Servant Thievery A Memoir by Servant Thievery

She was dragged mercilessly to the balcony, clutching her black plastic trash bag close to her side as if her life depended on it. The dusty, mosquito-infested balcony was perhaps two feet wide, five feet long. She stared aimlessly into the crowded and polluted city of Dhaka, Bangladesh, a woman in her early twenties. The balcony door was slammed shut and locked. Tears rolled down her face as she tightened her scarf insecurely, her hands shaking. The little ones banged the balcony door, taunting and jeering.

***

Earlier that day, she was expecting to depart to her home village, from where she was hired a few months before. As she was escorted to a rickety rickshaw, my aunt noticed her bag was unusually heavy, things inside of it clanking together. Frankly, servant girls barely have enough clothes to last them two or three days, so based on that suspicion, my aunt demanded to check her plastic trash bag. After much resistance from the poor woman’s end, it was discovered that she had stolen a number of household items. The loot consisted of a few plastic toys, red onions, cilantros, and a few other items. Upon estimation, it amounted to perhaps two or three American dollars.

News spread throughout the entire building that a servant had committed thievery. For a country so corrupted, the reaction to petty theft was rather ironic. Everyone began to give their input on the punishment. The girl was cornered in the servants’ headquarters, an unfurnished, barren rock-floored room. Finally, my aunt arrived with a pair of scissors. The girl gasped, her tears and sweat fusing down her face. I was utterly confused, unsure as to what could be done with those scissors.

The servant dropped to her knees, pleading and begging for her dear life. Her scarf was loosened as her long hair tumbled towards the ground. They were intending to cut her hair. I still could not follow along with this foreign form of punishment.

It was then explained to me that her hair was a means of beauty. For a servant girl, that was the only ticket to marriage as she had no wealth or lineage. Observing her tear-stricken face, her thin and weak knees shaking, I squirmed and looked away. I heard my mother whisper a plea on behalf of the girl. Perhaps my aunt did not want to create a scene in front of us, visitors from halfway across the world. Perhaps the girl had learned her lesson. Whatever the reason, my aunt eventually dropped the scissors and called the girl’s family to immediately pick her up.

Suddenly, all of my challenges and tribulations seemed minuscule in comparison. It was a reality check; a reminder to not only be grateful for all of my materialistic possessions, but for the intangible traits of honor and dignity as well; a reason to express modesty and humbleness at all times. Who is it to say that I could not have been in her shoes? It was only through necessity and desperation that she had committed this misdeed, if her actions can even be called that.

It was sad for me to witness this incident, especially since I have always only heard of the people of Bangladesh being associated with their impeccable hospitality and fish curry. I then realized that much of this behavior was in fact reflective of a larger global phenomenon of our perpetually developing world, where there has arisen an inevitable imbalance on the scale of social structure both domestically and internationally. This disparity has caused various forms of racism and discrimination to emerge and erupt on many fronts, including class, skin color, culture, and tradition. This dissonance has trickled down to the local and everyday level in many places, including Bangladesh, and has unfortunately led many people to fall sway to blatant racism and discrimination.

The Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) once said, “A white (person) has no superiority over a black (person) nor a black (person) has any superiority over a white (person) except by piety and good action” (Tirmidhi). Perhaps it’s time for all of us, especially for those of us who have been deafened and blinded by our own egotistical lifestyles for too long, to actively speak out and work against acts of discrimination everywhere, blatant or otherwise.

***

Upon returning home, the stacks of school books and endless work documents were just as I had left them, untouched. However, with this fresh perspective in mind, the tasks appeared smaller. I pushed in my chair, opened the first task at hand, and said, “Alhamdulillah.”

What went through her mind as she was then marched to the balcony, what became of her thereafter, I still cannot help but wonder. Nonetheless, I pray that she has found solace and honor wherever she may reside.


   
  • http://www.muslimyouthmusings.com/ Arif Kabir

    I personally found the story very poignant because I remember spending the night at an extended family’s place in Bangladesh, and SubhānAllāh, though they were the most practicing family I’ve ever come across in their appearances and dealings with others, I saw some of them very ruthless towards their servants. It’s as if they forgot the servants are humans with souls as well…

    P.S. I had a lot of fun putting together the picture and subtitle for this piece. The picture is a real picture of a Muslimah in Bangladesh (presumably an older auntie), which I thought went excellently with your article. I added an effect to make her seem a bit younger and enigmatic, and to give off Monet’s haystack feeling (which I feel demonstrates the grām feeling really well :) The subtitle has a double meaning; is it stealing or her beauty that is the deciding factor for her to get married? You decide. ;)

    • http://www.invalidtruth.com/ Raakin Hossain

      Jazakallahu Khair for your kind words, Brother Arif. 

      It is very depressing to see a fellow human being treated in such an inhumane manner. Other than the social class difference, it is even more pitiful to hear little children order their elderly servants like animals. May Allah Ta’ala guide us all.

      Very good photo choice, masha-Allah. It fits very well with the article. :)

  • Anonymous

    Wow. I have always despised treating other human beings like an inferior, but this… taking away the last of someone’s possessions. Not even material possessions, but things that nobody else should be able to steal. Here, even her beauty is snatched away from her… it makes me sick. :S

    On a lighter note, very well written article masha Allah. It conveyed emotions and scenes very accurately. :)

    • http://www.invalidtruth.com/ Raakin Hossain

      @ Sister Raadia: Indeed, Allah Ta’ala is the best of planners. He alone can save us from harm’s way. I suppose that’s another lesson to take away from the story! I cannot judge her because perhaps she stole out of necessity. But I agree with you – it is never OK to steal. Meanwhile, jazakallahu Khair for your kind words, Sister. Please remember me in your duas. :)

      • Anonymous

        Oh, what I said about theft was actually directed towards the “master” of the servant… I guess sympathy made me forget the the servant was at fault, too. 

        Insha Allah, I will. Remember me in your’s? :D

  • SumaiyahKhan

    Wow, mashaAllah. i really liked your story. it actually reminded me of when i went to Bangladesh years ago. I was a little kid, and i had gotten very scared when my dad’s mom had yelled at her servant, terribly…afterwards, i had given the girl candy. i didnt want her to feel bad….servants are people too.

    • http://www.invalidtruth.com/ Raakin Hossain

      This is one story that I simply cannot forget. I can vividly remember every detail that I had witnessed. Masha-Allah, you did a noble thing. I remember once, I called the servant “Auntie” and my aunt laughed at me. :/ May Allah Ta’ala guide us all. 

      • SumaiyahKhan

        Ameen

  • Asma

    I can almost feel the air, and environment that she was in. I especially like the first paragraph. There are so many people out there whom voice we cannot hear, with sufferings and trials like we cannot imagine.

    • http://www.invalidtruth.com/ Raakin Hossain

      @ Asma: That is so true. And we forget that we, too, can make a difference by simply raising awareness to whoever we can. Reading the comments on this article made me feel very warm inside, Alhamdulillah, to know that there are still others who feel for everyone – regardless of who they are.

  • http://azizooooo.blogspot.com/ Aziza

    Very meaningful MashaAllah. There is a beautiful lesson there for us all. How many of us, as you mentioned, would be strong enough not to do the same thing? We are truly are blessed and JazakAllah Khair for reminding us. I pray that the girl is happy and fully content now, wherever she may be.

    • Anonymous

      Ameen!

    • http://www.invalidtruth.com/ Raakin Hossain

      @ Aziza: Jazakallahu Khair for your response, Sister. That is very true. We have so much to be grateful for. Someone in the world is stealing an onion, as we buy and trash excessively. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’oon. Ameen to your dua for the sister.

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  • Abu Yusuf

    Salaam Alaykum,
     
    The author and the readers seem educated. So I hope they will read my comment with an open mind. I think the most important aspect of education is learning critical thinking skills. Critical thinking requires the ability to question constructively, empathize with both sides, and examine possible scenarios that might not jump at us upon cursory inspection (think about the Moosa/Khidr parable). What the servant did is an all too common problem in Bangladesh and we often find them being meted out street justice including beatings. I’ve seen people in Bangladesh who are the most destitute of destitutes and heard from them first hand about how they live, how they think, etc. On the other hand, being related to the president of the country, I have also seen how the literati, the gliterati, the plutocrats, and the elite think. Thievery is common all across the social spectrum. The rich steal from funds intended for the development of the country, and the poor servants steal from their employers. All stealing except that which is extremely petty and out of need to feed distressed hunger is subject to Islamic punishment of cutting the hand off. What the servant did – was it out of necessity? The toys, the cilantro? I cannot tell. But we cannot automatically sympathize with her. The middle class and the elite in Bangladesh treat servants harshly for a few reasons: 1) plain class warefare I-am-better-than-you thinking which is wrong 2) servants have increasingly been colluding with gangsters and criminals to sometimes rob the homeowners of everything 3) servants have been known to decapitate their owners even if they have raised them and fed them all their life…in my family we treat the servants well. When I visited Bangladesh, just as I gifted my female cousins beauty products I gave one to the young servant. She is treated well and I never chastised her even once even though I saw her talking back to my mother a couple of times. I simply told my aunt to send her back to her home and find a replacement. One of my uncle’s servants before going to her village had hiked up her shalwar kameez on one side and my aunt suspected she was hiding something and it turned out she had cash hidden in her shalwar that she had taken (stolen) from one of my cousin’s purses. She was sent packing of course. Similar to the author’s aunt’s servant, this servant had also on another occasion taken all and sundry items in her bag before going to her village. My aunt examined her bag and found the items and quietly took them back and put them where they were. The servant pretended like nothing had happened as did my aunt. So there is a lot of graciousness extended to these servants even in instances where they think they can take whatever they want and the owners won’t find anything missing. It’s a false sense of entitlement that a plethora of servants in Bangladesh seem to possess and nobody ought to sympathize with such blatantly wrong misbehaviour. To the author, it may seem like petty theft, but these things add up and this self-proclaimed silent license to pilfer that servants in Bangladesh possess must be nipped in the bud.   

     

    • what a looong reply, guy

      By the way, this is a memoir, so Brother Raakin is entitled to his perception of what happened.

  • JihanAG

    Interesting how a single event can affect so many, how it touches different lives, how it reflects an entire culture and the underlying tacit rules that backs it up. For someone born in the same environment it probably would have seem as an ordinary thing, the challenge is to remain against it even after growing up in it, living ten years and still being against servants mistreatment or theft. The point in witnessing anything is to learn from it, be weighted down by yet one more particle of knowledge. Thanks for sharing the insights you acquired by it, hope we’ll all be able to do the same.

  • IdeasInspireIdeas

    When I read things like these, it makes me feel mad and sad and at the same time I get this crazy urge to do things the other way, just to see what people can do to me. Like for example sweep the floor along with the maid or give her my pair of clothes, just to see how crazy they’ll say I am. People tell you can’t change the world by doing things like that but I say atleast it gives people something to think about and maybe… just maybe by pondering over my crazy action they’ll realize who is human because at the end of the day,
    we all make mistakes and we are all made from clay

  • SYS

    Living in Pakistan, I’ve grown up with maids a constant part of our household. Even though I keep making an effort to treat them as equals, sometimes in the hustle bustle of your ‘busy’ lives and seeing the unequal treatment all around you, you tend to start getting desensitized. This served as a much needed refresher for me! JazakAllah Khayr brother!

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