Published in The Pioneer
Deprived, enslaved and tortured — young girls are being trafficked into Delhi by unscrupulous maid placement agencies on false promises of decent employment and salary. According to activists, labour trafficking is the most organised crime in India, sadly without a law to curb it. Deebashree Mohanty brings you the sordid tale of the Capital’s home helps and why this crime will keep burgeoning in the absence of any effective punishment
- July 2013: Of the 24 girls rescued from a placement agency by Bachpan Bachao Andolan, 18 were pregnant and under 15 years.
- August 2013: Two girls from Jharkhand (both minors and seven months pregnant) were rescued from a well established placement agency in Lajpat Nagar IV. So ashamed were they about their plight that they refused to go home despite their fathers pleading with them. They said they would rather die here than face humiliation at home.
- January 2013: Three girls were rescued from a businessman’s house in Janakpuri East. Aged eight, 13 and 16, they were bonded labour. The eldest one had had two abortions in a year and the younger one has been seriously abused. Their master sent them to his relatives’ houses to work for free. None had been paid for 18 months.
- May 2013: A 16-year-old maid from Nepal ran away from a house in Ghaziabad. She had injury marks on her head and private parts. She had been assaulted by her employer and his brother-in-law for six months. She said she was raped and beaten up frequently. When she asked the owners to send her back to the agency, they locked her up in their basement and beat her up. Doctors say she is unlikely to recover from trauma.
These girls are brought into the Capital, made to work as bonded labour and misguided about where they are being taken and for what purpose. Once they are here from their villages, it’s an unending trail of deceit and torture. They are exploited sexually and thrashed at the placement agency by several men. When they are “placed”as maids, they end up being physically and mentally abused by their employers
— Kailash Satyarthi, founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan
Whether it is the yellow page services like justdial, or portals like asklaila or, for that matter, your friendly neighbourhood helping hand, placement agencies are everywhere — some registered, others working on word by mouth but none regulated by law to protect the rights of domestic workers.
“It is the illegal and irregulated supply chain in the form of agencies and brokers that need to be taken to task. There are no less than 250 large placement agencies in the Capital and law doesn’t recognise even a single one of them. They are all illegal and work under false alias. Most of the people behind these agencies are criminals wanted by the police or have served term for something or the other,” says Satyarthi.
In the long haul of busting such unscrupulous agents, Satyarthi adds that it is difficult to monitor such operators. “We have busted many small agencies which supply girls not just as maids but to brothels too. Still, there are many who manage to escape our notice. These are mastermind criminals who have their network in localised places. These local goons work in tandem and supply children to agency owners who then sell them off as labour. Nowadays, most agencies work under the false name of samitis or welfare societies. More audaciously, some have even registered themselves as NGOs working for child rights! This is one of the most well organised crimes difficult to crack,” senior inspector Abhjeet Ray, investigating the Pritampura maid abuse case, says.
He tells you that in this particular case, the owners had paid the maid agency Rs 35,000 as a yearly contract and a monthly sum of Rs 2,800 due to the girl was also paid to the agency. The sad part is that the agency knew the girl was being tortured but it didn’t come to her rescue.
“When my team went to rescue the maid locked up in the ground floor house No 1178 in Vasant Kunj Sector A, Ms Vandana Dhir made them wait for over four hours and showed up with her lawyer. When she opened the door, what my team saw they we will never forget. They recounted how the maid’s nails and body had been brutalised. She was is extreme trauma. She could not speak much about her sustained torture but the details will come out soon,” Rishi Kant, founder of Shakti Vahini, the NGO that helped rescue this maid from Dhir, says.
And that’s just one case. In July 2013, Bachpan Bachao Andolan rescued 13 girls who were being exploited at an agency called Adivasi Samiti which was registered as an NGO in Kirti Nagar. This so called NGO was supplying maids to houses as far away as Faridabad and Noida. More than 90 per cent of these girls were minors living in pathetic conditions in the NGO’s official premises. “They were huddled up with boys in a 6/6 room. Most of these girls had been molested. To escape the abuse, they had requested the manager to get them homes where they could work. They were so desperate to move out that they were ready to accept whatever was thrown their way. And, what may happen to them at their employer’s place was purely their luck,” Satyarthi says.
Pinki Senapathy (name changed) was sold to one such samiti by her aunt for a paltry Rs 5,000 when she was only 14. She had been brought in on a ruse of being taken to Delhi for a summer vacation. Little did she know that she would be made to work and carry out all sorts of chores for the “placement agent” to whom she was sold, and his friends. While at this agency, where she was left by her aunt, she was made to cook, wash utensils and clothes of all residents. Her master demanded all kinds of sexual favours, including oral sex which she performed on a number of occasions. Pinki got pregnant five times and bore a child out of wedlock when she was 20. She doesn’t know who the father of her four-year-old son is. Today, she is long dead.
Pinki and her son found owners in Chattarpur in 2011. She was working as a full-time maid on a Rs 2000 a month salary for all household work, including cooking three meals a day. Her employer, a banker and his wife, thought they had got a real good deal. When Pinki came to work here, she carried the wounds inflicted on her at the agency. One visit to a doctor revealed she was AIDS-infected. She was thrown out with her son immediately without a penny to her name.
“Pinki was spotted by a sevasharam karamchari who got her to us. She passed away in July 2012. Her son, who is also HIV positive, is admitted in a ward in Safdarjung Hospital,” Minu Yadav, founder and chairperson of the NGO SAVE India, says. Yadav has rescued many girls from evil agents and employers. But she is appalled that even after so much has been done and so much noise created, the Government continues to turn a blind eye to the issue.
In 2011, 314 minors died due to abuse. In 2012, the number escalated to 789 (mostly reported from Delhi) and in 2013, the number is already alarming. But with no law in place, there is no stopping such illegal trafficking of the fertile domestic workforce.
While New Delhi is the epicentre of such nefarious crimes, most girls are trafficked from Assam, Meghalaya, Jharkhand and Odissa. “In early 2000, girls were being brought from Bangladesh and sold here. But since the borders laws and the police turned strict, inter-state trafficking has increased. These criminals are no standalone individuals. They are well networked and influential,” Yadav tells you.
Satyarthi gives you an example of how such a network works: In January 2013, BBA rescued a girl from Assam when she was being arrested for selling girls of her village to agency owners in Delhi. The truth in fact was something very horrifying. It was her maternal uncle who had sold her off to a placement agency in Patparganj. After being repeatedly raped, this girl pleaded with the agent to let her go. But the agency had something else in store for her. They asked her to bring four girls as her replacement and then she would be free to return to her village.
“At first, she thought of running away. But she had no money or idea about the city. So, she complied. She got four girls to Delhi through phone calls back home. When one of her replacements ran away, she was forced to bring in another replacement. She managed to get her cousin to Delhi under the pretext of showing her the city. When she left for her village, there was quite another scene waiting for her there. The agency owners had informed the local police in Assam that she was their main supplier of girls (even infants). She was jailed and tortured for three months before our NGO rescued her,” Satyarthi recalls.
These multi-million rupee maid business is so murky and well organsied that agents hail from all kind of regions and cater to all kind of demands by future employers. Helps with specific gotra, caste, type, religion — you name it and they have one ready for you as take away.
So, is there a way out of this unending exploitation of rural manpower? Activists say that in more than 60 per cent cases, the woes of these girls only double. These helps are so desperate to get away from the agency that they succumb to whatever comes their way. They are ready to make any kind of compromise. Many die a thousand deaths before being rescued.
In August 2013, Gayatri, 18, was found locked in a servant’s room in Netaji Nagar, Type VI quarters. She had been locked up for two days without water or food. She was lying unconscious in a pool of her own urine and vomit. Gayatri’s employer, a bureaucrat, was away for a get-together when Sai Kripa rescued her on a tip-off by a cook.
Gayatri was being punished for having used the employer’s bathroom and hairbrush. She was beaten up by the bureaucrat’s wife with the same brush and dragged into the room. And this was not the first time. Gayatri had been beaten up, humiliated in front of guests and locked up without food or water on seven earlier occasions. Each time, the couple would give her food only after three days of punishment!
“Gayatri had several internal hemorrhages and she doesn’t remember any of her family members. She told us that once she was beaten up so mercilessly with a steel rod that she fractured her hand. Her employers did not take her to a hospital to get her a plaster. She was made to work in this painful condition,” Anupama Goswami from Sai Kripa tells you. The matter was reported to the police but nothing concrete has yet been done.
The biggest gap in dealing with the situation lies in the lack of appropriate measures for the recovery, rehabilitation and integration of victims. Post rescue, there are no effective measures available, particularly for victims of sexual exploitation.
“It will go a long way to have a Standard Operating Procedure, which not only defines the standards that need to be followed during the different stages of rescue, rehabilitation, repatriation and reintegration, but also define the roles of stakeholders such as the police, medical professionals and civil society organisations in this process. In the context of minors, this assumes greater significance and all-out efforts need to be made to ensure that processes and procedures are child friendly and do not allow for retraumatisation,” Vijaylakshmi Arora, Cry’s policy research and advocacy director, concludes.
Sitting motionless in the surgical ward of Safdarjung Hospital, Gauri (name changed), the maid rescued from 1178, Sector A, Vasant Kunj, has only wish. ‘Mujhe yahan nahin rahna hai,’ she keeps saying even in sleep. Although doctors say she is stable and will recover from the physical trauma soon, they are concerned that she may never be able to forget the atrocities meted out to her.
“When they got her to the hospital, there was swelling on her face, arms and legs. There were deep gashes, burn marks from a hot tawa and infected open wounds. There was a six- inch cut on her head infected by maggots close to the skull bone. Gauri was in shock,” a hospital attendant says.
Today, Gauri has her mother for company but she wants to go back to her village Sahibaganj in Jharkhand as soon as possible. Her mother can’t stop blaming herself for all that her daughter has gone through.
“I am to blame for all this. She came to Delhi looking for a living after her father passed away in 2010. For the first two years, she was doing quite well. She earned decently. Gauri would keep in touch, updating us about her whereabouts. In June, she wanted to leave everything and return. She was then working with a doctor couple in Lajpat Nagar. But the agency asked her to wait till December. Unwillingly, Gauri started to work with the Dhirs in Vasant Kunj,” her mother recounts.
Pallavi, who has been working with Shakti Vahni for 11 months, was present at this raid and she recounts how horrified she was to see Gauri at first.
“In just three months she was a battered girl. Gauri told me that the first time she was beaten up was when she used the western toilet wrongly. She was made to lick her own urine and served food in the bathroom. She says she spent most of her days locked in the washroom,” Pallavi says.
Incidentally, the employer was known for inhuman behaviour. “Most residents of this colony told us that there was something wrong with the Dhirs,” Pallavi adds.