Domestic violence leaves woman paralysed

The argument was the norm. The injury was not. This time, she was left paralysed for life.

On March 21 this year in Sarpang, Gauri Maya Sunwar and her husband had yet another argument over money. During the quarrel, the husband picked up a bamboo and struck her on the back of her neck. 

 “I remember him hitting me two to three times with the bamboo and then punched me before I went unconscious,” Gauri Maya said.

 For the last four months, the 35-year-old has been admitted at the national referral hospital’s orthopaedic ward in Thimphu. The mother of three is more worried about her children’s survival than her recovery.

 The husband, she said had then dragged her to a nearby forest, removed her clothes and left her there. “My mother saw him looking at us from afar when she cried for help.”

 She was referred from Sarpang hospital to the regional referral hospital in Gelephu and then to Thimphu with spinal injury.

“Everyone argues and fight and its normal between husband and wife but I never thought that it would lead to this,” she said.

 Married to her children’s father for 13 years now, their children are aged 12, nine and six. The children were also home when the incident happened.

 The scars on her nose from a previous incident had not yet healed when her husband paralysed her for the rest of her life. 

 The couple had moved court a year ago over domestic violence. “I had wanted a divorce,” she said. The husband begged for forgiveness in the court and said he couldn’t leave his family. “The Dasho (judge) asked me to think about it again since he was asking for a last chance and also to think about the children who are all young.” The husband paid Nu 12,000 in fine and the matter was settled.

Gauri Maya has three elder brothers in Sarpang but said none of them want to look after her children. Her mother, 57, has to attend to her in the hospital. “There is no one to look after my children in Sarpang. I am helpless.” 

The eldest son is in grade four and the daughters in grade two and pre-primary in Sarpang Middle Secondary School (SMSS) but are accommodated in Sarpang Central School.

Vice-principal of the central school said they learnt about the children from some teachers when they requested the principal to accommodate them in the hostel.

“We agreed because they are all small and cannot be on their own. Moreover, they need help,” the vice-principal said.

The children get lunch from SMSS while the central school provides breakfast and dinner.

Gauri Maya and her mother, Maya Sunwar eats from the hospital mess.

The children were with them at the hospital during their summer vacation. The hospital however, only provides meal for the patient and an attendant. 

“While it was barely enough for the five of us, we are thankful to the hospital for the meals. We don’t have to worry about food in the hospital at least,” the grandmother said. “We don’t have a place to go if we are discharged from the hospital. This always worries me.”

Maya said that sometimes people bring them food from their home. “We don’t know them but I think they know that we don’t have anyone here. We appreciate everyone who is helping us.”

The husband was detained after the incident. He was recently released on bail.

“We heard he was released but we never saw him after the incident,” Maya said. “The doctor said my daughter would not fully recover.”

Head of the orthopaedic department, Dr Kuenzang Wangdi who conducted the surgery on Gauri Maya said that her neck spine was not only fractured but also dislocated, the cause of her paralysis.

“We get domestic violence cases with bruises at the emergency unit and some fracture cases in orthopedic but hers is the most severe domestic violence case that led to disability we have seen in years,” he said.

Dr Kuenzang Wangdi said it would be difficult for her to fully recover. “Our idea of the surgery was to make her ambulate on a wheelchair.”

Not all spine injuries however, cause paralysis, he said. Some fully recover after a surgery. In some cases, when a patient is brought to the hospital from an accident site, they are already paralysed. “At the most, we can operate on them to make them at least independent of sitting. Without the surgery, they remain bedridden.”

He said that about 80 percent of cases at the orthopaedic ward are related to trauma (accident) including vehicle accidents and fall from heights among others. Among the trauma cases, most are due to road accidents.

While ortho patients on an average spend about a week to 10 days in the ward, paraplegic, impairment in motor or sensory function of lower extremities, cases remain hospitalised for months and sometimes years. 

Every month, at least 23 domestic violence cases are reported to the forensic medicine department with the national referral hospital. The department registered 286 domestic violence cases last year, 61 less than the previous year.

In the last five years, the department recorded the highest number of domestic violence cases in 2017 with 347 cases. 

In terms of age group, forensic officials said that most domestic violence cases reported to the department are reported among women aged between 21 and 40 years.

According to a study by the forensic department in 2017, alcohol is the top cause of domestic violence. Extramarital affairs, drug use, argument over children, money, property and preparation of meals are other causes reported for violence.

To date this year, the National Commission for Women and Children has received 63 domestic violence cases, up by four cases than in 2018. The commission received 29 cases in 2017.

Meanwhile, RENEW has seen a total of 385 cases until November 2017, of which 42 were non-domestic violence cases.

Health officials said victims of domestic violence could call 112 for emergency medical services. They can also call NCWC’s helpline at 1098 or report to RENEW.

Meanwhile at the orthopaedic ward, Gauri Maya waits for her mother, her lone attendant to return from Sarpang. Her mother had gone drop the children to school.

“If I fully recover then I can do some small jobs and raise them. But now I am as good as dead,” she said. “I am worried about them. They are too young to live on their own.”

Dechen Tshomo

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