NEW DELHI: Try as she might, Lalmani Nagesia (38) cannot stop crying. Seated at the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights office on Monday at the end of a long, hard journey from her tiny village in the Naxal-affected district, Lohardaga, she says she won’t rest until she finds out the truth behind the death of her daughter.
About 11 months ago, 16-year-old Phoolmani was convinced to come to the capital for work by a woman, Batti Uraon. She was promised a salary of Rs 3,000. Phoolmani was sent to work in a Ghaziabad home as a domestic help by a Delhi-based placement agency but never paid any salary during her stay. Lalmani, a single mother of four who has no source of income except a paltry earning from selling datun sticks, continued to hope she would return with some money.
On July 19, Lalmani’s relative was informed by the placement agency that Phoolmani was very sick. The next day it allegedly called another villager to inform that she had committed suicide. Lalmani was shocked but asked Phoolmani’s employers to send her body. She and others of the Nagesia tribe wanted to bury her as per their custom. “Mujhe Phoolmani ki mitti chahiye,” Lalmani says as she struggles to regain her composure. Mitti in Sadri means body.
“Phoolmani was not sad. I was thinking about calling her home so that she could attend her elder brother’s marriage. Why would she commit suicide?” asks Lalmani. Lalde Nagesia, a relative, says, “Why did the placement agency say that she was sick if she had committed suicide? They also promised to send Phoolmani’s body to our village, then why was she cremated in such a hurry?” Lalmani is quiet for a moment. Then she says, “They must have done something very bad to her and killed her.”
Phoolmani used to go to school in her village but usually no teacher turned up. After her father died, she decided to stay home. Lalmani’s elder son is drunk most of the time and she depends on supplies from the Antyodaya scheme. A villager accompanying Lalmani, Ram Sevak Singh, says people in the district live in abject poverty and MNREGA is not implemented properly there. There is no water for irrigation which makes it difficult to depend on agriculture. The nearest road is 35km away.
Phoolmani’s employer had assured Lalmani that her body was on the way. Lalmani waited all night at a spot where they could receive mobile network to get updates on when the body is reaching Ranchi. But there was no call.
On July 21, the agency called them to say that Phoolmani had been cremated in Delhi. The employers, who have a business in the hospitality sector, said they are ready to pay Rs 10,000 for her loss. “Is Phoolmani’s life worth only Rs 10,000?” Lalmani says.
Activists from Shakti Vahini said the investigation by Ghaziabad police has been shoddy. “If the employers found her dead at 8pm, why did they call the cops only at 3am? Why did they touch the body? Why did the cops hand over her body to the placement agency after the post mortem? Why wasn’t the case reported to the anti-human trafficking unit?” said Rishi Kant.
NCPCR member Vinod Kumar Tikoo said the “DGP has been asked to submit a report. If he doesn’t, we will go to court. A compensation for the family must also be worked out by them”.