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January 12, 2017



Evil in the heart

Why are we shocked by the case of Tayyaba, the 10-year-old child who was allegedly beaten and tortured by the wife of a sessions judge for losing a broom? Why are we shocked at the fact that her parents who had given or sold her into employment for a sum of under Rs2,000 a month, felt compelled to accept whatever amount was offered to them by the good judge as an out-of-court settlement and walk away from the situation? Social media was filled with images of the little girl, her badly bruised face, burned hand and tortured body. The hashtag, ‘JusticeForTayyaba’, appeared everywhere and yes perhaps this effort helped bring the matter forward with the chief justice of Pakistan who took up the case and demanded the appearance of the child who has mysteriously gone missing.


But why are we so appalled? Why do so many express their anguish and pain over the plight of this child who should of course have been in a school classroom? The reality is that there are thousands of children like Tayyaba everywhere across the country. No one speaks for them. No one points out the fact that in a violation of laws, they have been put to work – sometimes within homes, sometimes at factories, at automobile workshops, at brick kilns, at roadside cafes and at many other places. All of them are susceptible to violence and abuse.

If we look into our hearts and speak the truth, we will all have come across some child at one point or the other in our lives who has been beaten or screamed at within the confines of a plush home where he or she acts as ‘help’. We choose not to speak out because too many of us are guilty of the same crime or else know of those who are and prefer to give voice to our opinions only when they involve people we do not directly know or people who are already being lambasted on social media pages.

Of course Tayyaba and her parents deserve justice. Only when those who have inflicted brutality on a helpless child are penalised under the law, will others be prevented from committing the same crime. The case is one that will test the morality and competence of our judicial system as it tries one of their own. In the past, the judiciary has been immune to the treatment other citizens receive. Individual members have used their powers to ensure this.

The fact that Justice Saqib Nisar himself is hearing the case is good news. Perhaps this will be the turning point for the judicial system of Pakistan – it will show that the judiciary truly intends to reform itself and wishes to follow a course of action that does not discriminate and follows the laid down laws that judges pledge to uphold.

But we need to go a little further than this. Of course we hope the judiciary – the institution responsible for upholding rule of law and keeping order in the land – will prove it deserves the respect that all of us give it. But we must also show that we as a people are honourable citizens – willing and ready to act against those who are essentially evil.

Only an evil person would deliberately burn a small child’s hand on a stove or beat her repeatedly. There are other similar cases that have happened before this. Only an evil person would have hit a child so badly that he died after he allegedly dropped a jug.

And who could imagine a four-year-old boy being employed in a house, prevented from using the toilets in the house, forced to go out to find one and being beaten to death with a rolling pin when he showed up to work late from his bathroom break? Who could have imagined that little boy’s body dumped by his employers on a pile of garbage? The details of this case which occurred in Lahore in the 1990s have always remained somewhat murky. In that age – before various television channels has emerged and social media activity was high – no one really wanted to look at what happened. Perhaps it says too much about our society and the kind of people we have become that even today we choose to look away.

The problem is that we have become too accustomed to inhumanity around us. In some cases, we simply do not see it. The sights that appall people visiting the country from abroad such as the manner in which so many people speak to their drivers, cooks, gardeners etc are no surprise to us. In even the most elite of schools, domestic help go in to pick children almost the same age as themselves and ‘take care’ of them. These little girls are able to cook, clean, iron and perform all other domestic chores that the children of the elite will perhaps never accomplish. By employing young girls and boys in our houses, we are depriving millions of children of the skills that they should be attaining at this age – reading, writing, arithmetic, thinking and so on.

The case now being heard before the court then does not really involve Tayyaba, her parents or her employers alone. It involves all of us and the blinders that we wear like horses – not looking beyond the tunneled vision of our society. In many developed countries, neighbours routinely report cases of child abuse, whether perceived or real. We would almost never do so even if an authority existed to take action because we fear treading on the toes of others even if this means saving a child, a woman or another person in danger. The walls we have built around ourselves prevent us from seeing reality or speaking out about it. It is considered rude to comment about a child domestic worker spotted in the house of a friend even though change can only occur if more people speak out.

Of course, the state is also to blame. While laws preventing child labour and laying down compulsory education for children exist, these are simply not implemented. It would be apt if the Supreme Court bench hearing the matter of Tayyaba looked at the many dimensions of the problem and recognised the scale and magnitude of the issue.

There has so far been no word from Tayyaba’s employers. Her female employer, who allegedly carried out most of the beating, has shied away from answering questions hurled at her and her husband by the press, hiding behind a rather inappropriate red headscarf. In this case, there is of course nothing to celebrate.

The time for celebration of some kind would come only if a precedent was set – possibly saving other children from the same fate as that of Tayyaba. But even so, the life of yet another child in the country has already been destroyed. The little girl has been traumatised in a manner she is not likely to ever leave behind her. The same is true for so many others in the country and the evil that human beings inflict on others as human beings has not been defeated as yet.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.

Email: [email protected]