When was the last time you paused to think about the maids and servants that you came across in Bangladeshi homes?
Kajalie Shehreen Islam
Down the long corridors of Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) at the One-Stop Crisis Centre sits a little girl with a plastic doll in her hand. In her orange and red floral printed dress and two little ponytails at the top of her head, she could be anyone's child. Except for the claw marks all over her young cheeks, the nasty gash at the corner of one eye, the severe burns down both her arms. Who would tolerate such abuse silently in this day and age? What kind of a person would inflict such torture on anyone, let alone a child?
Mostakina is the ten-year-old domestic "servant" girl everyone saw on the news last week, with blood oozing out of the side of her face. Rescued from the house of her employers, Dr. ABM Jamal and Dr. Fatema Doza, Mostakina had been suffering such cruelty for the past one year.
"I never told anyone," says Mostakina, when asked whether she had gone to anyone for help. "I was afraid she would beat me even more."
As any child would, Mostakina sometimes broke a few things or thread would come out of a piece of clothing she had washed. Considering the age of the girl, and the fact that she did practically all the housework except cooking -- from cleaning the floors to washing and ironing clothes -- it really wasn't much. But Fatema Doza, a doctor at DMCH, beat Mostakina for the most minor mistakes. She would claw at her face and hit her with anything, from sticks and brooms to bread rollers. The "Bua" would also be hit and slapped and made to drink dirty water when the dishes weren't washed clean enough. Mostakina was made to drink Doza's children's urine. "She would even spit on my rice," she says.
Mostakina was not paid any monthly salary, usually on the pretext of it being extracted against the price of the things she had broken or ruined. She would also not be given anything to eat the day she broke anything. Even when she was, it was a bit of one piece of fish split many ways.
Two months ago, after Doza put a heated electric iron to Mostakina's arm, the girl tried to run away. But before she could get very far, the darwan caught her and brought her back. Last week, when some thread came out of another apparel, Doza hit Mostakina on the face with a bread roller and burnt her other arm with the iron. It was only when the injured girl went to put out the garbage that a conscientious neighbour saw her condition and called the police.
"I want her to be punished," says the little girl. "I don't want Phupa (Dr. ABM Jamal) to be punished. He never hit me. He asked Phupi not to hit me. But she wouldn't listen. She would beat me when he was at the hospital. If he protested when he got home, she would beat him too with a broom.”
"The last time she did this," says Mostakina, "he told her not to hit another person's child. If I died, how would they face the consequences, who would pay for the court case, he asked her. She said it would be good if I really did die.”
Sub-Inspector Baqui was loitering in Katabon intersection when he received a call from the police headquarters at around 12.30 pm. He was instructed to go to an apartment building at 2/10 Paribagh behind PG hospital where a minor girl with serious injuries was to be found. In 15 minutes Baqui was at the apartment building gate and the darwan led him to the particular flat. But he couldn't enter the house as it was locked. Upon instruction the girl readily came to the verandah and talked to Baqui who stood on the street. Baqui was confirmed about the incident. He then decided to wait in the second floor in the landlord's apartment as he was told that Dr. Jamal, who went to bring his son back from school, would return soon. At around 1.20 pm Jamal came back home and when asked about the beating up of their housemaid, he simply denied that any such incident had taken place. Baqui then told that he had already talked to the girl and Jamal didn't have any option but to allow him in. "I was shocked when the girl was brought before me the scar with a diametre of about one and a half inches, just a couple of inches beneath her left eye was still fresh, with a blackish shadow all around it", says Baqui. "There were also burn injuries, perhaps one or two days old, long and straight on both her forearms. When I asked her she related how she was burnt with a heated iron, her voice choking with suppressed tears. I found marks of beating on almost all over her body; The woman seemed to have beaten her with virtually everything she could lay her hands on. I have never seen such inhuman torture on such a small child in the six years of service," Baqui narrates.
Around 2.40pm the housewife returned home upon her husband's phone call. "She first denied of ever putting the iron on her face, and started to scold the girl right before me asking her why she lied to me. Upon my insistence she later conceded that she sometimes gave her 'mild beatings', but that was due to Mostakina's intolerable naughtiness or when she committed some 'grave sins' like breaking a tea-cup or for not sweeping up the floors as good as the woman wanted. Her husband also corroborated her accusations saying that Mostakina was by nature a little naughty but he admitted that it wasn't right for his wife to treat her that way. He then tried to condone his wife's behaviour saying that she sometimes couldn't keep her cool and did these things in the heat of the moment," Baqui. The couple was arrested and brought to Ramna thana and Baqui lodged a case under the Special Act for Prevention of Women and Children Repression 2000, as the plaintiff.
Mostakina is, in a sense, lucky. Unlike many others who have been subjected to similar kind of brutality and will continue to suffer indefinitely Mostakina has at least been rescued from her tormentors. But the big question now is will her tormentors be brought to justice? If past records are any indication there is almost no chance to see the perpetrators get punished.
In March of this year, Shirin, a 14-year-old domestic worker in Rajshahi was raped and killed.
Source: Star Magazine, Dailystar
[Edited on 16-5-2004 by pompous]