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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

From Sutrapur to Singapur - The rise of the Bua power!

Languages can often become tricky by calling someone something and meaning something entirely different or opposite. The term ‘Bua’ is widely used in Hindi for calling father’s sister (auntie) whereas somehow in Bangladesh, the same relationship is called as ‘fufu’ or ‘pishi’ in Bangla in Bangladesh, whereas the term ‘Bua’ has been somewhat generally been accepted as the salutation for the female domestic workers. May be its beyond the scope of this post that why do we call that special breed of workforce ‘Bua’, as if they are our fathers’ sisters’, whereas the treatment we have been generally handing over to them (exceptions exist) belittles and ridicules the term pretty bluntly.

This blog had been advocating for increased export of Bangladeshi manpower around the world. So the news that Singapore has shown interest to take 45000 female domestic workers came as a very good news, opening up an avenue of diversification in our manpower (or call it peoplepower?) export portfolio. We however don’t want to brand Bangladesh as the country which only exports military personnel in the front lines in the most dangerous war-torn locations not because they have superior military skills and equipments but may be because their lives are cheaper to buy with - in dollar terms. We also don’t want foreigners to get the impression that Bangladeshi manpower is only good for building roads, bridges, malls and keeping the house and wives in order in Arab homes or in South-East Asian economies. It might be true that we are not yet exporting en masse visionary scientists to NASA or IT professionals or investment bankers like some of our neighbours but rest assured that we can take pride in the fact that we are atleast not exporting troublemakers (read terrorists), credit-card fraudsters or sports match fixers to work (in disguise) in foreign territories. Our workforce is generally very timid, vulnerable and very prone to being exploited not only at the hands of foreign agents, but first hand by their local counterparts and offices even before they get onboard a plane. And since the Bangladeshi high commission in almost every country is extremely efficient in keeping good relations with political big-wigs in transit and to keep welfare issues of Bangladeshi workers abroad as much down in the priority list as possible, it becomes all the more challenging for the manpower to cope with difficulties while ‘at work abroad’. Now since the manpower has been diversified into womenpower with the female domestic workers being placed to working in homes in Singapore, some relevant issues pop as a consequence. Food for thought only.

  1. When the male workforce are already so much prone to abuse, exploitation and fraud once they are in foreign territories, I wonder how grave it might become with respect to female workforce. So other than setting up language and etiquette training centers to train the female workers before they fly off, it might be a good idea to train them in basic martial arts and self-defence techniques to ward off attacks from home owners (especially Arab and Chinese) who have the potential to unleash physical abuses with the help of nails, hammers, flames, etc. Sarcasm intended regarding the self-defence training, who knows when the female migrant workers might need them!
  2. I wonder how the greedy dowry seeking bridegrooms will exploit this situation. Would the rate for dowry be higher for ‘female workers returning from Singapore’? Although financial independence is supposed to liberate the female workforce out of discrimination and poverty, its not always the case in Bangladesh.
  3. In any case the there might be a void in the Bua industry in Bangladesh. A large number of female workers hailing from rural areas preferred to take up jobs in numerous garments factories around the country, which seemed to be an obvious option preferred over working as a maid in cities. Now the prospect of a better pay, although as a domestic worker abroad, might even drive more of them away from the kitchens of our homes and garments factories. So far so good for them though.

I remember an essay in high school titled ‘sromer morjada’ (Dignity of labor). I wonder if we were the only country in the world writing pages after pages dignifying every piece of labour by anybody. Whereas the invisible classifications we create in our society based on what people do is a real contradiction and plain hypocrisy. Some people in the West call them ‘nanny’, some ‘governess’, we call them ‘female domestic workers’ or simply – Bua. However it would be worth acknowledging atleast that these Buas would now contribute to the healthy foreign remittance for the country. It is to our own interest to make sure that they can keep doing the same in good health and safe working environment.