Ghaziabad Horror: Minor Domestic Help Held Hostage, Endured Year-Long Brutal Torture by Senior Journalist's Daughter

The incident took place at Jansatta Apartment — an uptick residential society at Sector 9 in Uttar Pradesh’s Ghaziabad district. Despite the fact that millions of domestic workers contribute significantly to the economy through the services they provide, they are nonetheless susceptible to the worst forms of exploitation across the nation since they lack social security and legal protection.
The police say the accused lady would be arrested only if the victim is found to be a minor.
The police say the accused lady would be arrested only if the victim is found to be a minor.Representational Image

New Delhi: In a horrible case of violence against domestic help, a 17-year-old girl — suspectedly a victim of human trafficking — was allegedly kept hostage for a year and beaten up every day to the extent that the injuries caused to her body had started resulting in decomposing flesh.

The torture crossed all limits when Reena Sharma, the lady whom the minor was working with, reportedly crushed her chest under her boots. The girl somehow managed to flee on March 26 and hid herself under a staircase and was finally rescued by a team of Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA — an anti-trafficking and anti-slavery NGO).

The incident took place at Jansatta Apartment — an uptick residential society at Sector 9 in Uttar Pradesh’s Ghaziabad district.

Based on the complaint of BBA Project Coordinator Arshad Mehdi, who was also part of the rescue team, a first information report (FIR) has been registered under sections 3 and 14 of the Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986; sections 75 and 79 of the Juvenile Justice Act 2015; and Section 323 of the Indian Penal Code. But no arrest has been made.

An officer close to the investigation, on strict condition of anonymity, told The Mooknayak, “An arrest will be made only after the victim is found to be a minor following medical examinations. Otherwise, a hefty fine, as per law, will be imposed against the accused lady.”

Activist Shalini Shrinet, who also contributed to the rescue and is busy ensuring that the victim gets proper medical treatment, counselling and rehabilitation, said the minor girl, who was unable to even speak for days because of pain and trauma, could utter a few words on March 27 — revealing a few landmarks that may help identify her native place in West Bengal’s Siliguri.

“Reena Sharma, daughter of a veteran journalist, had beaten her black and blue for around a year with hands, sticks, broom, hands, etc. There are several grievous injuries on the girl’s body. She is unable to walk. Her legs are swollen and have turned black, constantly releasing liquid discharge. Its muscles are apparently decomposed and have offensive odors because of unattended infections. She is in extreme pain and trauma. Her condition self-explains the torture she has faced,” revealed the founder of Mera Rang — an NGO that works against domestic violence.

When asked about the medical treatment, what she described reveals how insensitive, inhuman and ill-equipped the medical system of the country is. After the rescue, the girl was taken to the concerned Child Welfare Committee.

She was administered primary treatment at a hospital, but was allegedly discharged by the medical staff. “When I objected, they told me they don’t have doctors and nursing staff because of Holi vacations. I was also told that the hospital does not have a facility to admit patients,” she alleged.

Shrinet said she took the girl to the concerned police station and urged officials to make some arrangements for her stay. The policemen too said they cannot keep her there at night. The victim was then rushed back to the hospital where she was finally admitted and undergoing treatment.

The girl will be presented before a judicial magistrate for registration of her statement under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.P.C.). As per an Aadhaar card found in her possession, she is 22 years old. But activists believe that the document is forged as it only mentions Siliguri as her address without other required details.

The accused, according to Shrinet, is a sadist and psychopath who gets pleasure from hurting or humiliating others. “It’s normal for her. She enjoys it. The girl who has been rescued is the only victim of her. She has done the same earlier with two others. She does not have a cordial relation with any of her neighbours. She keeps the dog’s breed, which is not allowed in housing societies,” she added.

Indirapuram ACP Swatantra Kumar Singh said a case has been registered on the written complaint of the BBA coordinator. The matter is being investigated and further action will be taken. When asked why stringent IPC sections have not been invoked against the accused, he reiterated the same — the probe is on and appropriate actions will be taken in accordance with the law.

A victim of human trafficking, said the activist, the girl would have been illegally brought to Sharma by some placement agency.

“Our preliminary investigation has revealed one of the victim’s cousins (sister) convinced her brother to let her go to Delhi where she would get a good job. Luring her with a decent life ahead, her brother asked her to accompany the cousin. He told her if she misses the family, he will bring her back,” Shrinet told The Mooknayak, adding that prima facie it appears that she was sold by her brother himself.

No Law to Safeguard Interests of Domestic Helps

Despite the fact that millions of domestic workers contribute significantly to the economy through the services they provide, they are nonetheless susceptible to the worst forms of exploitation across the nation since they lack social security and legal protection. Even worse, a large number of them — like the girl who was saved in Ghaziabad — are hired in flagrant violation of the law.

It’s time for the government to implement new laws and regulations to safeguard workers who perform household chores.

The Parliament passed four labor codes in 2020: the Code on Wages, 2019; the Code on Occupational Safety; the Code on Health and Working Conditions, 2020; and the Social Security Code, 2020. All worker categories were to be provided with fair salaries, safe working conditions, grievance procedures and other social security benefits through the implementation of these laws.

Nevertheless, these regulations contain no measures that can cater to the particular demands of domestic workers; therefore, they are completely at the mercy of their employers.

“National legislation protecting domestic workers is non existent. This is a major problem. This calls into question their entitlement to a life of liberty and dignity,” said B Shankar, a lawyer at the Delhi High Court.

He said more actions are required to include and integrate them into the economy. In addition, he said, the government should guarantee that this group of workers will receive justice under the new legal system.

Of the four new laws designed to protect the interests of temporary workers like house help, the Social Security Code, 2020, seems to be the most pertinent. Even after being passed for three years, it is still not in effect. Domestic helps are frequently employed informally and for little pay. It is uncommon for a domestic worker and his or her employer to enter into a formal contract. Without clear terms and conditions, the majority of them put in lengthy hours of work. They do not qualify for social security or a minimum salary, nor do they have any legal protection. Torture, assault, sexual harassment and exploitation are not unusual incidents. Live-in employees are more susceptible to harassment and physical assault. Domestic work is defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO) as any job done around the house for pay, including sweeping, wiping down utensils, washing clothes, cooking and taking care of kids. According to government data, there were 28 million registered domestic and household workers in India till July 2023.

However, because many domestic workers do not register themselves, analysts think that the true number may be twice as high as the official estimate. A Mumbai-based advocacy group, the National Domestic Workers Movement, puts the number at around 50 million, with two thirds of them working in cities.

With 75% of the increase in workers over the past 10 years coming from domestic employment, the proportion of women and girls engaged in this type of job is growing at a far faster rate.

Most Indian domestic workers are extremely poor, low-skilled, uneducated and have only a little education. In addition, a minimum of 2 lakh minors are engaged in domestic assistance and labor, particularly in restaurants and dhabas (road side eateries). Child labor exploitation is frequently linked to instances of human trafficking.

Rishi Kant, a Delhi-based anti-trafficking activist, stated, “When it comes to children being forced into exploitation, there is a huge network of illegal placement agencies across the country that is involved in the trafficking of minor children.”

He claimed that in addition to being made to work strange hours, they are physically and sexually abused at work and are not paid on a regular basis.

Learning From Kerala

The protection afforded to domestic workers by a specialized central legislation would, however, be inadequate unless the states adopted and strictly enforced corresponding norms and regulations.

“Majority of state governments have included domestic work on the list of approved jobs, but they haven’t actually put it into practice,” he said.

The first step that the states might take to implement benefits like insurance, retirement funds and maternity aid for workers would be to implement the code on social security. Mandatory registration for domestic workers could be a significant first step.

Kerala has already started drafting legislation that would establish a minimum salary and other requirements. Workers will be protected by the proposed legislation, which recognizes domestic work as formal employment. It supposedly requires social security, a weekly vacation and an eight-hour workday for domestic workers.

The legislation is intended to improve the accountability of recruiting agencies as well as employers.

Other Nations Too Show the Way

Though not very comprehensive, the Union government prepared a draft legislation in 2019 for protection and safeguarding interests of domestic workers. Officials from the Labour Ministry say that they are now gathering additional information on domestic and household workers, and it may be several more months before the government reviews its 2019 plan again.

India could benefit from studying the regulations that other ASEAN nations like Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore have put in place to safeguard the rights of domestic workers. There are migrant domestic workers in the majority of these nations from places like the Philippines, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and even India.

Workers in these countries are entitled to benefits like social security, pensions, sick leave, weekly off and minimum wages. For instance, rules in Hong Kong guarantee minimum salary, paid annual leave, rest days and holidays.

It’s mandatory in Thailand to comply with laws related to minimum pay, break time and leave policies. Additionally, Singapore has guaranteed minimum pay, housing, insurance, health care and vacation days for domestic workers. Employers are also required to contribute to pension funds.

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