How one brave woman used creative therapy to heal trauma
On February 2, Jannati Hossain, a social entrepreneur, was on the way to her office on a rickshaw, when a man -- probably in his twenties -- rushed towards her ride and stopped it. His demand was simple -- he wanted her bag -- and all this was happening on the leverage of a dagger he held in his hand. Though, some might say that a bag is nothing when it comes to one's life being at stake, Jannati thought of all her valuables which were not worth giving away. As soon as the guy noticed her second-guessing, he attempted to stab her in the leg.
Jannati has been very active in terms of travelling and hiking, and has been practising defence arts which ended up giving her a strong physique. The dagger could barely pierce the solid muscle on her leg. In a jaw-dropping situation, as he pulled the dagger out, she kicked him in the throat, and followed up with another solid kick to his rib-cage. This was enough to send the mugger running. Happily enough, she made a quick recovery.
This wasn’t however the first time she faced a traumatic event.
In 2014, Jannati was accused of taking the life of her friend and had to serve time for over eight months. Late Mustamseer Ashraf -- Jannati’s former business partner and best friend -- faced his death at the wrong time and place. On the Dhaka - Mymenshing highway, at the end of the Mohakhali flyover, Jannati lost control of the car while her best friend was in the passenger seat. After a few spins, the car had a huge impact with a nearby police vehicle. Mustamseer endured critical injuries as he was not wearing a seat belt. Later that night, he passed away after he was taken to a hospital.
Jannati was charged with reckless driving by the police and within a week, Mustamseer’s family filed a murder case against her and her family. A lobby of powerful people offered witness statements -- all of them claimed to be present at the scene when the incident occurred. In no time, the case turned into a high profile one -- she was sent to prison. Her lawyers appealed for bail multiple times and the courts kept rejecting them all; in fact, there was no hard evidence which could prove the accusers’ statement, her lawyers argued.
She was taken under remand for five days which, later on, turned out to be 19 days. More than 15 officers-in-charge interrogated her throughout the period -- trying to persuade her to sign papers admitting guilt.
What was life like in imprisonment?
I could not sleep throughout the remand period and only used to get an hour-long break in between interrogations. The most boggled up thing was the fact that the interrogators knew I did not do it, yet, they had no other option but to pressurize me to admit a lie.
You feel like harming yourself physically to match the state of your brain and it is really hard to get out of such a mental state.
It was very hard at the beginning. My inmates did not understand where I had come from and they did not want to. I could not really connect with anyone. Surprisingly, there are classifications between the prisoners and I insisted to be kept in the common ward. There were days when 400 inmates had to live together in a 40 steps-long cell. If one would wake up at night to use the washroom, there would be no room left to come and lie down in the same place.
As days passed by, the prison started to seem like Alice in Wonderland. Since I started getting accustomed to the environment, I wanted to know about everything that happened in there.
Do you think this situation would have been any different if there was a man in your place?
Yes, in many ways. I remember facing so much backlash for being a woman who has been in prison. At one point, I started accepting what was happening -- this ended up boosting my confidence and I felt stronger than people thought I would be. Expressing myself got me into that kind of mental set-up. I was so strong that whatever happened and no matter what people said, it would not bother me.
How do you think one can recover from such a situation?
I think, talking about it helps the most: Being able to express yourself no matter what, without any major consequences and not regarding judgments. Expressing from a personal point of view helps way more than expressing publicly or in a group. While I was in prison, I used to write a lot. Creative therapy helps a lot in such cases, I used to turn buckets upside down and play drums on it. My inmates used to get annoyed by my behaviour but I loved doing it. There were times when things would fall apart -- nothing really hurt more than losing my best friend and being away from the people I love. At the end of the day, you have to survive and activities like these help a lot. Creative therapy -- expressing yourself -- helps a lot.
However, creative therapy is very diverse; you never know what clicks in you. The culture of Bengali families is very diverse -- we raise kids to make them doctors or engineers. This is not a way one should be living his/her life. Although my family has been really supportive -- without them, I wouldn't have been here today.
How do you think we can get rid of such practices where people who hold power, misuse it in society?
We need to have more transparency and accountability -- the citizens have a huge role to play behind this as well. The media plays a huge role too, which worked in my case. Media houses wanted to reach out to my accusers to know why they were strong-arming their statement and making sure that my life turns out to be 50 shades of wrong. To some extent, things would have been a bit easy and stable if everything was clear from both sides.
A set of methods that are inventive and articulate in essence are known as creative therapy. Unlike the usual therapies, creative therapy focuses on helping one to figure out a type of assertion beyond words. Hence, the outreach of this therapy is limitless, as one’s mind finds its own suitable means of expression. Any form of activity like composing, travelling, craftsmanship, music, art, role-playing, etc are known to be the most commonly used and efficiently supported approaches.
Jannati has been using creative therapy which helped her to an extent, although, she has not been able to recover yet. She started a platform called Urbiruhu, which runs projects based on bringing out the aesthetics of deserving endeavors. Urbiruhu provides various workshops, support systems, and seminars on mental health issues, such as stress management, through a creative platform.
Sometimes hope is not enough -- accidents happen but it is the mental strength and constant will to fight on that shows a little glimpse of a better future. The motto is -- to never give up -- not even when the world turns against you.