Feudalism is not just alive but flourishing in India, its economic and social progress nowithstanding. And proof of this, if any were needed, came in the form of a horrific incident that has left people shell-shocked. A couple was arrested on Tuesday by the Delhi Police for beating their 35-year-old maid to death. They are no ordinary couple: Dhananjay Singh is a BSP MP from Uttar Pradesh and his wife is a doctor. Both have been booked for attempt to murder, murder and employing a minor (their other domestic help). The MP took a day to report the case and tried to mislead the police by saying that the maid, Rakhi Bhadra, had slipped and fallen down the stairs. Yes, Bhadra did fall from the stairs but only after she was pushed by his wife. Their other domestic help, a teenager, has told the police about the abuse he and Bhadra had to face daily.
This is not a one-off case: last year, a doctor couple in Delhi was arrested for locking up their 13-year-old maid and going off to Thailand. Last month, a senior executive with an MNC, was arrested for beating her minor maid with brooms, attacking her with knives and withholding her salary. If these are reported cases, there are many abuses that go unreported and are accepted by sections of society. For example, there are families who keep aside low-quality food for their household help.
There is no official estimate of the number of household workers in India. Rough estimates put it around 50 million domestic workers but they are not covered by any of the existing laws: the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, or the Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1926. The Domestic Workers (Registration, Social Security and Welfare) Act, 2008 — amended in 2010 — is still in the works. Last year, there was some movement to protect the rights of ‘maid servants’ as they came under the ambit of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) law. But as the Delhi case shows, there is no fear of the law, leave alone any empathy for those who keep our homes running.