Noida domestic help claims employer threatened to kill her
A woman goes missing in a posh Noida housing society. She remains missing overnight, and the morning after she's found in the basement of the very building she went missing from.
Such invisibility comes with belonging to a certain social class. A class that cannot afford a house in the very township it slogs in.
On Wednesday morning, residents of Mahagun Moderne in Noida Sector-78 woke up to a mob situation over a missing household help. The help, 26-year-old Zohra Bibi, was allegedly beaten by her employer before she made her way to the basement, where she apparently collapsed.
Just about every news report on the matter, however, focused more on the angry protesters breaking into the gated community, and less on the woman's plight.
As one of the first people to post on social media about the incident, independent journalist and area local Nilanjana Bhowmick pointed out how the story is being shaped to fit larger agendas. This, of course, is indicative of domestic workers' issues being seen as not headline-worthy enough.
“People on social media are giving this a communal colour, but it's a labour issue and we shouldn't divert our attention from there,” she told Catch, adding, “TV channels are showing them as the haves and have-nots, when the latter are jealous of the people in these high society buildings.”
A death threat?
According to a source in the Delhi Commission for Women (DWC), Zohra was found half unconscious, with her clothes torn, marks of physical violence on her body.
“I saw her back. She had marks from being thrashed. She was beaten by hand,” the source told Catch.
Zohra had been employed with the family for the past 3-4 months. According to Zohra's victim statement to DCW, she was accused of taking money that the family left lying around.
“Madam accused her of stealing Rs 17,000. Zohra said that she's not taken the money. When she resisted the accusation of having stolen Rs 17,000, madam slapped her, repeating that she needs to return the money,” the source shared.
The employer had also threatened far worse than just thrashing, added the DCW source.
“She also threatened to kill her and throw her off the terrace with garbage if she failed to return the money.
“She kept beating her till her clothes were torn. To save herself, Zohra went to the basement of the society. She fainted in the basement and doesn't remember what happened to her after that.
“If Zohra had stolen money, why didn't she call cops? Who is she to thrash her?” she asked.
Since Zohra wasn't a full-time help, her husband came looking for her after nightfall.
“Madam told him she didn't know where Zohra was, that she'd left,” says the source, adding, “When he told her she hadn't returned home, Madam seemed indifferent.”
Two versions, one story
In the morning, Zohra's husband, relatives, and other household help in the locality gathered at the entrance and demanded that the check-in/check-out register be shown. Since Zohra's check-out was missing, they began protesting.
It's only when the police showed up that they found Zohra.
“There are two versions. On the maid's side, there's an allegation of being beaten up. On the resident's side, they're calling it a case of theft,” Noida Senior Superintendent of Police Love Kumar told Catch.
Kumar also said that the employers claimed they “just told her to not steal and didn't beat her. And that because they said so she ran away, and they didn't know where she went.”
On being asked about the marks on her body, SSP Love Kumar quickly said, “We've sent her for medical examination.
“There's a team enquiring about the whole issue. They'll consider statements from both parties and go through the evidence.”
Selective liberal outrage
While cases like Zohra’s pass through our legal system though, Nilanjana points out that there's a larger issue here.
Earlier today, the independent journalist living in the vicinity was approached by a couple of the protesters for help. “We are asking police to take action but the police is beating us up,” they had said.
Soon after, she posted about the goings on at Mahagun Moderne, but from the less popular perspective.
“A lot of people are missing the whole point of my Facebook post,” she said.
“It doesn't take us liberals much to condemn a terror attack. These are people who'd come to the #NotInMyName protests, but when it comes to their own homes... if you see the sort of hatred I'm getting on my post, you'd know that this is the liberal classes we're talking about.”
Admitting that this is an issue intrinsic to all our daily lives, she said, “I don't want to name and shame anyone here, because this is not just them. This is all of us.
“There needs to be a larger discourse around respecting people who work for us. Because at the end of the day you don't go around behaving like this with your colleagues, do you?”
It is well known that domestic help across the country are treated almost as chattel, paid poorly and often treated worse. Basic kindnesses towards them are seen as marks of exceptional progressiveness, even as their condition is barely improved. Zohra seems to be a victim of exactly these forces. Without a change in this, her case won't be the last either.
Modern day slavery
According to data collected by Babajob.com and presented by The Wall Street Journal, domestic help in India is paid only half of what we're willing to pay our drivers.
“The driver also trumps nanny salaries, suggesting people are willing to dish out more to take care of their cars than their kids,” the article observes.
While this also emanates from gender disparity in pay, it's rather telling of how willing we are to exploit the helplessness of our help.
This accepted social practice is also what skews the media narrative around Zohra’s case, placing the focus on the inconvenience faced by the richer classes, instead of the very real perils faced by those dependent on serving them for sustenance.