Ruma Begum married Amir Matubbar in her home village of Mostafapur in Sadar Upazila of Madirpur district when she was 14 years old. After one year of marriage, Amir was tragically killed in an accident. At that time Ruma was pregnant and the sudden loss of her husband had a severe mental impact on her. Not only had she lost her life partner, but she also felt hopeless and lost herself, not knowing how she would survive in the world as a single mother with limited means. She saw no option but to move back to her childhood hometown and live with her parents.
After the birth of Rabiul Matubbar, her son, Ruma had trouble remaining engaged and connected with her husband’s family. Though she made great efforts, they were unwilling to support or include her in family matters. As her son grew, it became even more difficult for Ruma to feel part of Amir’s family. When the child was old enough, Ruma tried to earn some money working as a tailor. Though she worked hard for long hours and was a relatively skillful seamstress, as she had no formal qualification her income was never enough to meet her small family’s needs. Many within the community regarded her to be cursed, as a young single-mother and widow. Her parents suggested that she get married a second time. While Ruma contemplated this option, she decided against it as she thought it would not be in the interest of Rabiul.
Overtime, Ruma’s determination to move away from Bangladesh grew, as she thought of starting a new life aboard would benefit both her and Rabiul. Finally, in 2014, through a middleman she entered into a sham marriage contract with Babu Mrinal, a Bangladeshi national who held permanent residency in Italy. The arrangement was designed to facilitate her migration to Italy in exchange for BDT 800,000. Ruma accepted his offer and made an initial payment of BDT 500,000 – with the remainder to be paid later.
In 2018, Ruma flew to Italy and met Babu as soon as she arrived, in accordance with the agreement. However, at this point the contractual arrangement started to turn sour, and Babu decided he would like to take Ruma as his “real” wife, to live with him and tend to domestic duties. Given that they were already legally married, Ruma found it difficult to refuse this even though she was repulsed by the idea.
According to Italian legislation, Babu and Ruma were required to present themselves at the townhall in front of a magistrate to finalize Ruma’s residency papers. Babu, now in a position of power over Ruma, refused to go to the local authority to validate the documents unless she agreed to continue this marriage.
Ruma did not accept this and refused to continue the sham-marriage. As a result, she ended up living as an undocumented migrant in Italy. In desperation, Ruma reached out to distant relatives who also lived in Italy. But unfortunately, they feared that they would get into trouble by trying to help her.
Ruma then decided to go to Milan to look for a job. She knew people from Mostafapur had settled there at one point. She got some casual work tailoring in Milan, but as soon as her employer discovered she was an irregular migrant, she was let go.
After some persuasion by her family and friends in Mostafapur, Ruma decided to return to Bangladesh. She turned herself in to local authorities and they arranged for her to be returned in 2019.
Once Ruma returned to her hometown, she was unable to even imagine how she could possibly start building a future for herself. She had returned with considerable debt and was not coping with the pressure of paying for Rabiul’s education.
Ruma commented that, "Despite spending over BDT 800,000, luck was not on my side. I could have achieved more if I had remained in Bangladesh and used the funds."
Upon her return, Ruma found modest work in a garment factory in her community. The income was still not enough to make ends meet unfortunately. After a couple of months, she began to entertain the idea of beginning her own clothing business. The problem, however, was raising the capital required to cover the initial investment.
At this point, she was identified by the IOM volunteer in her community as a potential beneficiary of the Prottasha project. Ruma was referred by the volunteer to the Reintegration Service Centre (RSC) in Shariadpur District. In November 2021, Ruma was officially registered as a Prottasha project beneficiary. Under the project Ruma was provided with psychosocial counselling, which helped her recover from the trauma she had experienced.
On the counselling, Ruma said, "I have no control over the events of the past, and they continue to torment me. However, the counselling sessions have enabled me to accept my circumstances and find peace with them. I have finally come to terms with the circumstances in which I found myself."
In addition, Ruma was able to undertake some entrepreneurship and financial literacy training. Through the training, she became more familiar with money management, as well as key business processes. Importantly, Ruma was able to purchase the cloth required to start her business with BDT 92,000 provided under the Prottasha project.
Since the project helped her with the start-up capital, Ruma has managed to secure a small workshop as well as some sales space where she manages to sell the clothes she makes. She earns more than BDT 30,000 every month. Additionally, she has a financial stake in a stationary business.
In addition, she sent her son, now 22 years old, to Saudi Arabia via proper and regular channels. People who once thought of Ruma negatively now view her as a strong and independent individual. Ruma is completely self-sufficient at this point in her life.
Ruma said, “It was beyond my imagination that I would receive such great help." "The in-kind assistance, counselling support and training have all been vital to me rebuilding my life. For that, I am very grateful to the Prottasha project," she added.
Ruma suggested, “Please never rely on a Dalal (middleman) while travelling to another country. Only use regular migration channels.”
The story is witten by Md Sariful Islam, National Communications Offier, IOM Bangladesh