New Delhi- In India, a disturbing trend of underpayment, overwork, abuse, and exploitation of domestic workers by their employers continues to unfold. Daily reports highlight the plight of these workers, numbering in the lakhs, who endure poor working conditions and are often deprived of even the most basic labor rights. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated their challenges, with many losing their jobs while others remained trapped in abusive environments. The prevalence of domestic worker abuse is particularly pronounced in major cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, and Chennai.
In a recent incident in Delhi's Vasant Kunj area, allegations surfaced against a 25-year-old female house help. She not only faced accusations of theft, involving Rs 2 lakh and 5 tola gold, but also became a victim of violence.
Despite several CCTV cameras installed in the employer's building, the accuser refused to review the footage. In a questionable move, the employer called the police and conducted a search at the worker's home without prior notice. It was known that the woman was hired to work for 12 hours a day and when the family members were away, she was kept locked inside.
Shreya, an activist from the Sangrami Domestic-Workers Association, raised concerns about the credibility of the accusations. The worker allegedly left the premises without a bag or purse on the day of the alleged theft, prompting questions about how such a substantial amount of cash and jewelry could be concealed. During the investigation, the employer resorted to extreme measures, emptying water cans, checking inside shoes, and even inspecting sacks of rice and pulses in the presence of the police. The worker was taken to a police booth instead of the concerning police station, intimidated, and coerced into confessing to the crime when no evidence was found.
In response to this unjust treatment, domestic workers rallied outside the police booth, demanding to see the evidence justifying the detainment of their fellow worker. Pressured by the gathering and lacking substantial proof, the woman was eventually released. However, the police reappeared the next day, detaining both the worker and her husband, alleging harassment without any formal complaint or evidence.
Approximately a hundred domestic workers and members of the Domestic-Workers Union protested the actions of the police and the Resident Welfare Association (RWA). Their unity forced the RWA President to meet with the workers, acknowledging the wrongdoing of physically assaulting the workers. The domestic workers called for an end to the culture of criminalization, rejecting harassment, humiliation, and unwarranted detention.
Parveena, employed in Vasant Kunj, shared her disheartening experience, revealing, "Once, when I fell severely ill and couldn't attend work for two days, they dismissed me when I returned on the third day. Despite our hard work, we are not compensated adequately. In case of any issue or loss at the employer's home, we are promptly blamed without a fair inquiry. If we intended to steal, why would we exert ourselves so much? We start our day early and put in hard work, yet they lack trust in us."
Activist Shreya emphasized the dire situation, stating, "There is a glaring lack of legal and social safeguards for domestic workers in India. Unsubstantiated allegations are routinely hurled at them. These workers have no dedicated legal framework or protective measures to rely on."