to Grisly Tales
AHMEDE HUSSAIN and
KAJALIE SHEHREEN ISLAM
are descriptions attributable to medieval savagery. Young
girls, women and children being seared with hot irons or metal
instruments, beaten with rods or wooden planks, skulls cracked
by heavy blows, skin slashed by sharp knives. The stories
of torture are endless at the One-stop Crisis Centre (OCC)
at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH). They are of the
countless number of domestic workers who managed to escape
the clutches of their torturers and have been brought to the
Centre for medical treatment. What is more horrifying is that
the torturers are not your typical criminals on the street
but educated, middle class citizens, respected in society.
Although initially arrested, with cases filed against them
under the formidable Prevention of Women and Children Repression
Act 2000, most of them go scot-free because of a flawed legal
system that has enough loopholes for these privileged culprits.
The latest victim of this savagery across the country is only
15 years old. Fancy Begum had been working as a maid at a
house in Mohammadia Housing Society. While getting back home
one day, she met a woman named Rosna who coaxed her into going
to a nearby house.
as she got into the house on 5/14 Salimullah Road, Shayesta
Shajid, the mistress, and her brother, Miraj, locked Fancy
up. "I begged them to let me go; but they wouldn't listen
to me," Fancy says. Meanwhile, Rosna, the dalal, who
lives on supplying young girls like Fancy to different houses
in the neighbourhood, had disappeared. Fancy never saw her
four days, Fancy was beaten with a curtain rod. "They
both (Shayesta and Miraj) beat me up that day because I had
broken an expensive plate," she says.
fact, that opened the floodgate of abuse and torture. "Given
the vaguest excuse, they would slap me, punch me in the abdomen,"
she says, showing several bruise-marks on her body.
brutal and savage attack took place on August 5 last year
when the mistress and her brother hit her on the head with
a big stick. "Blood started to ooze out; I cried for
help and when the neighbours came, the Begumsahiba told them
to back off," says Fancy. "She is our maid and we
will do with her whatever we want to," Shayesta Shajid,
herself a mother of two, told the neighbours.
Fancy, things got even worse after the incident. Whenever
she broke anything while cleaning or dusting, Miraj would
slap her or pull clusters of her hair out as punishment. Apart
from this medieval form of torture, both the brother and sister
scalded her with a smouldering khunti (kitchen utensil).
Fancy's entire body bears the marks of burn and torture.
was never given any medicine or taken to a doctor. She shows
the gaping, infected wound on her left shoulder.
on January 24, they decided to get rid of her. "That
day, Miraj threatened me several times and told me that they
would kill me," Fancy says.
"They tied a piece of cloth over my eyes, sealed my mouth
with tape so that I couldn't shout and took me to a rickshaw."
did not have any idea where the rickshaw was heading because
she was forced to bend her head down in between the abuser-duo.
When they reached Hazaribagh, on the Buriganga, they pushed
her onto the riverbank.
torturers were gone, perhaps thinking she was dead, Fancy
freed herself and walked up the edge to the street.
injured and lost, Fancy walked down Hazaribagh where she was
rescued by a group of patrolling policemen.
people will remember the battered face of eight-year-old Yasin
after he was rescued by police. When he was brought to Motijheel
thana on June 26, 2004, his mouth was bleeding and his body
bore grotesque marks of torture. Shockingly, his assailants
were Ahsan Sarfur Noor, a deputy secretary and Rahima Begum,
a lecturer of Bangla at Tejgaon College.
had been brought by an uncle to work for a house in Shahjahanpur
Railway Colony. He was made to do all kinds of domestic work
and could only go to bed at around 12 am or 1 am. If he got
up a little late, the child used to be beaten by Rahima Begum
and her older son. A simple mistake would provoke the wrath
of the mistress who would use heated iron rods to scald him.
When Yasin screamed, she would burn his anal passage with
a lighted mosquito coil. Yasin was fed only once a day and
if he asked for more food, the older son would try to throttle
him. The son would punch him in the face, kick him in the
chest and sometimes lift him up high and throw him on the
accounts from a little child should have been compelling enough
for a speedy conviction. Yasin had been taken to the OCC,
treated and then sent to BNWLA's shelter. But Yasin's father,
a poor van driver, petitioned for his son's release. It is
quite probable that the accused's family paid him off to do
this. Thankfully, Yasin's testimony has been taken by the
OCC lawyers. Even so, the accused mother and son were released
case is pending and the judgement is due to be given by next
Hasna from Gulmuda village in Nilphamari, used to work for
a household in Kakrail. The mistress of the house, Annie,
a kindergarten teacher, and her eldest university-going daughter,
Urmi, would mercilessly beat her for the most trivial reasons.
used to cut my hair or burn my skin with a heated khunti
or just slash me with a da," says Hasna, who
bears numerous injury marks all over her body. According to
Hasna, it was Urmi who was the most vicious and did not stop
her attacks in spite of pleas from Urmi's father who tried
to stop her. Luckily for Hasna, a new darwan had
started working for the apartment building and with his help
a case was lodged at the Ramna thana by Sub-Inspector Abdullahil
Baqui, interestingly, the same officer who had filed Mostakina's
torturers -- Annie and Urmi -- were arrested, but later the
mother got bail. On Monday, February 7, the court ordered
Hasna to be handed over to 'safe custody' as asked by Sub-Inspector
Abdullahil Baqui's prayer. Already, Hasna's father has petitioned
for custody of his daughter. Hasna kept pleading that she
go back to BNWLA's shelter but her pleas fell on deaf ears.
Once out of BNWLA's shelter home, chances are that a 'compromise'
will be made and the culprits will go scot-free.
sexual abuse of domestic workers is very common, very few
cases get reported, while even fewer lead to convictions.
Social stigma and poverty are big deterrents for victims to
seek justice. But even when they do seek help from the law,
legal loopholes and corruption of individuals having key roles
in the legal process, leave the victim with nothing but memories
of their trauma.
is obvious that Tahera (not her real name), 20, has not yet
recovered from the trauma of months of sexual abuse by her
employers' sons and their friend. She keeps forgetting things
and ends up sobbing every time she tries to explain what had
happened to her.
used to work in a big building in Malibagh for Bibi
(meaning the mistress of the house). They kept me locked up
there for three months. Bibi's sons, Rajib and Shajib,
used to do bad things to me. Often they would take me to their
friend Ronnie's house and all of them used to do bad things.
I used to scream and tell them I cannot take anymore. They
would then tear out my hair and bang my head on the wall.
Bibi would beat me with a cane. They didn't give
me enough food . . . I was so weak."
point, Tahera became so traumatised that she stopped talking
altogether and would just sit listlessly. The torturers decided
that she was not of much use anymore and so let her go. People
informed Tahera's brother and sister-in-law and they quickly
brought her home. They found her battered, disoriented and
with no clothes on. Tahera's brother filed a case.
on August 23, 2004, the court gave a shocking judgement --
the accused (one of the brothers) was declared innocent. He
had not even had to spend a single day in jail for he was
granted bail by the High Court.
lawyer, on Tahera's behalf, has appealed to the High Court
to reverse the verdict of innocence.
took three years for 18-year-old Noorjahan to escape from
her employer's house in Badda. From the very beginning Noorjahan's
employer, Baby Begum, would beat her up at the slightest mistake.
say, I broke a glass by mistake or was late in doing something,
she would hit me with a boti, hot khunti
-- anything she found in front of her," says Noorjahan.
teeth are broken from strikes of a rolling-pin for making
not quite round rotis -- the scar on her eyebrows
are from being hit by a wooden plank; her lips are misshapen
from being pulled by pliers.
Baby Begum's husband and kids would try to stop her from hitting
me. She would then take me to a room and hit me."
who does not know anyone in Dhaka, was scared that she would
get trafficked. But when the brutality reached unbearable
levels she knew she had to escape. With the help of the landlady's
daughter-in-law, Noorjahan managed to flee her torturer's
case's argument in court is already completed and the judgement
will be given possibly this month.
about 20, came to Dhaka for work when she found out that her
husband was already married with children. She ended up in
Khilgaon in a household where the mistress, Runu, and her
adult son began their sadistic torture on her.
beat me with sticks and hammers. The blows would crack my
skull, but they never gave anything to heal the wounds. Once
Runu hit me with a wooden pan (used for making roti)
and my head was bleeding." The next door neighbours informed
the police and Banu was rescued.
for Banu, the plaintiff for her case is a lawyer of BNWLA
working on behalf of the OCC. This significantly increases
the chances of a conviction. Usually when a victim is rescued,
the police try to find a guardian who will file the case.
If no guardian is available, the police can act as plaintiff
or allow a human rights organisation to file the case. The
latter is preferable, as it is not uncommon for the police
to become 'biased'. In Mostakina's and later Hasna's case,
the primary investigation seems to have played a role in weakening
the case. The common practice is to take the victim out of
the human rights organisation's shelter into the custody of
a guardian. This gives the accused the opportunity to bribe
their way out, starting with the police official who will
investigate the case, to the victim's family.
case, the sub-inspector, Abdullahil Baqui, made her the plaintiff,
which is not legal as she is a minor. Thus a complicated legal
system and the accused's influence as well as affluence make
sure that victims of such brutality do not get justice.
case goes to court, the appointed Public Prosecutor (PP) will
assess it and decide if it should be taken to court. It is
the PP who will argue the case in court. The human rights
organisation lawyer can only assist the PP and can speak in
court only if the PP gives permission.
is a big constraint for us," says a human rights lawyer,
"unless the victim gives an 'okalotnama' or permission
for us to represent him/her we do not have the right to say
anything." So if the PP becomes biased and gives no objection
to bail, then the court will let the culprits go. "If
the PP is honest and not biased then most of the judgements
will be in favour of the victim," she adds.
are innumerable reasons for a case to fizzle out even though
the physical evidence of abuse is obvious. When a case is
filed at the thana, the Investigating Officer (IO) is supposed
to determine the truth of the complaint. If the IO decides
that the facts are right, a charge sheet will be issued against
the accused; and if he says the facts are false (as in Mostakina's
case) the IO can give a Final Report that basically means
Hasna Hena, it took 10 months for the police-report to come
in when normally it should have taken a maximum of four months.
Officer or the Public Prosecutor becoming 'biased', the victim
and her family agreeing to compromise with the culprits in
exchange of money, the delay in the legal process itself and
the limited power given to human rights organisations -- all
contribute to a denial of justice.
where the victims can seek refuge is the One-stop Crisis Centre
(OCC), a government-run project funded by the Danish government.
The first step is of course to heal the ghastly wounds and
physical trauma caused by the beatings. The OCC is equipped
with doctors and medical staff to make sure that the victims
get proper medical attention. The next step is to ensure that
the criminals are brought to book. The OCC is assisted by
the BNWLA to provide legal aid and counselling, and to provide
shelter to the victims. The BNWLA even offers vocational training
to them so that they can reintegrate into society. In spite
of such well-intentioned measures, the OCC's efforts are time
and again frustrated because of the complicated legal system
that often offers little respite for the tortured.
government's OCC project can only be effective if the legal
loopholes of such cases are removed. OCC cases should be given
special consideration, making it mandatory for a victim to
be in its custody until the victim has given testimony and
the charge sheet against the accused is issued. OCC lawyers
must also have the right to represent victims in court so
that there is less possibility of officers or the PP becoming
prejudiced. These cases must also be dealt with speedily as,
the more time it takes, the greater the possibility of the
victim's agreeing to an out-of-court settlement.
are domestic workers particularly vulnerable? One major reason
is that they are 'invisible', with no organisation to represent
them and are not registered as part of the work force. They
are completely at the mercy of their employers and a brutal
feudal system where employers feel they are superior to their
domestic workers and so have the right to do whatever they
want with them. Apart from the incidents of systematic, sadistic
torture, in many instances the domestic worker does not get
enough to eat and little or even no pay. This kind of modern
day slavery is perpetuated by society's tacit acceptance of
class discrimination. There is an implicit conspiracy of support
among individuals of the privileged classes. In almost every
household that employs domestic workers, there are incidents
of verbal or physical abuse. It is just a matter of degree.
Sometimes it may be in the form of a slap or verbal humiliation.
At other times it gets more violent and brutal. Some of us
feel outraged by the contempt and injustice meted out to people
who essentially make our lives easier and more comfortable.
Very few of us stand up for them and stop our family-members
even when they are committing these crimes right before our
truth is that many employers will continue to mistreat and
torture their domestic help. Right at this moment, some child
or some woman, somewhere is being brutally beaten or maimed
with an iron rod, or a heated utensil or a rolling-pin or
some other object. They are all isolated cases but eerily
similar. The pattern of violence points to a social malaise
going out of control. It also demonstrates that unless these
criminals, who walk around in the guise of respectability,
are exposed publicly and are punished by the legal system,
there is no hope for thousands of hapless domestic workers
trapped within the sadistic web of their perverted employers.
Miscarriage of Justice
May of last year, Mostakina, a 10-year-old girl working as
a domestic help for a doctor couple, was rescued from their
Shahbagh home badly beaten after a neighbour called the police.
Her arms burnt, body bruised and face bleeding, Mostakina
was admitted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital's (DMCH) One-stop
Crisis Centre (OCC). A case was filed against her perpetrators
under the Prevention of Women and Children Repression Act
2000. After receiving treatment, Mostakina was taken to a
shelter home of Bangladesh National Women Lawyers' Association
played the story for a few days. Mostakina's wounds were visible
on television. The pictures of her employers, Dr ABM Jamal
of Mitford Hospital and Dr Fatema Doza of DMCH, after their
arrest, were splashed across newspapers.
2, Mostakina's father, Bashir Ahmed, came to see her at BNWLA
and demanded justice for his daughter. He was satisfied with
her condition at BNWLA's shelter, he said, but, four days
later, he returned and applied for custody.
day, Dr Jamal, innocent according to Mostakina's testimony,
was released on bail. On June 24, she was handed over to her
7, Mostakina signed an affidavit stating that her initial
testimony, in which she had accused Dr Doza of torturing her,
was false. She had fallen on the iron while Doza was ironing,
Mostakina said, and her other cuts and bruises were the result
of falls back home. Dr Doza only scolded her sometimes when
she was very naughty, claimed Mostakina. Her father later
sent a prayer to the law ministry seeking a compromise in
Report, filed by Sub-Inspector Baqui on August 31, cited "mistake
of fact". Dr Fatema Doza was released soon after.
case continued, Mostakina's perpetrator, for the "simple
injury" committed with a "blunt weapon" --
an iron -- would have received between seven years' and life
imprisonment under Section 4(ii)(b) of the Prevention of Women
and Children Repression Act 2000. The case, however, did not
get that far due to a number of factors.
bail hearing of the accused, no investigation report was presented
by the IO. The report, which was supposed to be ready within
14 days of the arrests, was submitted four months later. Moreover,
the medical reports undermined the seriousness of her injuries
by stating them to be "simple in nature". Despite
all the pictures and video shots taken of Mostakina badly
wounded the day she was rescued, her injuries were put under
a bailable category. No one stood up for Mostakina in court.
That is, no one contested the bail plea of her abusers.
position on the case is that they were not allowed to represent
Mostakina as they had wished and so they did not have the
authority to fight for her. Instead, the policeman who had
rescued her, Sub-Inspector Baqui, filed the case as the plaintiff
and her father soon took custody. More importantly, say officials
of BNWLA, what can anyone do if the victim herself does not
with the bindings of an inefficient system and an unsympathetic
society, Mostakina was trapped in her own web of poverty and
helplessness. The girl, who had testified against her torturers
less than two months ago, was forced to take back her statement,
along with her demand for the punishment of her abuser.
fight for justice came to an end in little over three months.
Soon after, newspapers carried reports of Putul, Nupur and
other abused domestic help, some who were even killed. Their
cases did not fare any differently, and neither will those
of Hasna or Fancy, or the many others who will continue to
become victims if the current system -- legal and social --
prevails, predict their lawyers.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005