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India: Violence of Class in Noida - crackdown after protest by domestic workers - Selected Reports and Editorials

18 July 2017

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Five days after a protest by domestic workers at the Mahagun Moderne residential society in Sector 78 [near New Delhi], the Noida Authority on Monday [17 July 2017] demolished a settlement of workers shanties referred to as the ’bangladeshi colony’ in the area where most of the workers lived. The residents welfare association of the upper class noida colony issued a notice saying ‘keep Bangladeshis out’. India’s infamous minister of culture (well known for his murky role in honouring the Akhlaque murder accused in Dadri near Delhi) came out in support of the Noida family accused of assaulting a domestic worker and soon after the Noida local authorities went ahead razed to the ground the workers settlement. Influential people who live in gated colonies call the shots and use and abuse power to show the poor their place in a hugely unequal India. Posted below is a select compilation of news reports and editorials on this whole episode. - 19 July 2017 [updated on 25 July 2017]


  • Noida razes shanties of those who vandalised apartments
  • Noida society violence: Mahesh Sharma sides with family as authorities raze shanties
  • Noida Violence: Worlds under ivory tower
  • At a Luxury Complex in India, the Maids and the Madams Go to War
  • It’s not help, it’s work
  • Branded as Bangladeshis: In Noida, anger turns to fear for domestic workers after police raid
  • India: The case of Zohra, a domestic worker in Noida in Sector 78 - A report from some activists based in Delhi
  • Dear Mahagun Moderne residents, meet some ‘Bangladeshi’ migrants
  • Help! Why Moderne India is terrified of India across its gates
  • Domestic workers need a law to safeguard their rights
  • A law for the help
  • Clear Bias against Domestic Workers
  • Moderne India: Communal attacks, arrests and eviction of migrant workers in NOIDA, UP - Press release by PUDR


The Hindu

Noida razes shanties of those who vandalised apartments[#apartments]

Staff Reporter

Noida, July 18, 2017 01:24 IST

Photo from The Hindu, July 18 2017

No warning: Shanties near Mahagun Moderne residential society in Noida’s Sector 78 were demolished on Monday morning.

Residents claim they were given no warning; forced to sit outside in heavy rain

Five days after a mob vandalised property at the Mahagun Moderne residential society in Sector 78, the Noida Authority on Monday razed over three dozen shanties in the area where most of the agitators lived.

On July 12, a mob armed with sticks and stones stormed the housing society following allegations that their neighbour, a domestic help, was beaten up and held hostage by a family living in the luxury apartments.

The residents of the shanties alleged that the authorities did not give them any prior notice before they razed their homes.

Soaked to the bone

Following the demolition, heavy rain lashed the city, and many of the families could be seen getting soaked as they had no shelter.

“I have two little children and they are forced to sit in the open in the heavy rain. I cannot shift my family anywhere. If the demolition had been planned, then we should have been given some time. Where will I take my family now?” said Mohd. Javed.

“I had taken out a loan to run a tea stall. They [Noida Authority] also razed my shop. Their action has not only made us homeless, but robbed us of our livelihood,” he added.

Noida Authority officials, meanwhile, said that the demolition was part of an anti-encroachment drive.

The move to demolish the shanties came after Noida Authority additional CEO R. K. Mishra inspected the area on Saturday after residents of the society complained of security issues to Noida Authority CEO Amit Mohan Prasad.

“On the complaints of security due to illegal encroachment, the authority razed the shanties and makeshift shops,” said Mr. Mishra.

‘Tussle proved costly’

Mahmood, a tailor who lived in the shanties, said they were given no time to move. “Heavy police force surrounded the area in the morning. The Noida Authority then razed all the shanties. We could not even shift our families,” he said.

“Many of the housing society’s residents had given expensive clothes to me for alteration. Now they will be after me for their clothes,” he added.

“We were peacefully living in the area and offered services to the upscale residential societies. We never realised that a tussle between a maid and apartment owners would prove to be so costly for so many families,” said Ramesh, who had lived in one of the shanties.

The residents said they had received a letter from the authorities two months ago asking them to clear encroachment from the road.

The shanties were then moved to a land that they claim belongs to a private citizen. The authorities, however, said that the land belongs to the Noida Authority.

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The Indian Express

Noida society violence: Mahesh Sharma sides with family as authorities raze shanties

On Sunday, Union Minister Mahesh Sharma visited the Mahagun Moderne Society in Sector 78 and told residents that it was clearly a case of "mob violence" and ensured them that the accused in the case "never get bail".

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi | Updated: July 18, 2017 10:27 pm

A day after Union Minister Mahesh Sharma came out in support of the Noida family accused of assaulting a domestic worker, the Noida Authority razed over three dozen shanties, belonging to majority of the agitators, reported news agency PTI. On Sunday, Sharma visited the Mahagun Moderne Society in Noida Sector 78 and told residents that it was clearly a case of “mob violence” and ensured them that the accused in the case “never get bail”. Following his comments, on Monday, authorities tore down shanties under the pretext of an anti-encroachment drive.

Sharma, while speaking to residents, had said, “There is no doubt that the family is not at fault. A few people, through NGOs, media, in the name of human rights are running their shops and trying to give a communal colour to the incident. I have told my party workers to give befitting reply to them.” Read: Makeshift shops in Noida Sector 78 demolished. Click here.

“I came here 34 years ago. Noida is the city of our dreams. The recent incident has raised questions on safety and security of citizens. It’s a matter of grave concern. Attempts are being made to give the incident a communal colour. The main culprit is still absconding,” he told PTI. “Around 500 people attacked the society, I can understand the trauma the family has gone through. It is evident that the family is not at fault. A few people, through NGOs, in the name of human rights are trying to protect the culprits . No one has the right to attack anyone by taking law into their hands. The case is clear that an armed mob came with an intent to attack the family. We are with you,” he added.

On July 12, a mob vandalised property at the Mahagun Moderne residential society after allegations were levelled against a resident for beat up and holding hostage a domestic worker from the shanty. Following the incident, two FIRs were filed; one against the accused family and another against the worker and the unidentified people in the mob.

(With inputs from PTI)

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The Indian Express

Noida Violence: Worlds under ivory tower

At the centre of the controversy was 26-year-old Zohra Bibi, who had ‘disappeared’ after being accused of stealing money by her employers. When she re-emerged on Wednesday, Bibi alleged she had been beaten and kept captive — a charge denied by her employers.

Written by Aniruddha Ghosal , Aditi Vatsa | Noida | Updated: July 17, 2017

Photo in Indian Express - 17 July 2017

Their day begins at 5 am. A cup of tea, perhaps a biscuit, and a dose of nostalgia for their homes back in north Bengal is all they have for breakfast before they head for the thousands of flats that have come up in Noida’s Sector 78, where they sweep floors or cook. Many of them are migrants from Bengal, who came to Noida in search of a better job and a better life. They live in a temporary settlement less than a kilometre away from Mahagun Moderne — a gated society that on Wednesday woke up to find 100-150 people from the community standing outside its gate, hurling stones and demanding the ‘return’ of a domestic help who had ‘gone missing’ the previous evening.

At the centre of the controversy was 26-year-old Zohra Bibi, who had ‘disappeared’ after being accused of stealing money by her employers. When she re-emerged on Wednesday, Bibi alleged she had been beaten and kept captive — a charge denied by her employers. Almost immediately after, Mahagun Moderne placed restrictions on the entry of domestic helps into the complex. Other condominiums followed suit, with WhatsApp messages urging residents and RWAs to ‘keep Bangladeshis out’.

With the fragile employer-employee relationship coming under strain, domestic helps told The Indian Express that questions like, ‘are you a Bengali Muslim’ have become common. Those who reply in the affirmative are told to leave immediately. Back at the settlement, disparagingly called ‘Bangladeshi colony’ by those at the housing complexes, there is anger, resentment and fear, especially after 13 men were picked up by police late on Wednesday. “Many of the men aren’t here. Our homes are empty and we have no job. What will we do, with no work and nowhere to go? The police came later and broke open our doors. Zohra’s eldest son, who is 15, was also picked up,” alleged Mohsina Bibi, who worked at six households.

These 13 men were charged under IPC sections relating to rioting and damage to property. On whether Zohra’s son was among those picked up by police and later released, Gautam Buddha Nagar SSP Love Kumar said, “Apart from the 13 who were arrested, more people were picked up but were let off. The arrests were made only after these people were identified as among those responsible for the violence that day. CCTV footage from the society was used to identify them. Others were not arrested.”

Despite the ban on refusing entry to the 500 domestic helps to be partly lifted from Monday, many are unsure if they will get their jobs back.

Study in contrast

By 6 am, a part of the colony empties out. At many jobs — from selling vegetables to working at construction sites — the worker’s identity matters little. But not everyone is as lucky. Many, like Meena Bibi, haven’t been paid this month and are now without a job.

“We came here a decade ago, or maybe more. Most of us are from Cooch Behar in north Bengal. We have lived here for about two years; before this we were in Indirapuram, and before that, when there were no flats, we worked at construction sites. Many of us built these flats with our own hands; the same flats they are kicking us out of now,” Zohra’s husband, Abdul Sattar, said.

The real estate sector, buoyed by the Noida Authority’s decision to defer three infrastructure projects in a bid to ensure Metro connectivity, has seen thousands of flats spring up — each costing around Rs 55,000-Rs 70,000 per sqft. The massive towers are named after parks in London and squares in New York, representative of the middle-class dream of owning a ‘golf view’ apartment.

Photo 2 in Indian Express, 17 July 2017

“Poverty in Bengal was different. We wouldn’t go hungry, but there were no jobs. We thought we could move here, find work and save money, so that at least our children could go to school… and we could maybe buy a house one day,” said Amina Bibi, 24.

Back at the colony, though, even dreams are a luxury. There are no windows, no view, just the surety of knowing that rent is due every month — Rs 500 for a 50 sqft porta cabin, to be paid to the local who erected the cabins and turns up every month to collect rent.

While the local refused to comment on the status of land ownership, a senior government official said, “It is unlikely that the land is privately owned.”
By 9 am, not everyone has left. Many like Marjina Bibi don’t have a job now. Not used to being idle, she starts speaking of her home. Cooch Behar, she says, was India’s first planned city, built by the legendary king of the princely state of Koch Bihar, Nripendra Narayan, in the early 1900s.

“Cooch Behar taught the rest of India about modernity, about roads. Our palace continues to inspire whoever goes there. We are here not because we want to, but because we are trying to survive. It might be beautiful back there, but there are no jobs. If our king was still alive, none of this would be happening,” she said.

It wasn’t until 1949 that Cooch Behar became a part of India, leading to discomfiture among its residents. An accusation that flares up during elections is that Cooch Behar’s merger with West Bengal was a betrayal of the original agreement between the Maharaja of Cooch Behar and India. According to the West Bengal government, in 2005, when many of these residents moved to Noida, rural poverty in the district was as high as 25.62 per cent.

“Poverty in Bengal was different. We wouldn’t go hungry, but there were no jobs. We thought we could move here, find work and save money, so that at least our children could go to school… and we could maybe buy a house one day,” said Amina Bibi, 24.

But the community hasn’t let go of its roots entirely. Take, for instance, the houses. Each tin roof has been lined with bamboo thatchwork, a traditional cultural practice in north Bengal where, as one resident put it, children start learning to make the thatch as soon as they turn five. Every home also has the traditional Bengali hath pakha (hand fan).

An hour later, as bright yellow school buses start arriving at the housing complexes to take smartly dressed children to school, kids at the settlement stay put. Abdul and Zohra’s sons, aged 15 and 12, dropped out of school last year because it was too far and transportation options were limited.
There are no signs of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the government’s ICDS scheme, health schemes for mothers, zero balance bank accounts, or even toilets. Access to electricity too is limited from evening till morning. Yet, the residents diligently carry a series of documents proving their identity — Aadhaar card, documents from their village panchayat, PAN card, driver’s licence and, in rare cases, bank documents.

Sattar, one of the accused in the case registered by police, takes out his wallet with practiced ease for anyone who asks to see it. Each document has been neatly tucked into a plastic packet. “We are far away from home, so we always carry documents because anyone can stop us or the police can harass us. This is what migrants do,” he said.

Uncertain future

On most days, work at different homes finishes by 2 pm. Breakfast is usually a question of whether an employer gives them food. The men usually flock to a tiny shop, the Bangali Hindu Hotel, which serves parotta and dal in the morning and fish and rice in the afternoon.

“After lunch, we get some rest, then we work again till evening. Women usually get done by 7 pm, and the men return by 8 pm,” said Sattar, who works at a construction site. But he hasn’t gone to work since Tuesday for fear of being arrested. He said he was among those who constructed the Golf Course Metro station and a temple at Badalpur, Mayawati’s village. “There, I was called ‘Babu’ and treated with a lot of respect. The guards would take us out for dinner. Not like this,” he said.

“In all these years, we have never been accused of being Bangladeshi. What does that even mean? Do these people know that Bangladesh and Bengal were the same? That we continue to be the same people? In Cooch Behar, the Hilsa is as great as the one in Bangladesh. We speak the same language and have the same culture of treating outsiders with respect. It’s only here, in north India, that we are targeted like this for being Muslim,” said Moinuddin, a rickshaw puller.

As the light begins to fade, families start lining up next to the solitary tubewell, the only source of water for 100-odd households. Some wash the fish bought from a nearby market, others, mostly children, pick coriander leaves from plants that grow in tiny herb gardens outside their homes.
Rohu, the residents explain, is the most common and affordable fish available. Puti, a small bony freshwater fish, isn’t as tasty in Noida, while chingri (prawn) is reserved for special occasions. “Some of us cook as well. But no one wants Bengali food as it is spicy. So we have learnt new dishes for them, like chole and rajma. But we rarely cook those at our home,” said Mamata Bibi.

Meanwhile, Zohra Bibi, who said she is “still unwell” from Wednesday’s incident, rests inside a dimly lit room. “I have a headache… Doctors have given me medicine but no prescription, so there is no proof of what happened to me,” she said.

Zohra has been prescribed a painkiller, an antacid and a calcium supplement. Muzaffar, her brother-in-law, said, “There is no justice in any of this. They have arrested our people, but nothing is being done to the people who did this to her. It’s because we are Muslim.”
Immediately, another woman, Parul, retorted that her husband, Lakshmiram, too has been picked up by police. They are among the few in the settlement, who aren’t from Cooch Behar, but from Farakka in Malda. “I am Hindu, so is my husband. He was picked up, too. They don’t care about our religion; for them we are poor and that is all that matters. Don’t start talking about religion, we have been living together for a decade and our blood is the same,” she said.

After dinner, the men crush tobacco in their palms, lovingly brought from their hometowns. On most days, this would be the time when everyone sits in a huddle and discusses their day. Not today. The only thing on everyone’s mind is to bring back the 13 who have been detained. “What if they take them away to some jail and we don’t know where they are? What do we do then?” asked one.

For now, there are no answers. As the night grows darker, the settlement is illuminated only by the eerie glow of massive towers behind it. “Each lit window up there,” said 15-year-old Ashraf, “is a reminder to us of our place in the world.”

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The New York Times, July 16 2017

At a Luxury Complex in India, the Maids and the Madams Go to War


NOIDA, India — The madams in the luxury gated community went to yoga classes and toddler playgroups; the maids soundlessly whisked away dirty dishes and soiled laundry before retreating, at night, to a nearby shantytown of tin sheds and plastic tents.

This kind of arrangement has persisted across India for decades, in apparent harmony.

But early on Wednesday, at the Mahagun Moderne in Noida, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India’s capital, the madams and the maids went to war.

A dispute between a maid and her employer erupted into a full-blown riot, as hundreds of the maid’s neighbors, armed with rocks and iron rods, forced their way into the complex and stormed her employer’s apartment. In response, thousands of families have locked their maids out, saying they can no longer trust them in their homes.

Ashok Yadav, the development’s head of security, wondered how long the madams could hold out.

“The fact is that it is a symbiotic relationship between the madam and the maid,” he said. “Right now, the residents are very angry and shocked at the violent way the mob attacked the society. But before long, they will have to find new maids. How will life go on otherwise?”

India’s vast disparity between rich and poor means members of a newly moneyed class are able to hire domestic help for low pay, with no contracts and few legal obligations.

Though they may resent their treatment, maids are typically afraid to lose their jobs, and of the “pull their employers may have with the authorities,” said Tripti Lahiri, the author of “Maid in India: Stories of Inequality and Opportunity Inside Our Homes.”

Conflicts between domestic workers and employers are a regular feature of Indian crime logs, but mass violence is almost unheard-of, Ms. Lahiri said. That is partly because in Indian cities, many maids live in their employers’ homes, giving them little opportunity to build networks and compare notes.

That has changed, however, as luxury high-rises proliferated in farmlands on the outskirts of New Delhi, and slum neighborhoods appeared beside them, in what Ms. Lahiri called “a perfect setup for an us vs. them clash.”

In the case of Harshu Sethi and her maid, Johra Bibi, in Noida on Wednesday, the clash was Alfred Hitchcock-grade, awakening subterranean anxieties about the true relationship between the rich and the poor.

On Tuesday, Ms. Sethi accused Ms. Bibi of stealing 17,000 rupees, or about $265, from a safe in her apartment. She said Ms. Bibi had admitted taking 10,000 rupees in back wages, and then disappeared. Ms. Bibi, 30, denies confessing to anything, and said Ms. Sethi “kept me locked at her place” that night, an allegation that her husband shared with other residents of the slum. The police say the maid spent the night in the apartment of another employer.

“I don’t remember anything,” Ms. Bibi said in an interview. “The next
morning there was a big ruckus. A lot of people came. The guard came and
took me out.”

Ms. Sethi, a schoolteacher, described something more frightening. She was in her apartment waking her 8-year-old son for school, she said, when she saw a “huge crowd,” led by women, coming toward her unit, shouting, “Today we will kill her; we will kill the madam.”

Video shows a loud, aggressive crowd surging toward the complex while security guards try ineffectually to beat it back. Ms. Sethi said people in the crowd jumped over the balcony of her ground-floor apartment and shattered a plate-glass door with a flower pot.

Ms. Sethi said she pulled her son from a glass-strewn bed and hid in the locked bathroom with her husband for an hour and a half, while the crowd
ransacked her apartment.

“We were only thinking of saving our lives,” she said in an interview, sobbing, and displayed a heavy iron rod left in the apartment by one of the intruders. “They tried to show that they did not have rights. I feel that we do not have any human rights. We are the poor ones.”

Ms. Sethi, 34, considers herself a benevolent boss.

“We worship them, because they are such an important part of our lives,” she said of the maids. “Hindus believe that if you are eating something and someone with an empty stomach is watching you eat, you cannot digest this food. We first feed them and then eat. I would give her tea before making her do her chores.”

But she has, she said, lost her faith in that bond. “I think they hate us,” she said of the maids. “There is a definite class divide. They hate us for the money, they wonder: ‘Why are they so well off, so rich? Why do they have everything?’ They envy us, and this is how it comes out.”

Ms. Bibi, the maid, had a different take on the relationship, saying Ms. Sethi had not paid her 3,500 rupees, or about $55, for the past two months, and had falsely accused her of stealing.

“Just because she has money, does she think she will get away with anything?” she said. “All over, everyone is listening to her, and nobody to me. Will she throw us in the garbage just because I am poor?”

Within hours, the conflict had drawn a bright line through the complex, which has 2,700 units, and the residents announced a decision to bar all servants from the complex. The Hindustan Times reported earnestly that “a large number of families ordered their food from outside on Wednesday and Thursday.”

“The point is that they must be taught a lesson,” said Mamta Pandey, 50. “If they can unite, why can’t we?”

Ms. Pandey said she now woke up an hour earlier to do chores, and was planning to buy “a wiper which is made with new-age technology” so she could more easily swab her floors. She said she “had a problem sitting and wiping the floor the traditional way.”

Sandhya Gupta, another neighbor, said employers should be careful not to let their guard down with their maids.

“They are like that bone that is stuck in our throats — we can neither swallow them, nor can we spit them out,” she said. “We need each other, and must learn to coexist with mutual respect.”

Residents of Ms. Bibi’s shantytown said the week had been frightening and exhausting, and many said Ms. Bibi was at fault. The police swept into the settlement overnight on Wednesday and Thursday, detaining about 60 people and arresting 13 of her neighbors. Other residents fled into a field of okra and cowered there until the police left.

One of the workers, Sadanand, said the police were detaining men indiscriminately. Down the road, women from the Mahagun Moderne slipped outside the compound’s gates to give resentful comments to the bank of news cameras outside.

The police said criminal complaints had been lodged by the Sethi family, Ms. Bibi, the residents of the complex and the security guards.

Arun Kumar Singh, Noida’s superintendent of police, said it was striking how quickly the homeowners had turned on their employees, accusing them — falsely, he said — of being illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

“I asked them a question: How did they then find shelter inside your house for all these years?” he said. “It’s like this, the day we have a difference with our brother, that’s the day our brother turns into a history-sheeter, a Naxalite,” referring to ex-convicts and Maoist insurgents. “Otherwise, before this, he is our brother.”

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The Hindu - 14 July 2017

It’s not help, it’s work

G. Sampath

We need a legislation to regulate domestic work

Employing a help in house? Only after verification,” says the ad’s headline. Below, in capital letters, appears a warning: “An unverified domestic help can pose a serious security risk.” And then a call to action: “Contact your beat constable or local police station for domestic help verification.”

The copy is set against a visual of a cop taking a picture of a young girl, presumably the domestic help, while an elderly woman, her employer, looks on. The girl picked to represent the ‘domestic help’ has the features of an adivasi, is slightly built, and dark-complexioned. She is shown standing, in one corner of the frame, while the cop and her employer are seated.

Readers of English newspapers would be familiar with this ad campaign, urging them to get their domestic helps verified by the police. Of late, these ads have become a matter of great concern for unions, domestic workers, and social activists, who say the campaign reeks of class prejudice.

But what they find most objectionable is the criminalisation of people on the basis of their occupation. Copies of so-called police verification forms are doing the rounds of housing societies across Delhi. Domestic workers are being made to fill up the form and submit them to the nearest police station.

The data sought by the form includes, among other things, the domestic help’s “petwords of speech”, “physical built”, “complexion” and “handwriting specimen”, besides descriptions of eyes, hair, tattoo marks, and prints of all the fingers of both hands. No such information is sought about the employer, despite there being ample evidence to suggest that the security threat works the other way too.

Indeed, hardly a week goes by without some news report about a domestic help being abused by her employer. Cases of torture, beatings, sexual assault, and incarceration are common. If anything, one could argue that in this sector, it is the employer who poses a bigger security threat — to the employee.

Lack of recognition

For the record, no other category of workers is required to register themselves with the police. In a country where 93% of the workforce is in the unorganised sector and therefore beyond the purview of most labour laws, domestic workers represent a new low in terms of disempowerment: they are not even recognised as workers. Their work — cooking, cleaning, dish-washing, baby-sitting — is not recognised as work by the state. Criminalisation is thus the last straw.

India has only two laws that, in a roundabout way, construe domestic helps as workers. The Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008, (UWSSA) and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. While the former is a social welfare scheme, the latter is aims to protect working women in general. Neither of these recognises domestic helps as rights-bearing workers.

Yet this recognition is a necessary pre-condition for state regulation. Strangely enough, it exists — in the form of a draft National Policy for Domestic Workers. This policy not only calls for promoting awareness of domestic work as a “legitimate labour market activity”, but also recommends amending existing labour laws to ensure that domestic workers enjoy all the labour rights that other workers do. But the government seems to be in no hurry to adopt it.

Domestic work as an economic activity is too vast and employs too many to remain unregulated. Though the 2011 NSSO data put the number of domestic workers at 3.9 million, trade unions estimate the number to be around 10 million. Most of these are from vulnerable communities – Adivasis, Dalits or landless OBCs. Nearly all of them are migrant workers. And an overwhelming number are women.

The apparently endless supply of domestic workers has a lot to do with the decline of employment opportunities in the agriculture and manufacturing sectors, which took a hit post-2008. At the same time, demand kept rising, as the entry of middle class and upper middle class women into the male-dominated world of work was not matched in scale by a corresponding entry of men into the (feminised) realm of unpaid housework.

Poorer women from the hinterlands stepped in to fill the labour gap, for some remuneration. Today, the economic value of housework is no longer disputed. But the nexus of the state and the market has managed to keep domestic work outside the realm of economic regulation. Neither the Maternity Benefits Act nor the Minimum Wages Act or any of the scores of other labour laws apply to domestic work. Domestic workers can be hired and fired at will. The employer has no legally binding obligations.

A regulatory framework

Some have attempted to justify the government’s reluctance to regulate domestic work on the grounds that the workplace is a private household which should not be encroached upon by the state. But this argument does not hold since the anti-sexual harassment law recognises the private household as a workplace. Besides, we already have a draft legislation that presents a model for regulating domestic work without inviting the state into the living room, as it were.

The National Platform for Domestic Workers submitted a draft bill, the Domestic Workers Regulation of Work and Social Security Bill, 2016, to the government in January. Going beyond state-centric welfare measures, it calls for the compulsory registration of the employer and the employee with the District Board for regulation of domestic workers. Unlike the UWSSA, which puts the onus on the state, it mandates the collection of cess from the employer for the maintenance of a social security fund for domestic workers, whose access would be mediated through an identity card.

This framework achieves both the objectives of police verification — security, and documentation of identification data. But in a refreshing contrast, it does so not by criminalising domestic helps but by empowering them as rights-bearing workers.

Thus, to view domestic workers as a security threat is but another way of denying them the status of workers. The policy mindset regarding domestic workers must shift from a law-and-order paradigm to one about workers’ rights. A good place to start would be to consider enacting a Domestic Workers Regulation of Work and Social Security Act.

o o - 14 July 2017

workers’ rights

Branded as Bangladeshis: In Noida, anger turns to fear for domestic workers after police raid

No action has been taken against the couple accused of detaining a domestic worker in Mahagun Moderne Society, but 13 of the protestors have been arrested.

Abhishek Dey

“We are as Indian as the people living in those big societies,” said Abida Bibi, 22, as she stood in a queue with a bundle of documents outside the duty officer’s room in Noida’s Sector 49 police station on Thursday afternoon. “But never in our lives did we imagine that we would have to prove it one day.”

The documents Abida Bibi held firmly in her hands were several photocopies of her and her husband’s Aadhaar cards, voter identity cards and even a document issued by the gram panchayat, or village council, of their village in West Bengal’s Cooch Behar district. They were required to establish their identities as Indian nationals.

A day after a mob mostly comprising domestic workers and their family members vandalised the entrance to Mahagun Moderne Society in Noida’s Sector 78 after a domestic worker employed there did not return home the previous night, the mood among domestic workers in the area, some of whom were part of the mob, had changed from anger to fear.

The missing woman, Zohra Bibi emerged from the complex on Wednesday morning even as the police was called to control the mob that had come looking for her. She alleged that she had been assaulted and held captive overnight by her employers over a dispute related to payment. The employers have denied this.

The mob comprised migrant workers, both men and women, living in the slum clusters in and around Sector 78, about 23 km from New Delhi, which has a profusion of luxury high-rises.

At about midnight on Wednesday, the Uttar Pradesh police swooped down on those slums, picking up male members of the family. “We have never seen this kind of police action in our lives,” said Jainul, a migrant worker who lives in the slum where Zohra Bibi also lives.

By the end of Thursday, at least 13 people had been arrested in connection with the violence at the complex, and an unknown number detained. Police officials who did not wish to be identified said that four cases have been registered in connection with the matter. They said that all the arrested persons are residents of the slums. There has been no police action against Zohra Bibi’s employers – a merchant navy engineer and his wife – against whom a First Information Report was filed on Wednesday.

Arrested and detained

Around 1 pm, in the queue outside the police station, there were at least 30 others like Abida Bibi. All of them were employed as domestic workers in Sector 78’s upmarket housing societies. Like Zohra Bibi, they too live in the slum clusters in the area. They had gathered there to secure the release of their relatives who had been picked up during the police raid.

Abida Bibi and her husband left their village in West Bengal two years ago. She has been working as a domestic worker in Noida since 2015. She is not employed at Mahagun Moderne, but works in three flats in a neighbouring society.

While Abida Bibi had no clue about where the police had taken her husband, the person behind her in the queue was equally clueless. Hasna Bano’s husband and two brothers – Jalil and Abdul Dulal – had been picked up by the police.

Following the tension outside Mahagun Moderne Society, speculation was rife on social media that the domestic workers involved in the violence were “illegal immigrants from Bangladesh”. This was possibly because many of them are migrants from the West Bengal districts of Cooch Behar, Malda and Jalpaiguri, as well as from Assam. While the women work as domestic workers, the men are employed as daily wagers in construction sites that pockmark the satellite township adjoining New Delhi.

The allegation that they were Bangladeshis meant that workers, some of whom have lived in the area for a decade, suddenly have had to prove their identity.

“Never in my life have I come across any employer calling me a Bangladeshi even as a joke,” said Rupali Bibi, who has been employed as a domestic worker in Noida for nearly 12 years. The workers standing near her nodded their heads solemnly. “I cannot imagine what have happened to them suddenly,” she added.

The midnight knock

At the entrance of the Sector 49 police station, the sentry, a woman in her late twenties, shouted, “One person at a time”.

It was Narzina Bibi’s turn. She rushed inside quickly and came out even quicker. She broke down in the corridor. As those around her attempted to pacify her, she said that the police had told her that her husband was not among the few detained at that particular police station. “When I asked them where he is, they did not say anything and asked me to wait here until he is brought back,” she said. “When I asked them when he will be brought back, they did not answer.”

The midnight knock was hard.

“I was around 12 am, and we had just gone to bed when someone knocked on the door so hard that it felt like it would just break apart,” said Nazeema Bibi, a migrant from Cooch Behar whose husband, Rahul Haq, was one of those detained. “It was the police. They asked my husband to come out and show his identity documents. He never returned home.”

Nazeema Bibi.

Jainul, a migrant construction worker, was one who got away. He said that the police followed the same strategy in all the slum clusters they raided on Wednesday. “Once the men were out of their houses with their documents, the police grabbed them and asked them to sit in their vehicles,” said Jainul. “The ones who were at the back of the queues, managed to flee.”

While eight persons were detained from Nazeema Bibi’s slum, around 14 were detained from the slum in which Jainul and Zohra Bibi live.

The door of Zohra Bibi’s tin sheet and bamboo hut was locked on Thursday. Neighbours said that her husband, Abdul Sattar, fled during the midnight raid, leaving his wife and three minor children behind. The neighbours said that the oldest son, about 13 years old, was also picked up by the police. They said that the police had taken Zohra Bibi for a medical check-up on Thursday morning, along with her two youngest children. She had not returned by the evening.

Several attempts were made to reach senior police officials, including Superintendent of Police (Noida City) for their comments. However, they did not respond to repeated calls and text messages. When this correspondent checked in at their offices on Thursday afternoon, staffers said that the officers were in a meeting with the Inspector General of Police.

Employment worries

By Thursday morning, the anger domestic workers had displayed the previous day at the treatment of a member of their fraternity had been replaced by fear. “Residents of the slum who were agitated by the entire episode and were even ready to thrash some of the security guards of Mahagun who had assaulted them, are scared to death today,” said Jainul.

On Wednesday, the workers had told this correspondent that they had joined the protests outside Mahagun Moderne out of solidarity with Zohra Bibi. They said that they were scared that something like that could also happen to them. Today, they are worried about their jobs.

Around 600 domestic workers used to work in Mahagun Moderne Society alone. Following Wednesday’s incident, the society announced that it had restricted the entry of domestic workers. While many domestic workers work in more than one housing complex, some have all their jobs in Mahagun Moderne.

Haseena Bibi is one of them. She works in three homes in the complex, earning around Rs 12,000 a month. She is staring at possible unemployment and the prospect of being homeless too. “My husband and I fled from our slum last night after the police raided the place,” she said. She is afraid of returning. “We are presently living with a relative. We later got to know that around six men were detained from our slum.”

The employers of other domestic workers in other societies have been calling them back to work. “This morning I received a call from one of my employers in a neighbouring society, who asked me to come to work,” said Parul Jogi, a migrant from Farakka in Murshidabad district of West Bengal. She works in three different societies, including Mahagun Moderne. “But I could not go there as my husband is in the police station. I cannot say how long we can survive like this.”

Some other domestic workers were concerned that their employers in neighbouring societies had not called them.

Narzina Bibi was one of them. At the same time, she did not want to call them herself as she knew that she cannot start work just yet as her husband has been detained by the police.

All photographs by Abhishek Dey.

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India: The case of Zohra, a domestic worker in Noida in Sector 78 - A report from some activists based in Delhi

The case of Zohra, a domestic worker in Noida. Notice how the residents of the buildings close ranks and how the police come out to support them, no questions asked.

This is a report from some activists who had gone to meet the workers in the basti where Zohra, the domestic worker who works in Noida Sector 78 lives:

Today, a team of us went to meet Zohra, her family and the others in her colony in Noida in Sector 78.

In this brutal case of violence against a domestic worker who works for a meagre amount of Rs.1500 for a month, Zohra went missing from Tuesday evening onwards. The family immediately approached the police but they didn’t do anything about it. Her husband was shooed away by the guards and the landlords saying that she was not in the complex premises, while the register did not mark her as ’exit’ at the gate. The next morning, when hundreds of domestic workers along with their families went to put pressure on the landlord, she was actually brought out from the very premises by the security guards and her employers.

In the confrontation that followed, the guards did three rounds of air firing too. Zohra was taken away by the police, and was finally dropped at her home much later upon pressure from her family.

On the night of 12th, over 3-4 vehicle full of police barged into the colony and picked up all the men, including Zohra’s eldest son who is only 15 years old. Today, 13 people have been framed under Attempt to Murder and Rioting charges.

Threats of eviction and continuous intimidation of the workers continue.

Today, the media and the RWA along with the police are on an all out witch hunt against these very workers who toiled in their houses cleaning all their filth. It didn’t take them seconds to show their class unity, and they have filed 3 FIR’s against the workers, alleging them to be ’illegal Bangladeshi migrants. Meanwhile absolutely no action has been take on the first complaint and FIR that was filed by Zohra’s husband and family members. The Sethi’s and rest of the RWA continue to threaten all the workers and have barred them from entering the premises till the ’case is settled’!

Zohra’s case is not an isolated and exceptional case. Hundreds of domestic workers, all living in colonies around these modern high-rise buildings work from morning to evening, cleaning, cooking and washing huge houses for meagre salaries of Rs.1200, Rs.1500 or Rs.2000 per month. Most workers said that they don’t even get time to eat their food.

Zohra said, as we met her, "if i was rich enough to throw 10 rupees at them, some action would’ve been taken by now against them."

Let us remember Ranjitha, a Bodo A
ssamese domestic worker who was forced to kill herself by jumping from the 11th floor of a DLF building in Gurgaon just two months back.

Let us also uphold the militant fight put up by Zohra’s family and the hundreds of her fellow workers who came together to rescue her and shook that upper class arrogance.

Red salute to the struggles of toiling women like Zohra and her friends.

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National Herald, July 13th 2017

Dear Mahagun Moderne residents, meet some ‘Bangladeshi’ migrants


Women accused of being Bangladeshi intruders by local Noida residents show proof of their Indian identity

NH Photo by Vishwadeepak

Women accused of being Bangladeshi intruders by local Noida residents show proof of their Indian identity
A systematic campaign has been waged on social media and elsewhere to brand residents of West Bengal as ‘Bangladeshis’

Poverty, deprivation and inhuman living conditions— these are the words that define everyday reality of as many as 150 families that provide workforce for menial jobs in in the upscale Mahagun Moderne in Noda, sector 78. They, just like us, are human beings but attempts are being made to label them as ‘illegal migrants’.

Located between Noida-Greater Noida Metro and high rise housing societies, is a dark and dingy settlement where these alleged Bangladeshi Ghuspathiyas live. Since they do petty jobs, speak a different language and in some cases, they look different from local residents, they seem to be easily branded as ‘outsiders.’

Their shelter appears like a giant tin shed that has been divided into hundreds of small cubicles measuring 6x8 feet each. Basic amentities such as potable water, electricity and clean toilets remain a distant dream for them. The settlement has only one handpump that provides drinking water to 600 people.

Most of them are migrants from West Bengal who have come to the city in search of employment. They outrightly refute the accusations that they are ‘Bangladeshis.’ In fact, they possess all the valid officials documents that establish the identity of an Indian citizen.

While showing his voter identity card, Enadul Haque—who is speech and hearing impaired—communicated through sign language as to how the police brutally beat him up last morning. He is one of the alleged ‘Bangladeshis’ who lives under the tin-shed and works in high-end societies like Mahagun to earn his living.

Parul came from Murshidabad (West Bengal) as her election ID suggests, some two to three years ago. She works as a house maid in as many as four houses to make both ends meet. Her husband is absconding since police raided her colony last night and picked up several people including Johra’s minor son.

“After hours of back-breaking hard work, I earn Rs 7,000 every month. Though it is not enough to run a family of 8 people but we have to manage somehow. Every month I have to transfer Rs 3000 to Rs 5000 to our family that lives in the village. Besides, we have to give Rs 700 hundred to the contractor for electricity and room rent,” she says, sitting on a wooden cot in front a small cubicle that is house to her family.
Parul holding up her Aadhar card

NH photo

Parul holding up her Aadhar card

Like Parul, there are hundreds of women who came in search of jobs from West Bengal. Hasna Banu is one of them. A native of Ratinandan village in Cooch Behar, she came two years back and settled in ‘Bangladeshi settlement’. Showing her Adhar Card, she lamented how she is being branded as ‘Bangladeshi’.

“My family has been living in Cooch Behar for years. Here I work as house maid in eight houses. I earn Rs 16,000 on an average in a month. After the Mahagun incident, one of my employers asked me to bring my Aadhar Card with me because he wanted to ascertain my identity,” she said.

Showing her Aadhar Card and her husband’s voter identity card, an angry Nazeema asked, “Why is it that we have to bear the ‘Bangladeshi’ tag? Why are we asked to show our identity? We have all valid documents to prove that we are Indian citizen.”

It is not just the question of identity that has traumatised these people. Constant neglect has also played a role. Nine years ago, Riaz Ul Haq came from West Bengal in search of a job. Most of the time, he lived in Indirapuram, before he shifted to Noida-78. In a complaining voice, he says, if the government wants to take action against illegal ‘Bangladeshi’ migrants, it should. But those who are citizens of India should not be tortured.

What Riaz Ul said is a solid reflection of the anguish brewing under the surface against the system. He was fuming when he said, “Where should we go? No one listens to our grievances because we are poor.”

Sub-Inspector Rajendra Kumar, who is posted at Police Station – Sector 49, misled us, when we tried to get information about Johra. Initially he said Johra must be at her home but when contested, he expressed his ignorance. “We have arrested 14 people whom the society people are calling ‘Bangladeshis’ from that illegal settlement. Three cases have been registered against Johra and a case against her employer. None of them have been arrested so far. We are investigating the case on the basis of merit,” he said.

When this correspondent reminded him of the statement made by SSP Love Kumar that no one is an illegal migrant/‘Bangladeshi’, he disappeared inside the police station.

His turned back to a question related to the most marginalised section of the society is perhaps the best metaphor to understand how our system treats the poor.

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The Times of India, July 16, 2017

Help! Why Moderne India is terrified of India across its gates

Indrajit Hazra in Red Herring | Edit Page

‘“I’ve always imagined that my name was Cordelia — at least, I always have of late years. When I was young I used to imagine it was Geraldine, but I like Cordelia better now. But if you call me Anne please call me Anne spelled with an e.”

“What difference does it make how it’s spelled?” asked Marilla with another rusty smile as she picked up the teapot.

“Oh, it makes such a difference. It looks so much nicer. When you hear a name pronounced can’t you always see it in your mind, just as if it was printed out? I can; and A-n-n looks dreadful, but A-n-n-e looks so much more distinguished.”’

Like the orphan girl Anne Shirley in L M Montgomery’s 1908 classic Anne of the Green Gables, the poor residents of Mahagun Moderne know how much difference an ‘e’ at the end of a name makes. If they had lived in Mahagun Modern, they would have found themselves living in a housing society in Uttar Pradesh. The fact that they live in Mahagun Moderne makes them members of a residential community in Noida’s Sector 78. Even as the architectural term, ‘moderne’, denotes resembling the art deco style ‘marked by bright colours and geometric shapes’, Mahagun Moderne residents are happy that their white-grey vertical flats — sorry, apartments — look “so much more distinguished” than many other housing societies in the area.

They were happy, that is, until one of the key features that brought them there — ‘The secured gated community is protected with multi-tier securities that are very safe,’ as advertised by the builders — was breached last Wednesday.

Zohra Bibi, who worked as a domestic help (that is the right way to describe a maid not employed at Downton Abbey, right?) in Mahagun went missing on Tuesday evening. Perhaps uncharacteristically for a family of a domestic help, a frantic search followed on Wednesday, involving the police going to the apartment that Bibi was last seen working at.

Bibi was found there, in a distraught condition. She revealed, as such revelations go, that she was accused of theft, slapped around by the lady of the manor, and locked in a room without food or water (or air-conditioning). On hearing this, residents of the nearby jhuggi jhopri — let’s call it a ‘temporary settlement’, lest real estate prices dip in an already dipped property market — where Bibi lives with other domestic helps and daily wagers, went on a rampage, that too two days before Bastille Day.

The distraught residents of Mahagun Moderne, after being also told that Bibi had stolen her employers’ money and had stayed over at another resident’s apartment, have been terrified since. Even the arrest of 13 men from the nearby colony festering with Jacobean hatred, and the demand made by at least one resident of Mahagun Moderne to remove the domestic workers ‘illegally occupying’ the area that some of them may be able to see from their balconies, have not quelled fears of insurrection.

As their narrative now has it, despite the police confirming that Bibi had the right documents, the colony is a den of ‘illegal Bangladeshi immigrants’. Bibi and many of her companions there are Muslim, and Bengali, you see.

After this little Kashmir brewing outside the no-longer-secured gates of Mahagun Moderne, the entry of domestic helps has been banned ‘until security concerns are addressed’. This means the burden of residents having to roll their own chapatis and swab their own floors.

Replace ‘housing society’ with ‘society’, and ‘two Indias’, visualised usually by highrises sprouting next to fungal slums, emerge across India. The latter provide the daily workforce for the former, with the cooks, maids, drivers having the insidious advantage of knowing their employers’ terrain intimately.

A former colleague once told me, without batting her eyelids, how she would lock her domestic help (who stayed with her family) each time she set out of the house, “in case she runs away”. Even as that may horrify some socialist socialites among us, institutional apartheid thrives in broad daylight. A prominent club in Kolkata bears the sign, ‘No ayahs, servants and drivers are allowed in the pool area.’ Club rules. In the same city a lady was barred from bringing in her driver into a restaurant for a meal because ‘he looked like a driver’.

India may be increasingly het up by the violence unleashed on minorities, whether on Dalits or on little green men found sitting in train compartment seats. But a bigger threat is brewing from a majority that is largely treated by the more affluent lot as scum and disposables. There are two options: treat them as equals. Or make them vanish, which would actually be very Western. And moderne.

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Hindustan Times - July 13, 2017


Domestic workers need a law to safeguard their rights

There are at least four million domestic workers in India, mostly women, minors and migrants who belong to the lowest end of the economic spectrum. It is time to implement the ‘Domestic Workers Welfare and Social Security Act, 2010’ Bill.

Police in action against local villagers who gathered at a housing society to protest after a domestic help was allegedly beaten by her employers on suspicion of theft, in Noida on Wednesday(PTI)

The problem of domestic workers being ill treated is not a new one. The recent case of a minor girl in Noida being accused of stealing; and the counter allegations of her ill-treatment are the latest in a long list of incidents involving domestic workers and questions of the rights of such workers. According to estimates by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), there are at least four million domestic servants in India. Most of them are migrants, women, many are minors, and belong to the lowest end of the economic spectrum. This makes them easy to replace, and easier still to exploit. Since they belong to the unorganised sector, there are no laws safeguarding their rights – no minimum wage requirements, no health or insurance benefits, and no job security whatsoever.

Horror stories of domestic workers being locked in cupboards, beaten, and starved have become almost routine. The need for a law protecting the rights of this vulnerable community has once again come to the fore with the latest incident. India is a signatory to the ILO’s 189th convention, known as the Convention on Domestic Workers; but has not ratified it yet. The convention mandates that domestic workers be given daily and weekly rest hours, their payment must meet the minimum wage requirement, and that they should be allowed to choose the place where they live and spend their leave. Ratifying states are also required to take protective measures against violence against such workers and are required to enforce a minimum age for employment. However, since these provisions are not binding on those countries that have not ratified the convention, India is not obliged to enforce these recommendations.

There has been an attempt at creating a law within the country in the form of the ‘Domestic Workers Welfare and Social Security Act, 2010’ Bill, drafted by the National Commission for Women (NCW) which attempted to bring this large and vulnerable work force into the mainstream. But little progress has been made in passing this bill so far. It is perhaps past time that India revived debate on this very important bill.

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The Indian Express, July 17 2017


A law for the help

Stand-off between workers and residents in Noida highlights the urgent need for legislation that governs domestic work

Estimates of the number of domestic workers in the country vary from 3.9 to 10 million (Express Archive)

The relationship between law and social justice can unfold in two ways. The law can be the result of a social and political movement from below that demands greater equality for marginalised and persecuted groups. However, at times, the law itself can be the instrument for transformation, where legislators and the judiciary represent the best interests of society and help bring in progressive change that may upset intrenched privileges.

The stand-off last week between the residents of Mahagun Moderne — an upper-middle class condominium in Noida — and the 100-odd domestic “help” that work in the colony has highlighted the need for legislation that recognises “help” for what it is — hard labour — and provides them the basic rights due to other categories of workers.

Zohra Bibi, 27, has alleged her employers assaulted and confined her after they accused her of theft last Tuesday. It was while searching for Zohra Bibi that other domestic workers that live in a nearby slum entered Mahagun Moderne and a scuffle with security guards ensued. While complaints have been registered by both sides, the colony has barred entry to all workers. That domestic workers are largely from regions and communities that are at the bottom of economic and social indices is no secret.

After the scuffle, prejudice reared its head as many on social media as well as people from the colony complained of #MaldainNoida, and claimed that the domestic workers were illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. The inequality of domestic workers’ circumstances is accentuated by the fact their workplace falls within the privacy of the homes of people that are invariably more privileged than they are. The lack of definition and delineation blurs the line between worker and employer, and is too often a feudal rather than professional relationship.

Thus far, there is no national law that governs domestic employment. Maharashtra has a domestic workers welfare board and in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka the category is part of rules and laws that deal with manual workers as a whole. The draft of the Domestic Workers Welfare Bill (2016), however, is ready. It provides for basic terms of employment like a minimum wage, hours of work, notice period and grounds for termination, as well as offences and penalties in the case of crimes and disputes like the one at Mahagun Moderne. Estimates of the number of domestic workers in the country vary from 3.9 to 10 million. No liberal society, or modern economy, can allow such a large number to remain outside the law as “help”.

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The Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 52, Issue No. 29, 22 Jul, 2017


Clear Bias against Domestic Workers

The country urgently needs a comprehensive national law covering domestic workers.

A clash on 12 July between domestic workers and their employers in an upmarket, gated housing society in Noida has snowballed into a full-blown class war with an overt anti-Muslim dimension. In the chain of events sparked off by the failure of a 27-year-old domestic worker called Zohra Bibi to return to her home in a slum after a day’s work in the nearby Mahagun Moderne Society, the police and the government have betrayed a clear bias against domestic workers. The police searched the complex, which has 2,000 flats, only cursorily when Zohra Bibi’s husband called the helpline at night. The following morning, they failed to engage effectively with a group of residents from her slum who had gathered at the society’s gates to enquire about her, allowing a riot-like situation to develop. Had the police conducted the initial search with a modicum of sincerity, the problem may not have escalated. Would they have responded to a distress call about a missing person so casually had the caller been someone from a privileged background?

Most tellingly, however, while the police moved rapidly on three first information reports filed by the employers, residents and the builder, arresting 13 people from the slum, they have done little to investigate Zohra Bibi’s complaint that her employer hit her. Even more blatantly, union culture minister Mahesh Sharma, who is the local parliamentarian, pre-empted the legal process by declaring that the residents were not at fault and that he would ensure that the arrested slum residents did not get bail for years. Speaking only to society residents, and not the domestic workers, Sharma stated without a trace of irony, “No one in this country has the right to take law and order into their own hands,” as though oblivious to the spate of incidents—since his government took charge three years ago—in which lawless mobs affiliated to Hindutva groups have attacked and murdered Muslims.

Along with a large section of the complex’s residents, the police and the government tried to further intimidate the domestic workers in a knee-jerk display of class power. Noida’s civic officials razed several shops abutting the slum, run by its inhabitants, claiming that they had illegally encroached state land. They have also cynically exploited the current social atmosphere in which just being a Muslim, or appearing to be one, has become enough to incriminate a person and in which Muslims from eastern Bengal, who comprise a big portion of the housing complex’s roughly 600 domestic workers, have the additional sword, of being rounded up as illegal migrants from Bangladesh, permanently dangling over their heads. This is exactly what happened in this incident: the police raided the slums demanding that its inhabitants prove that they are Indians, an issue that did not crop up before the clashes.

This incident underlines the need for the Parliament to urgently enact a comprehensive law covering the rights of the country’s roughly 20 million domestic workers. They are among the most vulnerable of those employed in the unorganised sector because they consist largely of migrants who are women. Such a law will, above all, recognise domestic work as labour, partly addressing society’s devaluation of housework. Although successive governments have drafted policies, they are yet to become law. Apart from facing routine, structural exploitation in the form of low wages, heavy workloads, and long hours, domestic workers face graver dangers, as is evident from cases of employers confining and assaulting them coming to light with frightening regularity. The fact that such people work behind closed doors adds to their vulnerability.

About half the states—but not Uttar Pradesh, where Noida is located, and Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra—have included domestic workers as labourers under the Minimum Wages Act, which sets out terms of payment, hours of work and leave. Yet, this law is grossly inadequate. The law does not, for instance, require domestic workers and employers to register with any authority, which is crucial for monitoring whether both parties are fulfilling their contractual obligations and for adjudicating conflicts. A national law also needs to oversee workers’ safety, provide for health emergencies and their children’s education, among other things. Some states, such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu, do have welfare boards for domestic workers that attempt to do this, but they have meagre funds and do not go far enough. A national law should also regulate the numerous for-profit domestic workers’ agencies that have sprung up, some of which are suspected of putting children to work.

The ongoing conflict also suggests that laws can serve only as enabling frameworks, albeit crucial ones, for improving these employees’ abysmal working conditions and terms. To be able to use the law effectively, domestic workers also need to organise, given that their employers are in an economically and socially superior position, as the Noida incident amply demonstrates. Domestic workers in India over the past decade have become more organised, with unions springing up in the largest cities. Yet, even this will not suffice because many employers harbour a feudal mindset that views domestic workers as serfs, whose relations with their masters are not governed by law but by a social order; an order that dictates that some people have no choice but to serve others by virtue of their lower birth. This must change.

Updated On : 21st Jul, 2017

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Press Release


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. [. . .]



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