Remember Amulla Sarkar? He’s the old man in ‘Small Fry, Big Catch’ who was chased off his land by shrimp cultivators. Amulla is pushing 90. His memory is barely there. But he knows what’s right and he knows what’s his. And even though some of his fellow victims have given up hope and moved away, he’s chosen to fight on. Last we heard, he still lives in a tiny tent next to the now-barren fields he once farmed. And inside that tent, is a stack of carefully preserved papers – title deeds and court documents proving that he, Amulla Sarkar, is rightful owner of the land.
He showed us the documents when we visited, his rheumy eyes hopeful. “They took my land,” he said over and over again. We thought he was going to cry, didn’t know how to explain that beyond telling his story and hoping the right people would listen, there really wasn’t that much we could do.
‘Small Fry’ aired three months ago. I don’t think anything’s changed for Amulla, or for any of the other victims we interviewed. They’re still living their awful lives. Battling poverty, fearful the cultivators would send more thugs to harass them, yet hopeful that one day, justice will prevail.
I don’t believe things will change. Not soon enough for them anyway.
I often think of Taslima Begum. She’s the young woman at the village hearing towards the end of our documentary, ‘Dowry Deaths’. The one who complained that her husband’s family beat her up, broke both her arms, tried to strangle her with a towel, and threw her into a river in an attempt to drown her.
Taslima’s mother-in-law, brother-in-law and neighbours were all present at the hearing. No one disputed her story. Almost everyone agreed she was a good girl, a good wife. But she was poor. And that was apparently justification for the abuse. Taslima’s husband wanted a bigger dowry. And when her father failed to pay, she was made to suffer.
It can still remember the disgust and anger that overcame me at that village meeting. I was incensed, not just because of the violence inflicted on Taslima, I was incensed because she looked so small and so alone in a room full of opinionated men. I was incensed because Taslima’s father seemed so very eager to send his daughter back to her abusive in-laws. She had been living at home for months, he said, and he could no longer afford to keep her. But most of all, I was incensed because of the outcome of the meeting – after a long discussion, village elders decided that Taslima could go back to her husband, if he would have her.
I often think of the way Taslima looked as we said goodbye that day. I remember grasping her hand and telling her to take care of herself and her children. It was a meaningless thing to say. But Taslima was gracious.
“Thank you,” she replied in English.
I could go on. Oh, I could go on. What about the workers we met while making ‘Human Trade’ and ‘Migrant Dreams’? Mohamad Ismail and his sad wife. Brave Abu Sama. The young man sleeping outside the Bangladeshi High Commission in Kuala Lumpur? He was sick and feverish, hadn’t eaten in days. He’d run out of cash, and his former employer had confiscated his passport. The High Commission wasn’t helping. All he had left was a mobile phone with no more credit. We bought him and a bunch of other homeless Bangladeshis dinner that night. And then we said goodbye.
Is he still alive? Has he gone home? Is he safe? Is his life better now?
Is anyone’s life any better now?
Our job is to tell stories. And we’ve told many. But lately, we’ve been asking ourselves – is there a point? Does it matter if nothing changes?