Aduri (one who is loveable) could be anybody’s beloved daughter. She was just eleven when her mother, living in distant Patuakhali, let Aduri to come to Dhaka and work as a domestic help in Saiful Islam Masud and his wife Nourin Jahan Nodi’s house in Kalabagan area (later they moved to Pallabi, Mirpur) in December of 2012.
Aduri’s father late Khaleque Mridha had nine children and Aduri was fourth among them. After Mridha’s death the family faced the scare of extreme poverty and Aduri’s mother did not have much option than to let all her children work as domestic help either in Dhaka or somewhere else. This is a common practice all over the subcontinent and in many countries of South East Asia. Though most of the countries have laws against child labour, they are hardly enforced in case of domestic helps. One mouth less to feed in the family is a big respite for these families. That is how Aduris get employed in many homes mostly in urban areas. But in many cases the Adhuris land up in concentration camp like situations because of the inhuman attitude of the families towards them where they are employed. Unfortunately in many cases the housewives where Aduris are employed are the villains. They treat their domestic help like slaves, subject them to inhuman torture, in some cases the torture results in the death of the victim. The cover up is not difficult in many cases. You need to have proper connections. In some cases lucky ones are rescued and sent back to the family. The perpetrators are hardly punished for their misdeeds. The good news is that in case of Aduri the housewife who tortured her, Nourin Jahan Nodi was sentenced to life term imprisonment for torturing Aduri, her 11 year old domestic help and dumping her into a dustbin assuming her dead in Dhaka in September 2013. The judgment was handed over by Judge Jayasree Samaddar of the Third Tribunal for Prevention of Women and Children Repression on last Tuesday. Nourin Jahan, was also fined Taka one lakh which has to be given to the family of Aduri. The judgment was hailed by all quarters, including the national media and human rights activists and demanded that all such cases pending before such Tribunals be disposed of as soon as possible. The Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) must also be thanked for all the initiatives taken by them to bring the culprit before the court of law and rehabilitating the poor family of Aduri. As expected the defence lawyer was not satisfied with the judgment and said they will appeal to the higher court. People expect that similar justice will also be dispensed at the upper court.
Going through the details of the case it can be concluded that Nodi was possessed by some devilish animal instincts that took refuge inside her. Extreme painful physical and mental torture, inhuman treatment, denial of regular food, intimidation that Aduri received from her ‘master’ Nodi still haunts Aduri and even today she remains traumatised. On September 13, 2013 two women rescued Aduri from a dustbin in Mirpur Area and handed over to the police. On investigation it was discovered that Aduri worked as a domestic help in the residence of Masud’s family in Mirpur where he lived with his wife and two children. Masud’s wife Nodi treated Aduri like an unwanted animal in the family, denied her regular meals, sometimes fed her with puffed rice (muri) or a bowl of rice with a pinch of salt. Aduri slept in the balcony in all seasons. On any pretext Nodi resorted to physical torture on Aduri that ranged from beating to pressing hot electric iron on her body. Her body was also slashed with blades and knives by Nodi. Aduri’s screams died within the four walls of Masud’s residence. Masud took no steps to restrain his cruel wife from doling out such inhuman treatment to Aduri. Masud is equally responsible.
In spite of occasional trials and sentencing of those found guilty of inhuman treatment of their house helps, the behaviour of certain inhuman sections of the people in the society do not stop. Very recently there were two cases similar to that of Aduri. An 11 year old girl Sabina Akter was found crying on a street in Mirpur and brought to the Mirpur police station by the local residents. Police found scars of beating and torture on Sabina’s body. She worked at the house of one Lt. Col. Taslim Ahsan in Mirpur neighbourhood. It was alleged that Ayesha, wife of Ahsan, beat and physically tortured Sabina frequently. Later she drove Sabina from her house according to the police sources. Aysha has already been sued by the police. In another case a domestic help was found recently brutally tortured by her employers in Begumganj upazila in Noakhali. The victim was rescued by the local police with help of a neighbour. In this case the victim Bibi Amena told the police that her employer Niluba Khatun and her husband Md. Saiful Islam used to torture her over petty matters for last one year. Niluba would put chili power in the eyes and mouth of Amena, threw water on her body and beat her with iron rod. Injured Amena told a neighbour about the torture who informed the local police. The police rescued Amena and sent her to the local hospital and sued Saiful and his wife. The accused went into hiding. The conscious people expect that soon the culprits will be produced before the court of law.
Violation of basic rights of domestic helps unfortunately is not confined within the country. Often there are allegations of Bangladeshi diplomats posted abroad also do not behave properly with their domestic helps that they were allowed to take to their place of posting from Bangladesh. Though not all allegations are found to be true, some are. There may be incidents where domestic helps lodge complaints with the local police of violation of their basic rights for the simple purpose of finding asylum in those countries. But some of the cases reported were found to be true. Recently the government has stopped allowing diplomats to take domestic help from Bangladesh. This is a step in the right direction. Often there are incidents in upscale restaurants in Dhaka and elsewhere where domestic helps take care of the child in one corner of the room while family members are having a sumptuous dinner. Purchasing low priced rice and other eatables for the domestic help is not uncommon in many homes. If there are children in homes such practices may have adverse effects on them and they may learn similar behaviour from their parents.
Because of extreme poverty amongst a section of people, especially in rural areas of Bangladesh, domestic child labour is a reality in the country.
But they deserve treatment like any other member of the family and not as a slave or an animal. On the other hand there are cases where one will find it difficult to distinguish a domestic help from other members of the family. I know of families where domestic helps were allowed to go to school with private tuition arranged at home. Some shared the rooms with children of the family. In many houses the female domestic helps, once they grow up were given away in marriage by the employers with all expenses borne by them. If employers of domestic helps or other types of employees treated their employees with little bit of kindness and like the members of the family the world would be a better place to live in. The case of Aduri was an example of humanity at its lowest. Let the sentencing of Nodi be an example for everyone.
The writer is a commentator and analyst