Less than human | The Daily Star
12:01 AM, October 31, 2013 / LAST MODIFIED: 09:53 PM, October 30, 2013

Less than human

">Less than human Aduri, who was allegedly tortured by her employer and found unconscious in a severely malnourished state and riddled with injuries and scars near a dustbin in the capital's DOHS Baridhara on September 23. Photo: StarOn September 22, a girl almost akin to a skeleton was found riddled with injuries near a dustbin in the capital's DOHS Baridhara. She was Aduri, an 11-year-old child; but she had the profession of domestic help attached to her profile.
The nation was horrified when the cruel story behind Aduri's torture came out, but I shrank into myself as memories that were locked away deep inside began to return. It was the dark brown hands of a child with burnt marks displaying the pink of her flesh inside -- her punishment for being greedy and kleptomaniac.
Her name was Jotsna meaning moonlight. Her complexion was on the other hand just the opposite. Perhaps to her parents, her birth was like the moonlight that brightens up poor huts in remote Bangladeshi villages on dark nights.
However, Jotsna's parents unable to provide her with three meals a day had no choice but to send her away to the capital to earn a livelihood. At her employer's place she received her meal timely but the eyes which were unaccustomed to food craved for more. Caught into the act of stealing, she was tried in the court of her employer and punished in line with Middle Eastern tradition. One hot iron spatula mark for each day she stole. Then one day she vanished.
To this day, I do not know what happened to Jotsna; whether she was ever found by a kind-hearted soul or whether her burn injuries received treatment. Her employer never had to answer to the law, but things fortunately changed for the better in that household. But such a change in one home was not enough. Decades later, I find Nusrat Jahan Nodi, using the same methods to teach her domestic help, Aduri, a lesson.
I was not consoled knowing Nodi was sent behind bars for her misdeed as I have like many others in Bangladesh learned how people like Nodi always escape through the loopholes of law. Besides, punishing a single Nodi would not solve the compassion crisis we, as civilised humans, have been suffering for ages.
According to Walk Free Foundation's Global Slavery Index, approximately 29.8 million people are living in conditions of modern slavery across the world, among them 0.3 million exist in Bangladesh. A person is a victim of modern slavery when s/he is forced to work through mental or physical threat, owned or controlled by the employer through mental or physical abuse, dehumanised or treated as commodity, physically constrained or freedom of movement restricted.
Life of a domestic help in Bangladesh matches with almost every criteria of modern slavery. They are forced to work with threats of physical torture, many do not have a say about the food or clothing they are given, most of them are not allowed to go out of the house where they work and the more unfortunate ones do not even receive a salary. Majority of the house-helps in Bangladesh are children, particularly girl children,making matters worse since as children they often do not have a voice in choosing their employers and as girl they often become victim of sexual harrasment. Besides, their wages are also taken away by their guardians leaving them totally dependent on their masters.
Last year, I watched 'The Help', a 2011 American film which showed how a few white people helped change the attitude towards the African American maids who worked at their homes. The film was based on the 1960s American society still influenced by the prejudices of slavery. The same condition now exists in Bangladesh. We use different utensils, give our domestic helps remnants of our food and lock them up at homes neither do we allow them to sit with us at the dinner table and so on. Unlike the African American maids, our domestic helps are not from a different ethnic, racial or religious background. Their only fault is they belong to the lowest quintile of the society haunted by the curse of poverty and lack of education.
Though rights activist have been urging for a specific law protecting the rights of domestic workers no steps have been taken so far. However, enactment of a law or its implementation alone would not help change the situation as long as we do not change our attitude and perception towards these people who we call 'servants'-- until we give treat them with dignity and consider them as humans.

The writer is Staff Correspondent, The Daily Star.

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