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UBC student maimed in Bangladesh attack returns to Vancouver

Rumana Monzur, who was attacked and blinded in Dhaka, Bangladesh, by her husband, is comforted by family friend, Monoara Khan (right), outside the Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, British Columbia, Tuesday, July 5, 2011.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail/Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

With her severely injured eyes covered by dark glasses and her dreams brutally derailed, Rumana Monzur returned on Tuesday to Vancouver, where she wept as she spoke of her hopes for the future.

As she flew in to the city, she told reporters gathered to meet her, she remembered coming here for the first time - when she was about to begin her masters studies at the University of British Columbia and life seemed full of promise.

"It's so different - but it feels great to be here among all you beautiful people," Ms. Monzur said, speaking through tears as her father gripped the handles of her wheelchair. "And I want to see you beautiful people again. I really do."

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Whether that hope can be fulfilled is not yet clear. Ms. Monzur was to go from the airport to meet with doctors in Vancouver, but UBC representatives who are assisting Ms. Monzur and her family wouldn't speculate on what the outcome of such consultations could be.

Ms. Monzur, 33, was attacked June 5 while she was on a trip home to Bangladesh to visit family members, including her husband, her five-year-old daughter, Anoushe, and her parents - who were looking after Anoushe while Ms. Monzur studied in Canada.

A masters student in political science at UBC, Ms. Monzur taught international relations at Dhaka University before coming to Canada. In her graduate work, she was focusing on areas including climate change and its effect on developing nations, including low-lying Bangladesh.

Ms. Monzur's husband, Hassan Sayeed, is in custody facing charges of attempted murder in relation to the attack, which left Ms. Monzur with severe injuries to her eyes and face.

Friends and fellow students in Vancouver were stunned by the attack, saying she'd not mentioned troubles in her marriage and had spoken to her husband nearly every day.

But after the attack, Ms. Monzur told reporters that her husband had been abusive in the early days of their marriage, before Anoushe was born, and that relations were rocky when Ms. Monzur returned for a visit in May.

That tension culminated in a gruesome attack in which her husband bit her nose and hands and gouged her eyes, Ms. Monzur alleges.

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The attack has generated an outpouring of support for Ms. Monzur, who has also faced Bangladeshi media reports that have focused on her husband's allegations of infidelity, which she denies.

UBC has sponsored an online fundraising campaign to support Ms. Monzur, who says she wants to complete her studies and also pursue a PhD.

To date, that campaign has raised about $35,000, about half of a targeted $70,000 university representatives say is necessary to support Ms. Monzur for at least six months.

Canadian government officials helped arrange visas for Ms. Monzur and her father. It's hoped that her daughter will come to Canada in a few weeks.

Ms. Monzur on Tuesday said she is praying that doctors can do something to restore her vision.

In a June 21 bulletin, UBC president Stephen Toope said Ms. Monzur had been seen by specialists at two "top flight" facilities in India and that doctors there had "regretfully agreed that no further treatment was possible."

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Both Ms. Monzur and her father, who accompanied her from Bangladesh, expressed gratitude for the support and assistance they have received from the Canadian government, staff and students at UBC, and friends and strangers who have donated money to the fundraising campaign.

A few hours before Ms. Monzur landed at Vancouver International Airport, several fellow students spoke to reporters at UBC, describing Ms. Monzur as a dedicated student, loving mother and someone who was driven by a desire to learn and help others.

"You only have to look at the footage of students forming human chains [in Dhaka]to see what kind of impact she has had," said Priya Bala-Miller, a fellow student at UBC's St. John's College, where Ms. Monzur was living before the attack.

Staff and students at Dhaka University have voiced support for Ms. Monzur.

Ms. Bala-Miller and other friends said they intend to support Ms. Monzur any way they can, including putting pressure on Bangladeshi officials in Canada and in Bangladesh to ensure that the attack against Ms. Monzur is pursued aggressively in court.

"This is a case where the world is indeed watching," Ms. Bala-Miller said.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

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