Ferdousi dodged death in journalist's flat. But 9-year-old and her family are drowning in despair

Her mother says Ashfaqul and his wife told her they got Ferdousi treated. Now they can do nothing even if she dies

Golam Mortuja Antubdnews24.com
Published : 28 Feb 2024, 09:12 PM
Updated : 28 Feb 2024, 09:12 PM

When 9-year-old Ferdousi allegedly fell from the eighth floor flat of The Daily Star Executive Editor Syed Ashfaqul Haque in Dhaka while working as a domestic help, her family in Brahmanbaria did not even have the money to travel to see her.

Now the family are in dire financial and existential trouble with two other children to raise, while Ferdousi is unable to even stand up on her own. She endures excruciating pain while urinating after two surgeries following the incident.

A cloud of uncertainty looms over her future as she spends most of her days at home struggling to cope with her injuries, while children her age attend school and enjoy playtime.

Ferdousi's tragedy went largely unnoticed by the media, contrasting sharply with the public outcry over the death of Preeti Urang in a similar situation.

The 15-year-old girl from a family of tea workers belonging to the Urang community of Moulvibazar fell from senior journalist Ashfaqul’s flat and died on Feb 6.

Ashfaqul and his wife Tania Khondoker are accused of culpable homicide, or negligence leading to the death, in the case over Preeti’s death.

The couple were arrested and remanded in police custody after the latest incident.

Ferdousi’s mother Josna Begum said in a case over the 9-year-old’s injuries that her eldest daughter had worked at the house of a woman named Asma Akter Shilpi, who was the third accused in the case.

After the eldest daughter had returned home around a month before the incident, Shilpi hired Ferdousi but sent her to work at Ashfaqul and Tania’s home.

Her poor parents had hoped that her employment would increase her chances of building a better life than what they got for her.

Ferdousi fell from the flat on Aug 6 last year, five days after she was brought to the house by Shilpi.

The case was settled last week, with the acquittal of the accused on payment of a Tk 200,000 cheque.

The family said they would have to spend nearly one third of the money to repay the loans they had borrowed for Ferdousi’s initial treatment. Now the irreversible nature of her condition and the insufficiency of the compensation have left the family thinking if the rest of the amount would be enough for a decent life for the girl, let alone her further recovery.

Ferdousi now lives in a dilapidated tin-roofed house in a dense alleyway of a neighbourhood in Brahmanbaria with her parents and two sisters. The family can no longer afford basic repairs of the house, which stands on a 1 decimal piece of land, let alone her medical care.

Her father, Kelo Mia, 70, married her mother, Josna Begum, when his first wife died about 16 years ago.

Their eldest is 15 years of age, and the youngest is 3 years of age.

Ever since Ashfaqul and Tania’s arrest, several journalists from the media have been flocking to Ferdousi’s house to learn more about the incident.

As the family grapples with the financial and emotional weight of Ferdousi's care, her story raises pressing questions about the safety and rights of domestic workers.

WHAT HAD HAPPENED

According to Ferdousi’s mother, journalist Ashfaqul and his wife were not allowing her daughter to return home after employment.

“She climbed down the window to run away but slipped and fell,” said Josna.

Ferdousi was initially admitted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital for treatment but was later transferred to a private hospital in the capital.

Ferdousi’s mother told bdnews24.com: “My girl was admitted to a private hospital under pressure from her employers.”

According to Nazimuddin, Ferdousi's cousin, the financial support for Ferdousi's family in the aftermath of the incident has come from a relative named Hedayatullah.

“Josna did not have a bank account or an NID. So we had to spend Tk 8,000 for that purpose,” said Nazimuddin.

All other expenses for treatment, travel and food were taken care of by Hedayatullah.

Hedayatullah said: “If I didn’t stand beside them, none of this would have happened. The family was desperate [for compensation] since they had no money. I tried to make sure that the family gets a trial and the girl is able to receive proper treatment for her injuries.”

The family was only able to reach a settlement through Hedayatullah’s intervention after Ferdousi’s fall.

Ashfaqul and Tania could not be reached for comments as they were in jail.

‘THEY WON’T LOOK AFTER MY DAUGHTER’

Ferdousi’s family feels that the Tk 200,000 compensation is next to nothing considering the extent of her injuries.

"My daughter's condition is irreversible. She will need continuous medical care for the rest of her life. The landlords [Ashfaqul and Tania] claim they paid Tk 200,000, got her treated, and the case was closed. Now they can not do anything even if she dies.

“Given her condition, I cannot even consider arranging her marriage," said the mother.

Other women at the house mentioned that the victim suffered abdominal injuries from the fall and had surgical marks on her genitals.

They are concerned about how long the family can continue taking her to the hospital.

Josna mentioned receiving a Tk 200,000 cheque, but their relatives who spent Tk 60,000 to Tk 70,000 on her daughter's treatment need to be refunded.

Despite her healed wounds, the girl falls ill frequently, causing worries about her future.

The wife of one of the child's cousins shared with bdnews24.com that many people posing as journalists have been asking the girl many questions for the past few days. Some asked if she was thrown from the flat, while others inquired if she was sexually assaulted.

"She's too young to understand those difficult words, so she's become afraid of journalists and stays quiet around strangers," the woman said.

DESPAIR LOOMS

Ferdousi's father has been ill for a while, unable to work, and there is no other breadwinner in the family.

Josna could not afford to send her daughters to school because of financial hardship. "How can I manage that? We don't have any income in the family."

During the conversation with Josna, another woman added, "They are very poor. When they heard about their daughter's injury, they couldn't even afford to travel to Dhaka.”

Their cousin Hedayetullah was the first to know about the incident and urged the girl's mother to come to Dhaka immediately, the woman said.

The girl's mother feared they might send her daughter back when they were called to Dhaka, she added.

“Later, when they called the neighbours from Dhaka, we all helped them get there.”