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Noida: Mob violence at Mahagun Moderne exposes deep class fault lines

The Noida incident, like the earlier ones, will be forgotten in a few days. The helps will keep yearning for their rights even as they struggle hard to make ends meet in a society divided by class, money and prestige.

noida Updated: Jul 19, 2017 07:33 IST
Gulam Jeelani
Gulam Jeelani
Hindustan Times
Noida,Mahagun Moderne,Sector 78 Noida
Residents of an apartment complex in Noida woke up to a riot-like situation on Wednesday morning, when a mob stormed its gates and vandalised the premises alleging that one of its residents had assaulted a domestic help. (PTI Photo)

Mahagun Moderne in Noida’s Sector 78 is like any other gated community — paved roads, pristine lawns, round-the-clock security and battery-operated carts to travel within the condominium. Barola, where most of the workers, including domestic helps employed by the residents live, is a nondescript rundown village just one kilometre away.

The contrast between the two areas and the palpable class divide that exist there are symbolic of most posh neighbourhoods in developing cities like Noida.

Much before 2015, when the residents started moving in to their swanky apartments, the domestic helps of the present day were there — then they were working as daily wage workers who helped build the towering high-rises.

Zora Bibi, 26, who was allegedly beaten up by her employer, leading to protests by her villagers on Wednesday, was one of the 500 domestic helps working in the society. She earned a meagre Rs 6,000 for doing household chores for her employer twice a day.

Whether she was beaten up by the employer or if she stole money from him is a subject of police investigation. What remains a larger concern is the absence of a legislature to regulate the rights of domestic helps, a largely unorganised sector in most cities. In the absence of a policy or guidelines, victims of harassment at the hand of employers have nowhere to go.

Apart from 500 helps, 155 security guards are employed at Mahagun Morderne, which has 20 towers with 2,750 apartments.

A Facebook post by Nilanjana Bhowmick about Zora said the help was from West Bengal and claimed that she was missing for a day after a fight with her employer. She was allegedly found in the boot of her employer’s car, an allegation that has been rubbished by the police.

“In most cases, in which a maid is beaten up by an employer, she also becomes a victim of suspicion and is accused of theft. Being a woman and poor is a double whammy for them,” says Annie Raja, general secretary, National Federation of Indian Women, a CPI- backed organisation.

Zora’s is not a lone case. There have been numerous instances of domestic help abuse before as well. In response to a question in the Rajya Sabha in August 2014, the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development listed as many as 3,500 cases of violence against domestic workers across the country between 2010 and 2012.

The Mumbai-based National Domestic Workers’ Movement, an organisation working for domestic workers, has been highlighting “the stigmatisation of domestic workers and their work”, “total absence of rights and legal protection” and “absence of training, support and bargaining power”.

Raja says the government has been considering a national policy for domestic workers, one which will include rights of domestic workers in some form of legislation.

“The draft, if finalised, suggests that domestic workers will have the right to register as workers with the state’s labour department. This will help in them getting their rights and form associations and trade unions,” she said.

A regulation will not only help domestic helps in securing their rights, it will also govern the conduct of employers. The first fallout of Wednesday’s incident was the management of the society announcing that no helps would be hired from now, leaving the residents high and dry.

For the residents of high-rises like Mahagun Moderne, hiring a help is not an easy task.

“All helps working here are registered. They (society management) told us to not to hire helps from West Bengal. How do we do that?” said a resident of Mahagun Moderne who did not want to be named.

The Noida incident, like the earlier ones, will be forgotten in a few days. The helps will keep yearning for their rights even as they struggle hard to make ends meet in a society divided by class, money and prestige.

First Published: Jul 13, 2017 10:22 IST