The shocking story of a female domestic help from Jharkhand being subjected to extreme physical torture, exploitation and abuse by a top woman executive at a leading MNC is not just heartbreaking, it’s also menacing. It goes on to show how men and women are equally complicit in perpetuating the cycles of horror that women (and some men, especially if they are not heteronormative) face across the length and breadth of the country. To think that a well-educated, high-earning official at a multinational company, residing in the heart of the national capital, is capable of carrying out such unimaginable atrocity and brutalise a hapless girl from the rural hinterlands, is mindboggling by itself. But once it is taken into account that the perpetrator of the crime is not a man but a woman, the impact is simply unfathomable. That Vandana Dhir, the accused, who holds a fancy position as the corporate communications director for India and South Asia at the French engineering giant Alstom, could bring herself to stoop to such low and commit such base and inhuman act upon a vulnerable, possibly minor, girl and systematically torture her for years at length, only testifies that it’s not just men who instill the culture of violence, but also women, who exercise and abuse people simply because they can.
Moreover, this also bespeaks another hidden malevolence that is increasingly finding expression in the social matrix of our times. Clearly, there is class animosity that comes out either in the employers severely abusing their domestic helps, not stopping short at undervaluing their labour in the first place, or it manifests as a dark and grisly tale of preying on the unsuspecting attendant. In the case of Dhir, the police have invoked Section 16 of Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, justifiably, since her conduct harks back to feudal era misadventures when torture and cruelty were bloodsports of the rich. Using weapons and illegally confining the minor girl reek of uncivilised malpractices and Dhir’s punishment should be harshest possible.