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Helping hands seek help now

Vishnu Sukumaran, New Delhi, Oct 12, 2013 in Deccan Herald

A 50-year-old woman, an executive with a multinational corporation has become the latest in a long list of people arrested for tormenting their domestic helps. A grievously injured 18-year-old girl was rescued from Vandana Dhir’s house in south Delhi’s Vasant Kunj on September 30.

The case once again highlights how living in their employers’ house becomes an ordeal for many maids, especially  young girls who are unable to fight back or have nowhere else to go.

Pooja (name changed) came to the capital last year from a small village in Jharkhand’s Sahebganj district with dreams of a better life. She is now on a hospital bed. Rescuers found her in a severely malnourished and semi-naked state. The girl told police she was beaten and attacked with knives and brooms by Vandana.

 She was refused adequate clothing to prevent her from running away, prohibited from having any contact with her family and was  not paid a single month’s salary since she was hired. Pooja’s ordeal came to an end last week when she was rescued by police and NGOs.

But it’s not an isolated case. This has been the experience of hundreds of girls and young women who come to the capital every year to escape a life of poverty in the villages of Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

In a further taint to Delhi’s image, a United Nations agency claims that the capital is a transit point for trafficked girls and women brought from north-east India, West Bengal, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and even Nepal and Bangladesh. A report published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says the situation in Delhi has worsened as the trafficking rackets have expanded their operations.

Rishi Kant of NGO Shakti Vahini agrees with the report’s conclusion and says the menace of the exploitation of domestic helps is rapidly spreading across the capital.

 The claim finds an echo in the Saket court’s observation on the Vasant Kunj case. The magistrate said the case highlighted the plight of people trafficked from their native villages on the promise of a lucrative job in a metro, only to be later abused and exploited there.

“No doubt, there is an increasing demand for domestic helps stemming out of a change in the social fabric and an increasing trend in the metros towards nuclear families which have little or no social support systems and have independent kitchens as opposed to shared common kitchens in joint families,” Metropolitan Magistrate Gomati Manocha said.

Many elderly people living alone, expecting mothers and working women depend upon domestic helps for daily household chores. And on the other hand, there are many states in the country where people suffer from extreme poverty and unemployment, which leads to large exodus of people to the metros.

 “If this large labour force can be gainfully employed then this shall serve the ends of both the employers and the employees,” Manocha added.

 Right age

 NGO working in this field have found that employers are specifically looking for girls and young women, who can work even at odd hours because ‘they are cheaper’, complain less and can be exploited.

“There are regions struck by poverty, lack of employment and education where parents are willing to let go of their children in the hope that they will live a better life in the city and send back some money. But what they go through is nothing less than hell,” said Kailash Satyarthi of NGO Bachpan Bachao.

 The Central government has initiated some measures to tackle the problem. According to the Union Home Ministry, ill-treating a domestic help will now amount to trafficking if the employer doesn’t give food or not allow the help to venture outside home.

In a circular, the ministry issued standard operating procedures to be followed by various agencies, including police, citing a Supreme Court order.

 “Ill-treatment also includes denying minimum wages,” Rishi Kant added.

 The circular stated that trafficking of children for economic exploitation, bonded labour, forced labour, physical or sexual abuse and misuse is a heinous crime.

“Children are vulnerable and need care and protection. After they are rescued they also need to be rehabilitated. It is therefore necessary that effective steps be taken for investigating cases relating to trafficking of children for child labour and/or forced labour,” the ministry said.

 Further, the Criminal Law Amendmant Act, 2013, has amended the Indian Penal Code on the specific offence of trafficking – and section 370 now defines trafficking in detail. The consent of victim is now immaterial in determination of the offence of trafficking and the offence as already stated are cognisable.

According to Delhi Police, last year 129 rescue operations were conducted with the help of NGOs. Over 240 girls were rescued during such operations, and 23 people arrested in 16 cases registered against placement agencies. Over 250 agencies are kept under watch to ensure that they are not used as fronts for illicit activities like human trafficking.

Placement agencies were also blamed for most of such cases by the Saket court. It said they have become `havens’ of exploitation and are unable to ensure the well-being of the workforce employed through them, which leads to many of the young girls and boys becoming subject to physical and sexual abuse. “Most agencies are not even registered. Mere repatriation of the victim to her home after her rescue and treatment is no solution,” the magistrate Manocha said.

 The court observed that to bring about a positive change legislation requiring mandatory registration of placement agencies, payment of minimum wages, decent living conditions and diet, security and protection against physical or sexual abuse or exploitation, was much needed.

 “This is a must in order to rehabilitate the victim and many such girls who even after experiencing such horrific incidents may have to again move out of their homes in search of work to escape from vagrancy and starvation,” Manocha added.     

 The Delhi government has also drafted the Delhi Private Placement Agencies (Regulation) Bill which underlines that no agency shall employ, engage or deploy anyone under the age of 18 as a domestic help. If the draft bill becomes law, its provisions can lead to a jail term of up to a year and a fine of Rs 20,000. The agency has to issue photo IDs to domestic workers and each worker will have a bank account. Their salary is to be put into the account.   

 Delhi Police booked Vandana for offences under Bonded Labour Act, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act, Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act and Indian Penal Code. Her bail was denied on the basis of the investigating officer’s claim that she blatantly abused and violated the basic human rights of the victim by treating her in the most brutal, depraved and atrocious manner.

 The court noted that the facts of the case demonstrated a sick and problematic mental state of Vandana, and that she seemed to be suffering from a personality disorder which led to impulsive reactions, rage, resentment, aggression and venting that out on a weak and helpless target.

“Sooner or later, the accused would come out of the jail. But before that it is necessary that she receives proper psychological help so that when she comes out, she is emotionally more stable,” the magistrate said.   

 The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights is working on a rehabilitation plan for Pooja. She will return to Jharkhand, and state government would ensure that she is admitted to a local school.


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