PUDR investigated the aftermath of July 12, 2017, when Zohra Bibi, a domestic worker in Noida’s Mahagun Moderne, was severely beaten up and later went missing from her employer’s flat after allegations of theft were leveled against her. Subsequently, the local police, administration, Resident Welfare Association, as well as the MP and BJP minister Mahesh Sharma have been complicit in unleashing the combined might of the state machinery and the wrath of upper class residents in the violence, detention and deprivation of livelihoods of the protesting workers.
On the morning of July 12, Zohra Bibi’s husband and other domestic workers gathered at Mahagun Moderne to ascertain her whereabouts after she did not return home the previous day. As Zohra was physically dragged to the gates by security guards, exhibiting clear signs of assault, the crowd spontaneously broke into a protest against Zohra’s harassment from the residents.
Instead of acting on Zohra’s FIR against her employers, the police participated in the series of stringent retaliatory actions by the residents against the protestors. Acting on two FIRs lodged by the residents of Mahagun Moderne, the police conducted a midnight raid in the locality and detained 58 persons and arrested 13 on charges of vandalism. Zohra’s minor has also need detained without cause, in violation of the Juvenile Justice Act. The workers have further been charged not under rioting, but under S.307, IPC on the claim of attempt to murder, leading to a denial of bail for the 13 arrested workers at the Surajpur District Court. Subsequently, they have been sent to judicial custody in Kasna Jail. News reports clarify that SP Noida, Arun Kumar Singh has reportedly said that no resident of Moderne Society was injured in the mob violence and that none of the FIRs mention any attempts at physical attacks.
From July 13 onwards, the RWA started banning the entry of maids into the society, and also blacklisted 143 domestic workers to prevent them from finding employment in other societies in the area. Identifying them as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, the residents also petitioned the Noida authority against the ‘encroachments’ of the workers’ shops and houses- bare shanties with no potable water or electricity. This, despite the fact that the workers are from West Bengal’s Cooch Bihar, Malda and Jalpaiguri, and have valid voter IDs and Aadhar cards. Showing uncharacteristic promptness, on July 17, the Noida authority demolished three dozen such shops in pouring rain and without prior notice while they were all away at work in the morning. Such communal charges are not new as several slum demolitions have been carried out in Delhi after charges of “Bangladeshi” were made against Bengali Muslim migrants, such as in Yamuna Pushta in 2000, or even earlier, in 1981 in New Seemapuri.
The unceasing retaliation by the residents of Mahagun Moderne in complicity with the state has destroyed the workers’ livelihoods, caused their arrest on false charges, and has created an atmosphere of terror. These actions must be understood against a persisting context of the exploitation and harassment of domestic workers.
Zohra Bibi’s troubles began when she asked for her back wages and was instead accused of theft. Exploitation and withholding of pay is a common strategy that employers deploy as there are no laws that protect the rights of domestic workers. The National Policy for Domestic Workers which proposes a minimum wage of 9000/-, compulsory leave for fifteen days, maternity leave, right to education and safe environment, is only a draft policy, as of now.
According to official data, there are four million domestic workers across the country who live at the mercy of their employers and harassments begin even before they start work as they are expected to undergo police verification to confirm their credibility. In gated communities, such workers are further frisked by security guards to confirm that they are not thieves. Across homes, domestic workers are not allowed to use elevators meant for residents, use the toilets or utensils on account of casteist notions of purity and pollution.
Over 600 workers reportedly work at Mahagun Moderne and, following the July incidents, residents are demanding fresh verifications and tighter security tests. Significantly, in 2014, the Ministry of Women and Child Development released country-wide data regarding violence against domestic workers. There were 3564 cases reported in 2012 as against 3517 similar cases in 2011 (http://pib.nic.in/newsite/ PrintRelease.aspx?relid=103336 ). Such data only form the tip of the proverbial iceberg as large cases of violence and harassment go unreported. In the absence of any law, domestic workers cannot approach the labour court in case of dispute as, technically, they are not defined as ‘workers’.
Today, the pattern of blacklisting workers is meant to increases the fears and vulnerabilities of domestic workers in a bid to make them docile. The real issue is that the workers have no right to protest, express their anger or demand their rights without facing attacks from Moderne India.
1) Immediate action be taken on Zohra’s FIR against the residents of Mahagun Moderne.
2) The police should return Zohra’s prescription, given to her after her medical examination.
3) All those detained and arrested be granted bail and released immediately.
4) Charges levied on the protesting workers under S.307, IPC on attempt to murder be revoked.
5) The “blacklist” of domestic workers be withdrawn.
6) All domestic workers at Mahagun Moderne, including Zohra, be paid their back wages as well as current wages withheld since they were blacklisted.
7) Compensation be paid to all families whose shops were demolished.
Anushka Singh and Cijo Joy