How a Dhaka restaurant is addressing a glaring disparity
A ‘kajer meye’ looking after the small children or an infant at a restaurant, while the family merrily dines together is not a very uncommon sight in Dhaka’s restaurants. Even though a situation like this can make people uneasy, there really isn’t anything that can be done about it directly. But a restaurant in Dhaka decided to do something in a non-invasive manner.
Cafe Soi3 offers free meals to maids accompanying guests at the restaurant. This initiative, probably the first of its kind, has been taken purely out of compassion and a desire to treat all people with dignity, said the owner of the establishment Md Shahed Hossain. Shahed also manages the restaurant.
“We have observed that in most cases maids coming with the diners do not get a meal ordered for them. And usually there’s no take away order for them either,” said Shahed. The ‘kajer meye’ does her duty and tries to not draw any attention to herself.
“We have two platters. The kid's platter (for maids who are children) has lemon garlic chicken, fried rice, and soft vegetables. The adult platter has tandoori, fried rice, soft vegetables, and a coke. The kid’s platter usually would cost around Tk300 while the other one would cost Tk250,” Shahed told Weekend Tribune in a phone interview.
Shahed said that the initiative was inspired from the desire to treat everyone at the restaurant as a guest, regardless of their social status. “A while back I noticed a kid working as a maid staring at the food that the people she came with were having. The girl was around 8-9 years of age. I felt awful seeing that but couldn't do anything. I think everyone who comes to my restaurant should be treated as guests, regardless of who they are,” Shahed said.
“My mom taught me to share the same food I eat with everyone, regardless of their socio-economic background. I have been in this business for quite a few years, and I want to incorporate these humane values in Soi3, where everyone will be able to taste our delicacies,” he added.
Shahed thinks the initiative can potentially snowball into something that can bring about a change, even if a small one, in how people in the upper and middle class treat their domestic help. “I think it would bring about a change. I think social media helps in spreading change amongst the younger generations. I wanted to raise awareness about this matter and inspire a responsibility in people to make sure that domestic maids are always given a meal in restaurants. I am happy that this initiative garnered a lot of interest on Facebook for the last couple of days. My other friends, who are restaurantures, are really appreciating the initiative and said they want to start something like this too,” said Shahed.
When asked if he worries that this might be viewed as a marketing ploy by some, Shahed says he is cognizant of that reality and careful to make sure that it is correctly understood by the public. “There will be people who will find a way to exploit everything. But I hope they understand the fundamental message we are trying to convey and spread the awareness. I’ll be checking if there is anything new to learn from the comments (on social media),” he added.