Footballer Razia: What have we done for her?

Razia Sultana

Razia Sultana's labour pains began at around 3:00pm on 13 March afternoon, according to her family. Her child was born at 10:30 in the night. Then at 3:00am physicians at Satkhira Medical College Hospital declared Razia dead. Everything was over in just a matter of 12 hours.

What was the cause of Razia's death? Razia's mother Abiran was present by Razia's side before and after the child was born. Abiran works as a day labourer and is not educated. I asked her, didn't you realise that your daughter was in a critical state? She said, "The baby was born, the placenta was out, so what was there to worry about? Those are the two main worries."

Razia's husband Eyam Rahman was not by Razia's side when the baby was born. He took the child away after she died. Before that, he told Prothom Alo that he had sent money earlier because his wife was going to give birth. He couldn't come because he didn't get leave. He says his in-laws were responsible for Razia's death.

All that could be gathered from Razia's family were two reports of the ultrasound taken when she was pregnant and a vaccine card. With these papers in hand, I set off with co-worker Kalyan Banerjee on 20 March toward Satkhira Medical College. Head of the college's obstetrics and gynaecology department Shankar Prasad Biswas said at the very beginning, "You are asking about a matter about which I know nothing. My assumption is that Razia's death was caused by post-delivery haemorrhaging." The family has said that Razia was well. In response he said, "A human body has 5 litres of blood. Two litres can be lost in just 5 minutes of post-delivery haemorrhaging. The condition of the patient deteriorates rapidly then."

We spoke to another obstetrics and gynaecology specialist at the Satkhira Medical College, showing her Razia's two ultrasound reports. The physician said, "The reports are fine. In the first report, the baby is upside down, but in the latest report the position is fine." She too feels that Razia died of excessive haemorrhaging. Was this because she had the baby at home? That is what the physician thinks. She said, babies are born at home abroad too. It is not as if it doesn't happen there at all. But in that case, the expectant mother is under regular supervision of a health worker. And the local hospital is kept informed.

What did Bangladesh Football Federation do for Razia? Did they inquire after her during her pregnancy, help her out with money, food assurances of her returning to the game? Nothing

Was Razia under the supervision of any health worker? Most certainly she wasn't. Her child was born with the help on an unskilled midwife. These midwives simply give the expectant mother saline injections to get the labour pains started. This too can be dangerous. But there are health services down to the grassroots in Bangladesh, both of the health and the family planning departments. What role did they play? Razia was apprehensive about surgery. It's true, there are often unnecessary surgeries. Who allows all these shady centres to mushroom all over? In exchange of what? The physician talked at a length.

It is so true! As far as could be learnt, Razia only once visited a health worker. A health worker named Itiara had injected her at a health camp in Moutala. That was all. Baliganj upazila health and family welfare officer Md Bulbul Kabir, speaking to Prothom Alo, said that all the deliveries are normal at his hospital. Why was Razia not informed about this? There is no answer to this question.

According to the rules, a family planning assistant is supposed to have visited Razia Sultana's home. Did she? We approached several officials at the family planning office. They will not reveal their names. Nowadays if they speak, they are transferred "then and there", that is why they don't take the risk. Anyway, were they aware that a national football team player at Moutala was expecting? Did their family planning assistant visit Razia's home? There came two different narratives. One, Razia's name was not registered in the family planning directorate's couple's registration book. She had got married in Kaptai, Rangamati. They were a couple over there. Two, a family planning assistant had visited Razia's house twice.

The officials were asked, does that mean if a woman comes from a different area, she will not receive child birth services? And if a family planning assistant went to her house, what did her notes say? Razia did not have the four checkups during her pregnancy or that she was wanting to have the child delivered at home? They had no answer to these questions.

Dismayed at the situation, I said, you will excuse me but I cannot help but point out that the glamour of your offices have increased and there are posters on the walls inside.  Yet all the way from Satkhira to Moutala, not a single poster related to family planning was visible. Yet three decades ago when I would go to school, I would see so many posters regarding services for expectant mothers! In my mind I was thinking, what's the point of all this show if it couldn't help a national treasure like Razia?

The health and family planning division sat up and took notice after Razia's death. They went in a group to Razia's house and took pictures with Razia's little boy in their arms. They took videos of themselves talking to Razia's family. No one had been when Razia was alive. It is not as if just the health and family planning division have woken up after Razia's death. The role of the upazila parishad chairman and the upazila administration is dismal too.

The question posed to the Kaliganj upazila parishad chairman Sayeed Mehedi was, how was his contact with the area's eminent personalities, the sports, education and cultural personalities? He replied, it was good. Prominent persons of the area were invited on various national days. For example? Name a few. He said, "For example, my nephew Jabbar. He is an ADC." Have you even inquired after Razia? He said, "Alas! The girl was not just of my upazila, but of the same union." Had he been aware that she was expecting a child and that she had been in acute financial crisis? He said he hadn't been aware of that, but learnt about it when he visited her home after her death.

Upazila nirbahi officer Dipankar Das was one step ahead. He said, if anyone seeks help, they come forward. But they have no directives to inquire about anyone separately.

District sports officer Md Mahbubur Rahman was in the dark. But he was very regretful.

It was obvious that national team footballer Razia Sultana was only given importance by the local authorities after her death. But why should only the local authorities be blamed? What did Bangladesh Football Federation do for Razia? Did they inquire after her during her pregnancy, help her out with money, food assurances of her returning to the game? Nothing. Yet isn't it Razia and the other girls on the field who have regularly inundated the entire nation with elation and joy? Had we nothing to do for them? Have we nothing to do?

I spoke to the district sports officer. He said, "Girls of the upper and middle class families do not play football. All of those who come to play are from ultra-poor families. They hardly get a decent meal to eat. I get money from the government for three tournaments and seven competitions. I try my best to feed these kids well during that time."

The 11 girls take to the field carrying the liability of the entire population of 170 million people. Yet what have we done for them?

It was learnt that quite a few girls from Satkhira were playing in various age-group teams. A few sports enthusiasts are trying their best to smash the social taboos and bring these girls to the game. It was one such sports organiser Akbar Ali who opened the doors for Razia. After his death, Arif Hossain is trying to carry on this effort.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Arif Hossain said, "I try to bring the girls and give them place in my home. It is not that I can do much for them. For example, I go to the market and tell the vegetable sellers there, see if you can give these girls a week's supply of vegetables. They are our footballers. Some help out with lentils. That's how we pull along somehow."

There are so many millionaires and billionaires that have sprouted up in our country. How many of them have come forward for these girls?

I look towards myself. Just the other day I was showing my colleague Nayir Iqbal a report in the Washington Post, saying look at this excellent report. In that country, players can have different limbs even insured separately.

Their investigative reporters found that the blacks cannot draw as much insurance money as can the white-skinned. I was so agitated. Yet in our country, girls hide their pregnancy in case they have to undergo surgery and not be able to return to the game. They take to the field even while pregnant. Then suddenly it is all over. They die. I had never thought about that.

The 11 girls take to the field carrying the liability of the entire population of 170 million people. Yet what have we done for them?


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