Maryam knew she was born poor and meant to be treated harshly

Published: September 22, 2015

The case was the latest in a string of reports of impoverished domestic servants being abused by wealthy employers. PHOTO: AFP

Three months ago, an 11-year-old Maryam sat in my friend’s drawing room, weeping incessantly. My friend and I asked her if there was anything we could do for her, we inquired if she wanted to talk to her mother. All we got in return were confused, big black eyes staring right back at us. Maryam curled herself into a tiny ball and continued sobbing.

I felt immensely grieved because the little girl had made a long arduous journey from her village to this new house alone. My friend’s mother had asked a former driver to look for a female domestic helper; one who could help with household chores, is mature and a resident of the city so she could meet her family periodically. What she did not know was that someone completely opposite of the specified requirements would turn up.

The driver was inquired about his choice, to which he just said that the child’s parents wanted her to work because they were poor and desperately needed a source of income. There was no way she was going to go back to her parents; if not here, she would be employed somewhere else.

Now, three months later, the same girl is happy and seems to have buried all her grievances. I never see Maryam upset; she is always smiling and willing to work. One day while chatting with her, I learned something so heart-breaking it sickened me. While nothing extraordinary I believe, the underlying reality that I discovered was what was really gloomy. And the surprising thing was that she related the incidents in a tone which was carefree while laughing, rocking back and forth at times, as if it was all something really normal.

“My former employer used to beat me so much without reason and her children loathed me as well. They would tell their mother wrong things about me and she would start slapping me. Baji, I used to get so angry from the inside, but what could I do?”

Then, in a very matter of fact tone, she said,

“It’s all right, it’s the way of life. I am lower than them so obviously they could treat me like that, what else is there to expect?’’

She sounded like she was born to be treated harshly.

The physical abuse wasn’t alarming. What stung me was that these children have no hope, and what is life’s purpose if one can’t hope that someday they will be someone different from what they are today, someone better.

Wild imagination is the essence of childhood, and children grow up thinking they will become a pilot, engineer, an architect, a scientist and what not. I never really knew what I wanted, but having a life like Mr Gatsby was my childhood dream. Pretty silly, yes! Many of us come to realise that achieving all our dreams might not be possible when we step into the real world, but for these children, there is no daydreaming to be done, no fantasies to indulge in, as these children have invisible opportunities on their plate. Thinking of living the same day every day of your life must be horrifying.

Moreover, the belief that it is okay to be treated like lesser beings is heart-wrenching. Just notice the difference. I was interning at an elite summer camp and one day, a mother came towards me fuming, wanting to have a word with the administration because the music teacher had scolded her child, whereas on the other hand, a child gets beaten frequently and never complains believing that it’s what they are born for. A child so young, so naïve and so energetic comes to learn about class differences and succumbs to the inequalities imposed on them.

Treating a child with discrimination is like extracting the essence out of a flower, and one cannot expect help to be treated this way, because those employing them are literate, educated, and well-aware. Why do we even blame the government for not spreading awareness, for this is something one learns just by virtue of being a human.

I don’t know what Maryam must have been going through during her former employment, because when she came back after a week’s long vacation, she was crying once again and in between her tears, she managed to say,

“I have fallen sick, now I won’t be able to work and my baji will scold me.”

To which she was assured that she does not have to feel scared anymore, instead she will be taken care of. So scarce is the love they receive that these children are expected to work even when sick.

I hope people will eventually realise that they should treat domestic help with respect and eliminate all class differences especially when talking about children. And with the education that Maryam is now getting, I hope she starts dreaming of becoming someone who matters and is respected.

Alina Husain

Alina Husain

The author is an undergraduate student at LUMS. She's an environmentalist by heart and a dreamer by soul.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • kdp ukp

    Fatalism and belief that since God caused them to be born in minority community they are not supposed to complain and deserve to get punished. No wonder that revolution by suppressed communities in South Asia never took place in spite of thousands of years of atrocities committed by so called “Higher Cast” Hindus or Rich well off “Muslims”Recommend

  • vinsin

    Many Dalits did convert to Buddhism, so revolution was there, that is why Jainism and Buddhism emerged. From a Muslim perspective those were/are kafirs and some treat them like slaves.

    Hinduism used Karma not God and limited to Dalits only. Idea of God is alien to subcontinent. Hindus never practiced apostasy or forced Dalits to not to change their religion.

    So I disagree that Dalits were suppressed, they were ill treated and were called outcast, you can compare them to unemployed person in today’s world.

    High Caste Hindus accepted human rights just after independence but Muslims are still struggling to do the same for non-muslims or minority muslim sects.

    A poor person also cannot marry a rich girl, is it modern day suppression?, I dont think so. Humans by nature want to so superiority. Forget caste, in India vegetarian believe being higher than non-vegetarian.

    Religion, income, occupation, food, clothing, consumption, lineage etc are part of human politics and will remain.Recommend

  • happy camper

    I hope you will teach her, like your own siblings, so that her generation is educated and no more slaves to their fate. Dot forget to help her make it to the NOP offered by LUMS and other universities. I will salute you that day, at the least.Recommend

  • just_someone

    This is so sad.
    That title is so gut-wrenching, let alone the story.
    My family was well off (middle/upper middle range) but never had live-in help (my dad said it would spoil the children to be lazy…). We did have people who came to clean our place and do dishes but we never treated them poorly and would never think of touching a hair on someone else’s child.
    I guess that was partly because we werent incredibly rich but we are extremely educated.
    Maybe education will teach people to respect one another like humans rather than based on their wealth,social status, color, race, ethnicity, etc.Recommend

  • Parvez

    An important topic……nicely addressed.
    When one departs from this world the only thing they leaves behind are their good deeds……and treating others with respect is one such good deed.Recommend

  • Syeda Ali

    Very well written article. Indeed its a shame for all those who consider them as inferior beings. Its such a sad state of thingsRecommend

  • Muhammad Shafiq Haider

    Thank you, Ms. Husain, for writing this. It has become so routine to see humans, not as humans, but in the prism of what they do: household help, kaam wala, doodh wala, coupled with a self-grown prejudice against them.
    Also thankful for this writing as it brings to fore the long gone memory of Stephen Leacock’s “My Tailor” that inspired, I remember, a similar humanistic streak!Recommend

  • Sane

    Well if this is shameful to consider oneself as inferior, then how about those who consider themselves as superior.Recommend

  • Trisol

    I hope people will eventually realize that it is not OK to hire an 11 year old as your domestic help.Recommend

  • Lenny Shirley

    I hate those people who mistreat kids or maids . They deserve respect and been treated like humaN beings. Youd never know when you have to do the same. Life is gping in circles.


  • Javed Iqbal Butt

    My sister just hired a 11 year old as domestic help in Lahore.
    She has a 35 year old daughter in law with 2 kids & she at 55 is in great health enough energy to perform 3 hajj trips.
    I had a discussion with her that it was wrong what she was doing
    Now she does not talk to me
    I told her if an 11 year old was working as a domestic servant in any Western home there would be demonstrations outside that house & the occupants would be charged for child abuse Recommend

  • Abdul Haseeb

    The matter you have highlighted is really severe. Its true the most cruel thing you can do to someone is deprive them of hope, which is exactly what is done to these kids. And mostly, by none other than their own parents.
    However, sometimes it also feels like it is better for them as otherwise they would have to see their dreams, hopes and even self-respect crushed. After all, we don’t live in some sort of Utopia where a laborers child can become a pilot / doctor / president etc.Recommend