July 14, 2017 / 8:30 AM / 2 months ago

Indian police probing complaint of maid abuse that prompted protests

CHENNAI, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Police are investigating a complaint of abuse filed by a maid working in a gated community near the New Delhi that sparked violence in the upscale neighbourhood.

The maid lodged a complaint saying her employers had abused her, beaten her, locked her up and were withholding her salary, police said on Thursday.

More than four million people are employed as domestic workers in India, most of them women, according to official data, and they are often exploited in the absence of legal protection, campaigners say.

India’s rising affluence and growing numbers of working women have spurred demand for such workers, and campaigners say there are likely to be millions more working in the unregulated sector.

Family and friends of the maid, Zohra Bibi, gathered to protest outside the Noida apartment complex in Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday. Stones were thrown at security guards, and riot police were called in.

According to police, Bibi’s employers accused her of stealing money. They also filed a complaint against her family, saying her relatives destroyed their property, they said.

The maid was hospitalized, said independent journalist Nilanjana Bhowmick, who spoke to the maid and posted eye-witness accounts on the incident.

“She clearly said she had been beaten up and locked just because she wanted to quit working in this house and was demanding her dues,” Bhowmick told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The abuse of domestic workers are “every-day stories” across India, said Chandan Kumar, national coordinator of the Bonded Labour Eradication Programme at the non-profit Action Aid.

“Cases of rapes, murders, physical abuse, non-payment of wages are routinely reported in the local newspapers in Delhi. You name the labour right violation clause, and it is there.”

A bill to improve conditions for domestic workers by introducing a minimum salary, social security benefits and mandatory time off is pending cabinet approval.

It also recognises homes as workplaces, where domestic workers would be entitled to decent work conditions.

Several high-profile cases of abuse have been reported in recent years, with employers not paying maids, failing to provide with proper food and shelter, forcing them to work long hours and even locking them up when they go on holiday.

Among residents who employ maids in the area where Bibi worked, “there is resentment and silence,” said Kalai Selvi of the National Domestic Workers’ Movement. “They are scared.”

Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj, additional reporting by Roli Srivastava, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit news.trust.org

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