A Flicker of Hope

FOLLOW UP
by Hana Shams Ahmed
[Daily Star, November 10, 2006]


Madhabi Mala now has something to look forward to. (Photo: Andrew Morris)

About seven weeks ago Madhabi Majhi’s life almost came to an end at the house where she worked as a maid. Her employer, Kalpana Majumder allegedly pushed her and her co-worker Moni Mala from the top of a six-storey building. Fifteen-year-old Moni Mala never lived to tell the series of events that led up to that fateful day. 10-year-old Madhabi was rushed to the National Institute of Traumatology and Orthopaedic Rehabilitation (NITOR).

That was not the end of her trauma, while in NITOR Kalpana’s sister would pay her a visit every day with fruits and other delicious food. A very thoughtful act on the face of it! But behind this façade, what was really happening was that this devious woman was actually intimidating this poor little, helpless girl into changing her story about being pushed from the rooftop by Kalpana Majumder. “Here you are eating good polao and biryani while my sister has to eat jail food,” she had shouted at her on one occasion, within earshot of everyone present in her ward.

The bullying worked. Madhabi decided to change her statement. To the police she had said that she and Moni Mala were pushed by Kalpana, but when we asked her what happened she had said between sobs that they had decided to jump because they were not allowed to visit their parents at their village home. Either way, we can only begin to envision the kind of a monster their employer Kalpana Majumder must have been. On the day of the incident, the NTV cameras captured a flustered Kalpana feigning shock. “I have no idea what happened”, she stuttered, “I was sleeping and suddenly heard that they [Madhabi and Moni] had jumped from the rooftop.”

Kalpana Majumdar, who allegedly killed one of her maids and maimed another when she pushed them off the roof top. Photo: Zahedul I Khan

The Star Weekend Magazine did a cover story (October 6, 2006) on the horrific incident that took place at House No. 46, Road No. 10/A in Dhanmondi on September 27, 2006. Drishtipat, a Human Rights Organisation took it up from there and informed its members all over the world about Madhabi’s ordeal and the unspoken crimes that were taking place behind closed doors every day. Members responded with concern and fury. Vittorio Barrile, a Swiss expatriate donated Tk 7500 for her medical expenses and asked doctors there to inform him if the Majumder family tried to intimidate Madhabi again.

But at the media-shy Majumder residence the wheels were already set in motion. They had already decided that the first step to cover up their tracks was to bring Madhabi back into their lair. So under circumstances still shrouded in mystery, the Majumder family took Madhabi away from the hospital and back to the place of her greatest nightmares certificate. Her legs were still in a caste and she needed constant medical attention. We later came to know that her discharge had not even been signed by a doctor. An oversight or more foul play? We also later learned from Madhabi’s aunt that Moni Lal’s family had been paid a handsome was this amount of Tk 18,000 by way of burial and other expenses compensation for a life lost?

Fifteen-year-old Moni Mala fell to her death when her employer Kalpana Majumdar allegedly threw her off the terrace of a six-storied building.

Andrew and Jules Morris from the UK, working under the Ministry of Education, and members of Drishtipat decided to take it on themselves to do whatever they can to help Madhabi and ensure justice. They continued to pursue the case on Drishtipat. BNWLA came forward. A lawyer from the organisation along with a policeman went into the Majumder residence and rescued Madhabi from their clutches and put her in the organisation’s shelter home, where she still resides

BNWLA is now actively following up the case. Executive Director of BNWLA, Advocate Salma Ali says that these cases need to be monitored very carefully to maintain neutrality. “In most of these cases the families become biased when they are offered monetary compensations,” says Ali, “even in this case, Madhabi’s aunt who took got her the job at the Majumder residence [Madhabi’s aunt had told us that it was another man from their village who got her the job] is already being carefully monitored because there is evidence that she is in touch with the accused’s family.”

The Investigation Officer (I/O) Shariful Islam is also being monitored by BNWLA as he too has proven to be influenced by the culprit’s family. When we first found out that Madhabi had been taken to the Majumder residence and Kalpana Majumder had been granted bail Islam feigned his ignorance. His ignorance is even more questionable as when we had contacted him earlier he had said that he was actively pursuing the case and was confident that the accused would get life imprisonment, if not a death sentence. According to him it was a very tight case. How then did Kalpana Majumder managed to get bail and steal Madhabi from right under his nose is anybody’s guess. Kalpana Majumder has been charged with murder, attempt to murder and death due to severe bodily harm under the sections 307, 302 and 325 of the penal code. Advocate Moloy Shaha and Advocate Iti are fighting for the case for Madhabi.

Local people shout in anger as police came to arrest Kalpana Majumdar, the alleged killer of the Moni Mala. Photo: Zahedul I Khan

Without trying to speak in favour of the accused Salma Ali says, “It’s very difficult to find the root of all this evil. Speaking in general terms many of these housewives turn out to be victims themselves. Sometimes we see that these women are physically or emotionally abused by their husbands and [without trying to justify what they do] take it out on the house maids.”

“There needs to be a proper code of conduct for employing home workers. There needs to be a set minimum wage and guidelines for what they can and cannot do. There needs to be counselling, security and proper legal support for home workers and regular monitoring to see that the guidelines are being followed,” she adds.

We have been criticised of focussing our efforts too much on one girl, while thousands of others who go through the same sufferings everyday are neglected. To our critics we want to say that we want to make this an example. All kinds of discrimination, verbal and physical abuse against children is wrong. It is clearly a much bigger social problem than just one Madhabi Majhi. A 12-year-old girl told me the other day why I was ‘wasting’ my time writing about ‘them’. Her father is incidentally a PhD-holder from UK, her mother a Dental College lecturer and she an A grade student from one of the premier English medium schools in Bangladesh. This small example illustrates what a big problem this is in our society.

Public wrath over the death of Moni Mala. Will it be enough justice for victims?

Madhabi wants to live an ordinary life. She was enrolled in a school at her village home in Nilphamari and studied till the second grade before coming to Dhaka. At BNWLA’s shelter home she can sleep in peace, knowing that no one can hurt her anymore. She likes to paint and enjoys reading. Although a little wary about her visitors at first, her responses are quick and to the point when asked about what she can read and write. We decided not to ask her to talk about the tragedy that brought her there when we saw her smiling face. Her major concern now is to get the plaster off her legs and to run again. Her doctors have assured us that she will be able to walk again although it will take some time for her to recover, the plasters will come off in two weeks.

Please visit the active thread created for Madhabi at Drishtipat’s website: (http://www.drishtipat.org/blog/2006/11/05/madhabi-finances/)

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