By Naeema Saeed
Living across the road are two diametrically opposite worlds. One is of the mansion like houses where every luxury is at hand, and the other is of nomads, the people who are treated like commodities. Life is weird, isn’t it?
While entering a posh society of Lahore, one crosses the wretched of the earth who have no land to build houses and are forced to live like gypsies. There are many areas where this distinction of haves and have-nots is more than evident. This difference does not render the poor incapable of loving their children but it surely makes it impossible for them to send their kids to schools. This difference compels them to put the wrenches and brooms in the hands of their beloved children. No wonder everywhere we come across these wretched little creatures. They are in workshops, helping in the maintenance of the cars. They are at homes baby-sitting the children. They are at birthday parties looking after the kids when mothers are gossiping and children are playing. Unaware of the significance of their work and unaware of the existence of their rights, these little ones keep on working. Oblivious of might happen tomorrow, careless of what should happen in future and negligent of building any dreams, all their energies are focused on avoiding the misfortune of the moment. All they can think of is how to avoid a day’s work without getting beaten up.
Zainab started working when she was barely 11 years old. Her job was to be the nanny of the 3 girls of a schoolteacher. Carefree as anyone must be at her age, Zainab often overlooked her duties. She sometimes paid no heed to what the little girls asked from her, and at other times started playing with their toys. This often invited the wrath of the mistress who was a strict schoolteacher. One day Zainab reciprocated by beating the youngest daughter but the elder one saw and told the mother who burnt the maid’s arm by sticking burning matchsticks. I don’t know about the scars on her arm but I am sure that the scars on her heart would not have faded. Her mother took her away and Zainab started working at someplace else. Who knows what fate awaited her there!
Nazia had been working at people’s houses for past eight years. Her previous employer used to beat her. “The other maid used to steal and I suffered at the hand of my masters so I quit.” She works for a bureaucrat’s wife now and takes care of the two little boys. “My mother told me that I could quit now. The things are better but Baji (the mistress) told me that she would give me things for my dowry so I thought its better to work as long as I don’t get married.”
Mushtaq came to Lahore from Kabeerwala to work at a house at mere age of 8. He washed pots, cleaned the kitchen and sometimes when maid did not come, he cleaned the house as well. His favorite chore however was going to bazaar. Leaving the house to buy a thing or two, he used to take hours to return but what awaited him was the rage of the house owners. “I used to cry in the start whenever somebody would beat me up but now I laugh. It irritates them like anything,” he giggled. What followed these sentences was a nightmarish utterance which gave me goose bumps. “Once I tried to throw myself in front of a car. If I get injured or die, my parents would get money.”
Nazia, Mushtaq and Zainab suffered at the hands of their employers but they are still fortunate unlike Iram and Fiza Batool. Fiza Batool was beaten to death by the professor of MAO College. The family often physically abused the young girl.
10 years old Iram was daughter of a widow. Compelled by the poverty, she left her house in Okara and started working at Askari 9, Lahore for PKR 2500. She came to make a living and died at the hand of her mistress who beat her to death because she suspected the maid of stealing PKR 30,000. Her body had marks of torture. The mistress confessed the murder and her family claimed that she is insane.
May be Nseera is insane or may be the whole society is suffering from the illness which makes us insensitive to the sufferings of the others. Only in Lahore, 3 maids were murdered in the first month of this year. Even after such happenings, the parents of these young children find it hard to get an FIR registered. Sometimes their plight compels them to accept the blood-money.
Another remarkable fact is that we only pay little heed when these children are murdered. What of innocence and childlike curiosity which is snatched away by the brutal world? What of those hands which were robbed of toys to hand them over garbage bags and brooms? What of those eyes which were not allowed to dream. What of those brains which were mercilessly threw away to help us with manual labor just because they were not born in privileged homes.
We are quick to condemn child marriage but what of the girls who have to bring up the children as maids? What of the girls who put away their dolls to nurture others’ babies? Well, I know nothing of those. As we lament the brutal death of these children, we know that things are going to stay same. The children will keep on working at others’ places. Legislation for them is in no way on the government’s priority list which is more concerned about Basant Festival and closing Bazaars at 11 pm. So the world goes on and these little human beings would be mercilessly treated like commodities, dying and living a horrible fate.
Published in The Nation newspaper on 09-Feb-2014