We condemn the forceful confinement and brutal abuse of Domestic worker Zohra Bibi at Mahagun Modern Society, Sector 78, NOIDA and the subsequent repression by the police and Central Culture Minister of other workers.
On 11th July 2017, Zohra Bibi, aged 27, a domestic worker, native of village Maidan, Dinhate, Cooch Behar AR West Bengal 736134, went missing according to her family members. Zohra worked as a domestic worker in 7 residences of Mahagun Modern Society, Sector 78 Noida and usually returned to her family of husband and four children residing in Sector 78 Noida, between 6:30 and 7:00 pm daily. As Zohra did not return home, Abdul Satter, her husband, went to the society at around 8.00 pm and enquired with the guards, who claimed she had eloped with a man, although the register of visitors clearly showed that while her entry was marked, no exit was recorded. He then went to the alleged accused employer’s residence Harshul Sethi R/O 012, who told Abdul that Zohra is accused of the theft of Rs 17000, and claimed to know nothing of her whereabouts. Abdul immediately dialed 100 and the police spoke to the Sethis and reiterated the possibility that his wife had eloped with another man and that he should come to the police station to file a missing complaint. Abdul was handed a blank sheet of paper when he reached the police station and told to return the next morning. On the contrary, on the 11th of July Zohra had gone to Sethis’ house to ask for her salary that had not been paid for two months. When she insisted she be paid, she was accused of theft by the Sethis and then she was brutally beaten by Harshul Sethi. Her phone was also confiscated by the family.
On 12th morning, Abdul, some relatives and neighbours around 30 to 40 from the neighbouring slums, reached the gates of the society to enquire about Zohra’s whereabouts again. The beat constable stationed in front of the society, as well as the guards of the society fired three rounds in air, which further agitated the crowd of people and then, they tried to barge in through the gates. Roughly 40 police and guards clashed with the domestic workers. During the melee one guard came out and said that Zohra was found and soon, Zohra was seen dragged by two guards. Her clothes were torn, she was semi conscious and Abdul was asked to take her home. Abdul refused to take Zohra home in the state she was in. The police intervened and took her to Ambedkar Government Hospital where an MLC was done. The police claimed in front of the media that she did not suffer any injuries.
After the MLC, Zohra and Abdul went to the police station in sector 49 NOIDA to file an FIR against the Sethi family on 12 th July 2017 at 8:30 am. The FIR registered merely mentions that she was forcefully detained by the Sethi’s beyond normal working hours. Some 3 hours after this, three more FIRs were filed in the same police station, first by the Sethi’s charging them with theft, second by members of the Society and third by the Mahagun Society builders. On the basis of the FIR filed by the Sethi’s, the police raided the slum colonies (bastis) where the domestic workers live and detained 58 men, including Zohra’s 15 year old son and kept them in the police station till late at night. 13 men were arrested and sent to judicial remand to Dasna Jail under section 307 and the rest were sent back home after a prolonged detention.
Mahagun Society members have been making claims that the majority of domestic workers are Bangladeshi immigrants, primarily Muslim, and who are illegally working in India. RWA of the Mahagun society have begun creating a blacklist of domestic workers (147 persons) and scheming for ways to reduce the wages of the workers. We need to recognise the conditions of labour these domestic workers have endured, the attitude of the residents, the political provocation by Mahesh Sharma MP of NOIDA who is also the Minister of State for Tourism and Culture, GOI, who has dismissed the complaints against the Sethis, the corruption and complicity of the police force and the power of prominent builders like Amit Jain in scuttling such issues through the use of brute force and threats. Also lack of legal mechanisms has led to severe exploitation of women and children which include depriving domestic workers of their entire salary for months, work hours more then 16-18 hours per day, absence of proper food and living/sleeping condition, forced and total cut off from their family members, bonded labour, sexual exploitation by placement agents during transit, at the office of the agency and at the work place in houses of employers. In the data released by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in February 2014, there were 3,564 cases of alleged violence against domestic workers reported in 2012, up from 3,517 in 2011 and 3,422 in 2010. While several legislations such as the Unorganized Workers Social Security Act, 2008, Sexual Harassment against Women at Work Place (Prevention, Prohibition & Redressal) Act, 2013 and Minimum Wages Schedules notified in various states refer to domestic workers, there remains an absence of comprehensive, uniformly applicable, national legislation that guarantees fair terms of employment and decent working conditions. Meanwhile only a unionised, united domestic workers force can face the crude brutality they face at the hands of the residents.
We condemn unequivocally this unravelling communal, anti-worker, anti-woman, anti-Muslim politically vitiated climate.
Action against the Sethis for illegally detaining, brutally assaulting and falsely accusing an employee while failing to pay her wages.
Charges against 13 detained people as well as against Zohra and Abdul be dropped immediately and to release them unconditionally.
Action against the police for its refusal to act on the FIR filed by Zohra and Abdul, their abuse of power in detaining 58 persons including minors, and complicity with the builders and the political establishment in communalising the case.
Action against the Mahagun builders Amit Jain for their complicity in covering up this clear case of violence against a woman belonging to the minority community.
Action against Minister of State for Tourism and Culture, GOI & NOIDA MP Mahesh Sharma for further vitiating the environment by making provocative and inflammatory speeches in the society meetings.
Workers in the Mahagun Society complex be paid their due wages, withdraw the list of blacklisted workers, and ensure the safety and security of the workers in the residential complexes and also in their residences.
Bittu, Nisha, Ranjana, Rinchin & Kalyani
July 26, 2017
Contact Fact Finding team: Ajita