Bangladesh

75-year-old Sokhina Khatun and her 20-year-old granddaughter Sinthia Sultana Dulon live in a densely populated residential area of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.

75-year-old Sokhina Khatun and her 20-year-old granddaughter Sinthia Sultana Dulon live in a densely populated residential area of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.

Grandmother Sukhina has never left her home. Her granddaughter wants to go out into the world. Sinthia wants to pursue a career and be everything to her parents, even a “son”. The only thing she won’t hear a word about is marriage.

Sokhina Khatun says something that sounds completely inconceivable to Western ears: “As a girl I was never allowed out of our house and the yard; I never went beyond our gate.” As if that were not enough: “Even after getting married I never left the house.  My husband even did the shopping. People said the city was dangerous.” There is no bitterness in this 75-year-old woman’s voice. “I was scared of the outside world, but girlfriends sometimes came to visit me, and so things were okay.” Sokhina was married as a girl to her cousin, who was almost twenty years older than she was. They lived in a house built of corrugated iron with two rooms and a terrace. “My husband worked in a chemicals factory. We had electricity and shared a well, three baths and three toilets with six neighbouring families.”

“I could never live like my grandmother did,” states Sinthia Sultana Dulon. The 20 year old’s judgment is harsh: “In her day, life was monotonous and restrictive. I’d like to have fun.” It is clear from every one of their gestures that the two women are close, but their views on life could hardly be more different.

“I want to be free to study. I play football for a women’s team and meet up with my friends.” Despite all her love of life, this second-year IT student is a serious young woman. “Dhaka is still dangerous for women, and somehow we have to live with that.” There is no chance of her having a boyfriend, and not only because it’s not allowed. “I want to focus on my studies,” she says.

“Young people have a great deal of freedom,” muses her grandmother. “They choose their own spouses, they wear jeans. That’s fine: you have to move with the times.” She is happy that Sinthia still respects tradition, although when talk turns to marriage, Sinthia at first sounds very untraditional. “I don’t want that! Then I’d sit around at home and cook for my husband. What kind of life is that?” Later, however, she adds, “If I do get married, my parents will look for a husband for me, but I’ll have the final say and I will decide.” These contradictory statements show just how complicated the path into the modern world can be for someone wants to maintain tradition.

Sinthia lives with her parents (her father is a driver, her mother a housewife), an uncle and her sister in a city apartment. She says that she has seen hardly anything of the world or even Bangladesh. She is desperate to change that in two years’ time when she has a bachelor’s degree under her belt. “I want to study abroad. I’m going to try my best to get a scholarship, but it’s tough.”

So far, Sinthia has found out all she knows about the world from the internet. “I love sport and music, but the internet is the most important thing of all!” Someone gave the family a laptop. “I spend a lot of time surfing. That way I can travel all over the place,” she says excitedly. “I know a lot of bad things happen on the web – terrorists make contact with each other, women are harassed – but the internet is everything to me!”

Grandmother Sokhina, who never went to school, says, “Sometime I struggled, but I am happy now because life is easier for my grandchildren. The most important thing is that they all get a good education.” She has many grandchildren: Sokhina gave birth to ten children, nine of whom survived.

Sinthia, however, has only one sister. “Of course all parents would like a son,” she says. “Ten years from now I want to be in a management position and make my parents proud. I want to be like a son to them. Yes, I am their son!”