I was quite surprised to read a newspaper advertisement in The Daily Star newspaper. It was asking for names of employers who hired domestic help and had kept them for more than ten years, looking after them like a family member, giving them treatment, medicine, holidays and helping them in difficult times and assisting in teaching them or their family members.
This kind of an organization, named Shomman in this case, is rare. I took some interest and through the emails was introduced to Dr. Rubaiya Murshed who heads this organization and it is also his brainchild. On April 30, 2018, I was invited to the auditorium of Chayanaut in Dhanmondi and a real surprise was waiting for me. The Chief Guest at the program was Sajeda Humayun, with Dr. Perveen (Cancer specialist) and Dr. A. J. Faisel (Health specialist) as special guests.
Starting from this year they are giving awards to two such employers who met the above-mentioned criteria. This year, they award recipients are Shaheen Anam (Chairman, Manusher Jonno) and Khairuzzaman Monnu. The latter is from Sirajganj and had come all the way to receive the award. He has a domestic help named Jharna, and he has adopted her as his sister. Through his own troubled times, Monnu said, he found Jharna by his side as a family member, so he no longer misses not having a sister, Jharna is his sister!
Shaheen Anam has a domestic help, who is like her own family member and her interview was broadcast during the award giving ceremony. She feels that the Anam family is her own. Her daughter's interview was also included. Her daughter has completed her SSC from Bharateswari homes (she spoke a bit of English too) and is currently studying in a college in Banani. Shaheen Anam said that this should be the way in every home, and getting an award is actually a bit embarrassing because how else should one behave?
I felt the same way when I and Mrs. Lutfe got the same honour for having a domestic help for more than ten years. Mrs. Lutfe explained about her own career and how she was able to lead her widowed life for many years, working, raising her children with the help of her domestic aid. I stood on the podium to express my reaction to the honour. I remembered the day my father became a Judge in the Dhaka HighCourt in 1980. Justice Mustafa Kamal and my mother Prof. Husne Ara Kamal explained to us, how the government car had limited petrol allocation and how we were not supposed to be using it. Instead, my mother said, “You have hands and legs and can easily ride buses and rickshaws, if we get a free stint I would like to help a challenged girl to learn computers, so that she can earn a living and live with dignity.” In this day and time, all our dignity is being taken away. Even in the highest ranks of the University, female faculty gets harassed. However, with my parent's training, I have faced that with courage. I told that I am reminded of Poet Nazrul Islam's article 'Mondir o Masjid' where he describes a beggar woman who had taken him to the garbage box and showed the remains of her dead child thrown their, wrapped in dirty rags. He cried out, this failure to keep the child is our collective failure. We could not give a decent living to these destitute women and the fault is not hers, it is ours. When we have enough, it is our duty to share and make other people's lives better through our own betterment.
How many of us follow that, asks Dr. Rubaiya Murshed, in his unusually eloquent and heart rendering speech and he says that he wishes to see the day when there will be no need of such an organization. He says that morality has reached the pit bottom; we need to rise from there.
I say, just hear out the songs that we have sung from Nazrul, the messages are clear. They have equal rights to our wealth as it has not been bestowed to you alone!
Nashid Kamal is an Academic, Nazrul exponent and translator