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Flesh off the shelf

Flesh off the shelf
Millions of Mishas are meeting the insatiable needs of domestic helps of the  ever expanding Indian middle class and yet they remain unprotected and the services rendered by them are still not recognised as a profession by the government. They are thus reduced to lead lives which are worse than that of slaves.

‘I used to sleep in the gallery and always had a fear of rape or physical abuse by people who passed through, it was like living in hell,’ Misha told Mewa Bharati, general secretary, Rajasthan Mahila Kamgar Union. Bharati, who rescued the girl,  told Millennium Post that almost all the domestic workers in Jaipur come from Delhi as there is no placement agency operating in Jaipur.

Delhi has many distinctions from being crime capital to rape capital but now it has added one more dubious distinction and that is to become an emerging hub and transit point for child trafficking through illegal placement agencies that are operating under the garb of providing human resource not only to Delhi but also to its neighbouring states. About 2,300 placement agencies are operating in the city, of which only 364 are registered under the Delhi Shops and Establishment Act, with almost 2,000 agencies going unmonitored.

Placement agencies have already started their transition from Delhi to Noida and Gurgaon, after the Delhi High Court summoned the labour secretary for not following its directives to pass the Delhi ‘Private Placement Agencies Regulation Bill 2012’ for ensuring all placement agencies are registered and also responsible for their misdeeds. Even before this bill gets passed in Delhi assembly many child rights organisations termed this bill as  ‘flawed’ and ‘useless’ for not having any grievance redressal mechanism. Their aim is to get section 28 of the bill removed as it declines the scope of any judicial system to get involved in monitoring or even be able to take any action against agencies.

‘There should be a provision to link the workers supplied through placement agency with Aadhar number, it should be one of the duties of the placement agency and violation should lead to license cancellation and heavy penalty. It is essential to make it mandatory that anybody who is supplying domestic workers under the judicial territory of Delhi government has to be registered in Delhi. Agencies are free to operate from any part of India, but in case they provide workers in Delhi, the agencies should come under the purview of this Bill,’ says Valay Singh, media coordinator, Save the Children.

‘The present bill needs to be linked with other related acts such as Minimum Wages Act, Maternity Benefit Act, Contract Labour Act, Trafficking and Inter-state labour Migration Act, Bonded Labour Act, Juvenile Justice (JJ) Act, Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act (CLPRA). Any violation of any of the critical provisions of any of these acts can be cited as a reason to terminate the license of the placement agency,’ Valay adds further.

‘Pay back the money and take this girl out, we have paid Rs 60,000 for this girl,’ says Ashok Gupta’s wife who claims to have bought a 15-year-old girl as domestic help. The girl’s journey started from West Bengal. She was brought by an agent known to her and sold to a placement agency in Delhi and then the agency sold her to Ashok Gupta.

She was denied any contact with her family as per the instructions of placement agency and forced to live in confinement for seven months. She somehow managed to get to her family on phone one day and informed about the exploitation she was being subjected to.

Parents approached child rights organisation Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) and an FIR was lodged. The whereabouts of the girl were tracked and she was rescued on 16 September.

‘Placement agencies are at the helm of this organised crime. Human trafficking is a result of the huge demand  for child labourers. Believed to be more abiding and obedient and available at low cost in urban cities, it is one of those social menaces that rankles people and it is so structured that many people even now don’t fathom its actual pattern, and unfortunate fate that is staring at their children,’ says Rama Shankar Chaurasia, chairperson of BBA.

It is a well structured and organised plan on which placement agencies are working. The first point of action for agencies is the person who can get them young girls. They strike a deal  between Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 along with travel allowance for delivering the girl. Rest of the task is entrusted to the agent then. People who are usually nice and known to destitute girls in villages, in many cases, suddenly turn out to be traffickers once they trap them on the pretext of a job and good life in a city. Agents sell the girls to placement agencies and it is the agencies that charge hefty price from the owners and sell them or place them for domestic help.

Thousands of hapless girls are brought into Delhi each year from Assam, West Bengal, Odisha and Jharkhand. They are used mainly for domestic labour and in prostitution. Those who work as domestic helps do not get paid much. This happens because of the ‘placement fee’, which they owe. In such cases payment becomes irrelevant.

Chairperson of BBA also describes how a new culture of clandestinely transporting maids to a third place is emerging in Delhi. Hemanta (name changed) landed in Delhi from Assam in search of his 13-year-old daughter. Deepak (agent) was known to Hemanta who convinced him that he will provide her daughter with a  well paying job with little work. Deepak brought the girl to Delhi and sold her to a placement agency in Taimoor Nagar. Later, that girl was re-sold to Abhishek Gupta in Uday Park, New Delhi, who in neighbour’s words can be called a slave, because of the treatment she was meted out.

The girl was unaware of the situation in which she was inadvertently trapped in. Any contact with parents was denied, money had already been paid to the placement agency, and what the  owner had to pay her,  was a square meal a day. When his patience ran out, Hemanta traced Deepak with the help of villagers and reached Delhi along with him to take her daughter back  home. However, Deepak escaped en route and the bad days as well as the misery were far from over.

Hemanta with the help of BBA reached out to Jacob, owner of the placement agency and enquired about her daughter. After enough pursuance, Jacob called back the girl from Abhishek Gupta’s home and kept her in his agency for some days. Thereafter, Abhishek, at whose house the girl was working, came to the agency and asked Jacob to pay back the commission of Rs 35,000 and took the girl back home.

Fifteen days later, Hemanta was informed by Jacob that the girl is missing. An FIR was lodged against Jacob but not against Abhishek, who is alleged to have been transporting the girl to some of his relatives. Also, because of  the alleged nexus between him and the police, he was let-off by the latter. This story reveals the nexus between the  police and the employer and is yet another way for the latter to go scot-free.

According to government data released last year, almost 85,000 to 95,000 children are reported missing every year. In many instances, victims of trafficking are charged with theft and sometimes jailed for prostitution, among other serious charges levelled against them. Law enforcement system in India does not provide sufficient safeguards to the domestic workers, when it comes to prosecuting traffickers and it becomes much more difficult to convict them.  

‘It has become a culture for powerful and wealthy people to treat their domestic helps as slaves. It is ingrained in the feudal mindset. Bonded labour in our country has become a state of mind and a right for those who employ,’ says Meena Patel, convener of Domestic Workers Rights campaigns.

Meena Patel believes only placing Delhi Private Placement Agencies Regulation Bill is not going to make much difference, given the magnitude and the scale at which trafficking happens across the nation. The  government should apply Bonded Labour Act and Employement of Contract Labour Act. They should do proper registration of domestic workers or any other villager going out to work. It should be made compulsory at the gram panchayat level. The worker should be issued an ID card with traceability akin to a Pan Card and a list of organisations (both government and social organisations) which she/he can contact when in need of assistance to counter trafficking in our country.

‘Delhi retired’ is a phrase which is used by a society somewhere in Jharkhand for a girl who has been rescued from a placement agency. The girl  was at some point sold to a placement agency by an agent in Delhi. The family refused to accept the girl due to societal pressure and since then she has been placed in a shelter home, Kishori Niketan, run by Sanjay Sinha, member of State Commission for Protection of Child Rights.

Sinha says that at least 12,000 to 15,000 girls are being trafficked every year from Jharkhand alone. It is a stigma in the life of a girl that has no place in our typical society.

Central and state government coordination should be strengthened to defeat the traffickers’ functioning in our country. It is imperative for law enforcement agencies to ensure that children below the age of 18 are not hired for any service. Complete eradication of this menace will never be an easy task. At the same time it is also the responsibility of those who hire to be little more sensitive towards our fellow Indians who serve us as our domestic help.
Saurabh Sharma

Saurabh Sharma

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