A domestic worker, Zohra, from Cooch Behar in West Bengal, was beaten and kept in illegal custody by her employers in the Mahagun Moderne apartments in Greater Noida. Her family members and other domestic workers protested by storming the Mahagun Moderne complex, raising slogans.
Vandalism by some of the workers caused what even the police admit was mild damage. The police unleashed firing and lathi charge against the protesters. An FIR was filed by Zohra against her employers, while an FIR was also filed against protesters. Since then, the police has conducted indiscriminate raids to detain and arrest men from the domestic workers’ families, and 13 have been arrested. Though no resident of Mahagun Moderne was injured, the arrested workers have been booked for “attempt to murder”!
However, no action whatsoever has been taken against the employers on Zohra’s complaint. Meanwhile some residents of the Mahagun society began spreading the canard that Zohra and other domestic workers were “illegal Bangladeshis” – this is an obvious lie because the police confirms that they all have Aadhaar cards without which they are not allowed to enter the society complex at all. This hate campaign was picked up the RSS outfits and amplified in media and social media. A video was circulated online claiming that ‘a mob of 500 Bangladeshis rioted and attacked the NOIDA residents.” Mahagun Moderne residents adopted a policy refusing to employ domestic workers from Bangal and Odisha!
The local BJP MP Mahesh Sharma and Culture Minister in the Modi Cabinet addressed Mahagun residents, and declared that the protest by workers was clearly a case of “mob violence” and ensured them that the accused in the case “never get bail”. He fully backed the accused employers of Zohra and asked BJP workers to intimidate and attack human rights workers who were taking up the workers’ cause, saying, “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.” In a statement reeking of communal and class biases towards the workers, he said “Jaantey bhi hai yeh kaun hai, par anjaan banne ki koshish kartey hai, kyuki humaari zaroorat hai (we know who these people are but pretend ignorance because we need their help).” This statement implies that the workers are indeed Bangladeshi/Muslim and therefore deserving of hate and derision, but the residents have no option to but to employ them to do their dirty work! He used the insulting word ‘naukrani’ (female servant) instead of referring to them as domestic workers.
Following the MP’s open endorsement of discrimination and clean chit to employers, the NOIDA development authority razed the slums of the domestic workers to the ground, leaving them homeless in heavy rain.
On 13 July a solidarity team of CPI(ML), AICCTU and Delhi Teachers’ Initiative activists comprosing Dr Uma Gupta, Shiv Kumar, Abhishek, and Zeeshan visited NOIDA and met several from among the workers. The team released a report titled “Tin Sheds Versus Marble Floors.”
The team met Zohra’s mother-in-law who spoke of the climate of fear among the workers, “Police came and broke down doors to hunt for the men.” Other workers in the area said “we were born in this country and live and earn a living in this country, but this is the first time we are being branded as Bangladeshi infiltrators.” (The team’s report, while noting that the domestic workers of NOIDA are all from West Bengal, also noted that even those who come from Bangladesh or Nepal to labour in India, are not ‘infiltrators’ but economic migrants.) They also met several of the men who had been detained by the police and then released.
Workers told them about the inhuman and humiliating conditions imposed on them in the posh colonies of Delhi and the National Capital Region including NOIDA and Gurgaon. The class apartheid includes rules such as separate lifts for domestic workers, frisking of workers as they enter and leave the apartment complexes, and so on. It is common for workers to be paid a pittance and for monthly payments to be indefinitely delayed, and there have been many atrocities done by employers to domestic workers.
The Government of India has not ratified ILO (International Labour Organization) Convention No.189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, and has failed to bring India’s own laws in line with this Convention. Instead, Ministers of the Government endorse indecent and inhuman working conditions, referring to domestic workers in feudal terminology as ‘naukar/naukrani’ and giving clean chits to employers accused of violence against a woman domestic worker.