Millennium Post

Battered at adopted homes

Maid abuse is the latest headline-hogging buzzword in the nation’s crime scene. That the atrocities against the domestic helps in most of these cases are being committed by the socially and upwardly mobile among us is ironical, to say the least, bringing out the hidden malicious side of our urbane personalities.

The two infamous incidents that took place in the national capital within one month of each other have sent ripples of shock through the nation’s collective conscience. In the latest incident, a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) MP Dhananjay Singh and his wife Jagriti Singh have been arrested for murdering their 17-year-old domestic help. Another woman, Meena Sardar (48), who also worked at their residence, 175, South Avenue, is admitted at Ram Manohar Lohia hospital with burn injuries and other wounds, and with her own horror story to tell.

Earlier in October, Delhi police arrested an Air India air hostess along with her sister for assaulting and locking up their 13-year-old domestic help in Dwarka. The victim, a minor, was kept starving for days but she managed to rescue herself. These incidents are classic examples that should  seriously jolt the government to take necessary actions against the employers and the placement agencies.

With the rapid increase in the demand for full-time maids, the crime graph against these live-in domestic helps has also gone up. As per the recent data of Delhi police, in 2013 more than 55 cases of assault with domestic helps have been registered at various police stations this year.

This year, 400 children, who were found to be victims of human trafficking, have been rescued by the joint teams of NGOs and the local police. ‘On the basis of the complaints lodged either by the placement agencies, NGOs or the victims themselves, 97 employers had been arrested till 30 September,’ Rajan Bhagat, the Delhi police spokesperson said.

According to the official estimates provided by NGO Shakti Vahini, there are nearly 12.6 million child workers, of whom 20 per cent are engaged in household chores. Poor families often sell their children to agents and placement agencies, which place them in households and charge a one-time fee as high as Rs 25,000, in addition to claiming their monthly payments over a certain period.

‘Domestic workers, especially the full-time maids, are often treated as subhuman beings. That is why their employers behave with them in an abnormal manner. In most of the cases, full-time domestic helps are preferred by working couples. The high stress in their personal and professional lives results in short temper. In such cases, they end up targeting weaker sections of the society such as maids, guards, poor people to give a vent to their anger,’ said Pooja Kodesia, a student of psychology.

Millennium Post visited few placement agencies – SS Expert Consultancy in Vasant Kunj and On Sai Placement in Badarpur. The reporter visited these agencies posing as a potential client looking to hire a full-time maid. The first question that Rahul, the owner of SS Expert, asked was: ‘Kaha ki maid chahiye? (You would prefer a maid from which region?)’ When he was asked to lay out the options, he said, ‘We have maids from Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha and Jharkhand.’

Classifying these maids according to the place of origin, he explained that the customers come with a very clear mind as to which age group they want the female domestic help to belong to as well as her place of origin. The employers in search of maids mostly opt for Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal. They have a perception that maids who hail from Odisha are most trustworthy.

Few domestic helps may be fortunate to find employers who may treat them as a family member, while others have to face abuse of varied kinds. A case in point is of Vandana Dhir, a former senior employee of a French multinational company and a resident of Vasant Kunj. Dhir is facing serious charges of using dangerous weapons to cause grievous hurt on a young tribal girl from Jharkhand whom she had employed as a domestic help through a placement agency in June.

Looking at the upward spiral in the cases of maid abuse, the city government has told the high court that the Delhi Private Placement Agencies (Regulation) Bill has been drafted to regulate placement agencies in the national capital. On 6 November, Delhi government told Delhi court that 1,754 placement agencies have been registered under the Delhi Shops and Establishments Act.

Even though there are legal placement agencies running in the national capital, Millennium Post has found many agencies that are run illegally without licences. These illegal agencies are often run out of rented accommodations from urbanised villages like Chirag Dilli, Khirki Extension, Badarpur, Vasant Kunj and several others. The local police, who are aware of these irregular placement agencies, allow them to function for a consideration. ‘These illegal agencies change their names to avoid detection by the police. The shop remains the same but the hoarding changes,’ a resident of Chirag Dilli said.

‘The major cause of maid abuse is the weak laws that permit 14-year-olds to work in households,’ says an NGO worker. She adds, ‘In many cases, girls as young as 12 are sexuality exploited, molested and threatened. We rescue at least 300 to 350 girls a year. And this time, before the year end, we have rescued around 400 children.’

Abhishek, an advocate said, ‘There is a need to decide decent wages, work timings and the working environment for maids.’ With no legislation for maids in India, the government, over the last two years, has been working on a national policy for domestic workers.

Meena Patel, convener of Domestic Workers Rights Campaign, said that despite the current laws, a specific legislation for domestic workers is needed as the work, work force and working conditions are different from other industries.

‘The policy is now under consideration of the government. It will provide the same or similar protection to domestic workers as other workers under labour laws,’ said Anil Swarup, director-general for labour welfare with the government. The draft of the policy caps the minimum working period for maids to eight hours, provides for annual leave and sick leave, compensation for overtime and social security coverage, and minimum wages as set by the states.

Speaking to Millennium Post, few maids at the placement cells said, ‘We are afraid of going to the residences as full-time helps. We can never tell how the employer is going to treat us. We are aware of the recent brutality with the domestic helps and we don’t want to experience it.’

‘I have two younger brothers in Darjeeling and a widowed mother who is 57-year-old. I came here two years ago and was employed at an engineer’s residence who has recently shifted to Chandigarh. I was fortunate enough that my female employer was very nice to me,’ a 17-year-old maid said.
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