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
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.”
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,"
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. Though
her employers said she committed suicide and hung herself,
police suspected they had something to do with the murder
and arrested them. Shirin's mother said she did not
want any trouble and that the money she could get was
all that mattered. But the next day, Shirin's employer
Sharmin Sultana Dipa, who often used to beat her, confessed
strangling Dipa to death and hanging her. It is still
not known who raped the teenager.
Hasna Hena worked for a woman in Mirpur.
Another maid at the house would do things wrong and
blame Hasna for it. When one day she put too many tea
leaves in a cup of tea Hasna had made for her mistress,
the woman tossed away the cup, beat Hasna and threw
her out of the house. Hasna's uncle later took her to
the police and the hospital. After two months at the
hospital, Hasna joined a shelter home, Proshanti.
Banu is another domestic worker who
joined the shelter home after spending a month in the
hospital after being beaten by her employer. The list
-- of only those who have actually filed cases -- goes
Bangladesh National Women's Lawyers
Association, better known as BNWLA, a human rights organisation
that provides legal aid, is handling Mostakina's case
and has the experience of conducting more than two hundred
such cases of repression on domestic workers over the
last two decades. But it has succeeded in getting the
offender/s punished in only seven or eight cases. The
data provided by Mominul Islam Shuruz, Senior Investigation
Officer of BNWLA, lists various reasons for such a piteous
A large number of cases fizzle out even
before they are taken up in the court while many more
end midway after good initial progress. Money does the
trick in most cases. The only thing an offender has
to do is get hold of the parents or guardians of the
victim and offer a few thousand taka, and everything
is settled. For a father who is forced to send his nine
or 10-year-old daughter away from home so that she can
earn her own food, money matters a lot. "10,000
taka for some bruises here and there appears too tempting
an offer to reject," says Shuruz. Besides, he adds,
for a poor, illiterate villager, police and court are
jhamela (trouble), and compromise in exchange of monetary
compensation seems a logical and even profitable option.
Shuruz then relates an incident involving a brutal killing
of a 14 year-old domestic help who was slaughtered by
a kitchen knife by the housewife. After one or two hearings
the victim's father stopped co-operating with us. We
kept watch on him and one day we found him having lunch
in the very house where his daughter worked and got
brutally killed. When I asked him why he gave up the
fight he seemed to have his answer ready: 'Shaheb has
given me 40 thousand taka. Besides, what is the use
of going to court? I am not going to get my daughter
What many might find impossible to imagine
is that simple to some.
once there is a settlement between offenders and the
victim's family, the third party, that is BNWLA, which
is providing legal aid, has to simply wash its hands
of the case. "If we still persist, which we can
technically do, we might find ourselves in more trouble.
There have been cases where we were made to look as
if we had ulterior motive or some profit to make out
of the case in the guise of helping the victims,"
Police, as everywhere, play their dirty
tricks here as well. Since they are directly involved
in all the different stages of a case, from submitting
the FIR (First Information Report) to submission of
the charge sheet and it is they who conduct the entire
investigation, they can influence the fate of a particular
case to a great extent. "Police often intentionally
leave big gaps while framing charges so that they can
allow criminals to get off the hook in exchange of money.
On the other hand the accused party -- in this case
the doctor couple -- has a lot to offer. And if money
fails to deliver they will wield their social, and if
need be, even political influence. That they will escape
punishment is almost a certainty," Shuruz cannot
help being pessimistic.
An interesting pattern can be detected
in the incidents of violence against domestic help.
Once the initial shock subsides, a conscious or unconscious
urge to paint the 'brutal offence' as a 'mistake' begins
to gain strength. The police who have rescued the victim,
the doctors who have treated the serious wounds, the
lawyer who is contesting on the victim's behalf and
finally even the judge who is deciding the case, start
to believe in the 'mistake theory' with growing conviction
each day. But why does it happen this way?
No doubt, poverty of the victim and
corruption of the law-enforcing agency are often responsible
for justice being denied, but there is another underlying
force, far stronger and more complex in nature, at play.
Abusing domestic help is not just another form of violence.
It ensues from a very acute sense of class-awareness
that is deeply buried in the collective consciousness
of the so-called half-educated, middle-class bhodrolok.
Once the vision gets blurred, he cannot see a person
as a human being, but tends to differentiate between
human beings using artificial criteria. Many of us,
members of the so-called middle class, are thus quite
biased and prejudicial in our judgement when considerating
something we consider below our status -- domestic workers
are easily relegated to lesser human beings who don't
deserve equal treatment.
Even after seeing the 10-year-old bearing
such ferocious, raw marks of brutality comments like
"you see, domestic workers are such a trouble",
"whatever you say maidservants are also no dervishes",
"sometimes, you just cannot bear with them",
"they are all ungrateful thieves" are common.
"I have even heard judges talking about how roguish
these domestic workers really are," says Shuruz.
No law, no honest police officer can solve it unless
we rectify our corrupt, partial perspective.
Mostakina's future is uncertain. Her
mother passed away before she can remember. She was
brought up by a neighbour. Her father later remarried
and someone from her village brought her to the doctor
couple. Her father hasn't visited her in the past year.
After her treatment is completed, she will go into BNWLA's
shelter home, Proshanti. Beyond that, as is the case
with many other girls there, no one really knows.