Friday, October 18, 2013

The Saga of Aduri

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Author / Source: M. Serajul Islam 

The name should be a bombshell for the conscience of the country’s well to do. The parents named her Aduri or the affectionate one. In the hands of the heartless employer in one of Dhaka’s residential areas, she became a piece of dirt, used, abused and then disposed in the dustbin! The Police Commissioner went to see her in the hospital, offered her a bouquet and promised before the media that the offender would be brought to justice and the Police Department would recommend to the Government to bring the case under speedy trial so that justice is delivered quickly.

Aduri is not the first victim of such torture. Newspaper reports after the Aduri incident came to light have mentioned that employers have murdered too many such domestic workers in recent years. The reports did not mention whether any of the murderers have been brought to justice. The best that happened for the families of the victims was to see few of them queried by the law enforcing agencies. A country that speaks so forcefully about crimes against humanity has no time or intention to see similar or perhaps worse crimes being committed under their watch!

One of the major shames of our society is the way we treat those that are disadvantaged, unprivileged and under privileged. We speak heatedly, excitedly and passionately for democracy, equality, freedom and what not. In fact, our well to do take pride in thinking that there is not a country on earth that can match theirs in human qualities. Yet the truth is that there are few societies that treat its disadvantaged, unprivileged and under privileged the way we do in our society. Most of us, in fact all of us, who are well placed in business, politics, government service and academia, employ domestic help. Yet we take a few things about their employment for granted.

We employ them in the same manner our forefathers employed them that was no different from slave labour. They are paid but it would be a slur on salaries to call what they are paid as such. They have no working hours and most of them are considered to be employed 24 ours a day and seven days a week. It does not matter what their age be, the members of the family where they are employed invariably refer to them in a manner that is disrespectful. It is common to see a small child in the employer’s family call someone old enough to be his/her mother and employed as domestic help like she deserved no respect!

Girls like Aduri are the employees of choice in many of the families that employ domestic help because their young age allows employers to make them work, as they want them to work. In most apartment complexes, these small children who should be playing or attending schools can be seen running up and down the stairs with loads of clothes that they have washed and hanging these on roof tops for drying or bringing them down after they have been dried. Believe it or not, in some of these apartment complexes, these child servants as well as the adult ones are not allowed to use the lifts on order of authority that run the apartment complexes because they are not human enough!

In fact, a study of the issue of domestic aides will help us understand a lot of malaise in our society. If the study is objective and news of such a study were to find its way to the media, we would have no place to hide our faces in shame on just the issue that of wages. A lot of our workers who would be working as domestic help but have escaped that fate because of the successful RMG sector find themselves in a situation that is only a little better. They are no longer subjected to constant and instant maltreatment of their employers. If that is freedom, they have it. But still they are subjected to treatment at the workplace that does not suggest that there have been major changes to their unfortunate predicament. New York Times, a major newspaper on the world stage, has recently written an editorial where the absurd minimum pay was reflected as the major cause of the current disturbances in the RMG sector. The editorial strongly mentioned that an industry that has earned US$ 19 billion last year and booming can and should pay workers much more than the absurdly low US38 dollars a month.

There is an issue of mindset here in what children like Aduri and other young and adult domestic aides face at houses of our well to do and RMG workers face at the factories.  In both cases, the employers take advantage of the unfortunate fate of the unprivileged people of our society. These mindsets have been deeply entrenched and embedded in the privileged of our society that laws have not been able to change nor can change. In case of the laws too, since the privileged ones have enacted the laws, these have been formulated defectively and since the privileged ones have the power of implementing these laws, the under unprivileged and the underprivileged do not get even imperfect justice.

Even if the laws were perfected in favour of the unprivileged and the under privileged, nothing will change because the problem is not in perfecting laws, the problem is in mindset of those who hold leadership roles in politics, economy and society. People who employ domestic help must stop employing children at their homes. They must ensure that the domestic help they employ have civilized working conditions such as pay, working hours, weekly off days, etc.  They must do these things not for the sake of those they employ but for their own sake, to humanize themselves. Aduri’s employer had gone to the extreme but many of us who employ Aduris in our homes are but only a little different from Aduri’s employer.

It is not that our society has not changed. There are many who employ domestic help and look after them like they look at other member of their families. Likewise, in the factories, there are employers who are not all inhuman, who look after the welfare of their workers like they too are members of their own family. But still the task of humanizing our society is still far away. It is way past time to ensure a change in the mindset so that all of us take lesson from the Aduri case and humanize ourselves. Let us all spare a moment for some soul searching. Let us put ourselves on the dock and consider whether our public stance as a nation with a glorious history, tradition, literature and language, etc. match the way we treat our household aides and our workers in our factories.

The ball is in the court of those who are well to do in society. Punishing the lady who tortured Aduri will be but a scratch in the surface of the dirt and filth beneath that can be removed only when our well to do believe that the disadvantaged, unprivileged and underprivileged in our society are human beings too and they deserve to be treated as human beings. It is a promise they must make to whomever they fear –Allah, Bhagavan or God - and not to the government. At the time of filing this article, with a few weeks already gone, the case of Aduri seems to be fading already like many Aduri’s who have faced similar fate and worse!

The writer is a retired career Ambassador

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