the photojournalist.

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