The woman and her 10-year-old twin daughters, rescued unconscious from a flat in Dhaka’s Uttara, had spent at least one week in isolation without any food, electricity or gas.
They were admitted to Kuwait-Bangladesh Friendship Government Hospital and then transferred to the National Institute of Mental Health and Hospital after police rescued them on Sunday.
In her mid-30s, Shafana Afifa Shyami inherited the flat from her father, a Supreme Court lawyer, who had two wives and six children.
She had schizophrenia, police said, citing her relatives.
Shafana was the only girl among five children of her mother, and her four brothers are well-heeled in society, with one of them being an administrative cadre officer.
Her cousin Jahura Ratan Rupa visited her at the hospital on Monday. Rupa said she went to Shafana’s house on Feb 2, but no one answered the door or calls made through the intercom.
Rupa said Shafana married a bank employee when she was a student at Uttara University in 2012, but they were separated when she was pregnant.
She then started living with her father and brothers. She was mentally unwell, periodically getting sick, said Rupa. Shafana also suffered a stroke.
More complications emerged after Shfana’s father died in 2018.
Her mother and other brothers moved from the building to Banani last August.
A Tk 4,000 garage rent was Shafana’s only source of income. One of her brothers, who lives overseas, used to send her money, but Shafana refused it.
Neighbours were not pleased with her as she could not pay service charges.
Abdur Rahman, the building’s security guard who has been working there for several years, said a young man used to bring groceries for Shafana and her daughters, but no one came to the flat for 15 days.
Employees of the power distributor cut off the flat’s electricity connection on Feb 1 as she could pay the bills.
Asked why the neighbours did not help her, Rahman said: “She has her mother and brothers. They own the place. If they don’t do anything, what’re we supposed to do?”
The guard said the flat would cost around Tk 15-20 million. Each flat had two bedrooms, a drawing and a dining room, along with balconies. The locals said that apartments measuring a bit over 1000 square feet cost around Tk 10-15 million in the area.
NO FOOD, CLOTHING
Mujahidul Islam, an inspector at Uttara East Police Station, said they found no food or clothes in the flat that reeked of unclean things. There was only some salt in the kitchen.
A sports club member in Uttara bought Shafana and her daughters clothes, toothpaste, brushes and other things upon hearing the news of their condition.
An official at the Uttara hospital said the girls were starving for several days. “So we tried to alleviate their weakness by giving them saline. We didn’t find anything else wrong with them.”
He said they were mentally distressed, and the hospital referred them to a mental health institute. Police sent them off to the national institute on Tuesday morning.
Some volunteers from Pari Foundation, a private organisation that works for homeless children, are looking after the woman and her daughters at the hospital.
Wasim Khan, an assistant general secretary of the foundation, said the hospital accommodated the three in a separate cabin with two Ansar members guarding the entrance.
Shafana was doing well, but the girls appeared shocked as they were rambling, Wasim said. “Their hair was all messed up with lice crawling. We shaved their heads and bathed them.”
He said the children were ecstatic upon seeing plates full of food, with one of them saying, “I want to eat chicken”, before she jumped in joy. She “almost choked” on the food while eating, Wasim said.
One of the girls is getting startled all the time and would not even go to the toilet alone. “She holds others in her arms whenever they try to get close to her.”
“But the mother feels uncomfortable with too many people around and wants to be left alone. When we asked about her relatives, she said she had no one.”
Wasim, who visited the Uttara home earlier, said it was stinking and filthy. The kitchen sink was flooded with moss floating about. Shafana had locked herself in one of the two bedrooms. The bed was covered simply with an oilcloth over the mattress.
The flat has an air-conditioner but no TV or fridge.
“It’s beyond my wildest imagination that someone like her from an established family could end up like this. We hope she’ll recover with some care from her relatives.”