Note: On July 11, Zohra Bibi, a domestic worker at Noida’s Mahagune Modern Society, was allegedly confined and beaten up by one of her employers. In three separate FIRs, Bibi, her husband and residents of their slum have been accused of rioting and damaging property after they tried to rescue her from the gated society. Although the genesis of the dispute is purportedly accusations of theft against Bibi, the FIRs are not known to have stated this. An FIR filed on Bibi’s complaint accuses Harshu Sethi, her employer, and other occupants of the flat of voluntarily causing hurt, wrongful confinement, and rioting.
As told to Abhishek Jha:
I am tired. On July 11, I was illegally confined by my employers. Since then I have been busy at the police station and the hospital. I have narrated my story several times – the people just keep coming in. But I feel it’s important to tell my story.
I am Zohra Bibi. I live near Shamshan Ghat, Sector-49, Noida, Gautam Budh Nagar, Uttar Pradesh, India.
Permanent Address: Maidam village, Dinhata, Cooch Behar, West Bengal, India.
I came to Delhi about 11-12 years ago. Studying until the fourth standard, I had to quit school, and I was married when I was 12 or 13. Until I became an adult, I lived in the village, but then had to come to Delhi to earn.
If I could, I would have preferred to live in my village. Here, we live like dogs. When you leave your village and come to Delhi, you are a dog. You aren’t a human. You are treated like a dog if you are a domestic worker. Our employers think we don’t have anything to do. That we don’t eat, drink, or wear anything.
I have done all kinds of domestic work since I moved- cleaning, laundry, dishes, dusting. There are many employers who are bad, many who are good. There are many who give good food, in their own utensils, where I feel like I am at my own home. There are others who look at you with disgust.
The truth is, I don’t want much from my employers. If we ask them for anything, they’ll treat us more like beggars. Why will I ask for anything? Yet, if I work, I of course expect to receive my wages on the first day of the month. Sometimes, the employers don’t even do that. They don’t give wages until the 10th or 12th of the month. I want my labour’s worth. Why would you make a poor person work so much and pay them less?
Our employers also keep heaping accusations on us. Somebody will accuse us of stealing a five-rupee-biscuit, somebody else will accuse us with something, somebody will accuse us of stealing milk, and somebody will say ‘Oh, she tastes the cream’. A lot of accusations have been made in the past.
If you find something wrong, why don’t you call the police? You can’t beat me up. That’s not acceptable to me. But the Sethis did just that.
It started with the accusations. My madam didn’t make the accusations directly at me, but every morning and evening, she would tell the cook that I was stealing. One day she would say, ‘I can’t find 100 bucks’. The next day it would be ‘I lost 200 bucks’, then ‘I lost 500 bucks’. On some days ‘I lost my kaaju-baadam’. Even when she lost cash outside her home, I would be the one being accused. Nearly a week ago, I decided to stop working at the Sethis.
You tell me, how could I continue to work there? I am poor, but I have food at home. I don’t need to steal yours.
The Sethis still had to pay me for the work I did and so, and when they called me, I went. Instead of getting paid, I was beaten up. It was just because I wanted my payment that I got entangled in all this. If my wages weren’t stuck, I would have never gone to meet them.
I don’t have too many aspirations. I just want to raise my kids, have enough food on my plate , and lead a good life. I work hard and push myself as much as my body will allow. I manage to earn about 12 to 15 thousand doing this.
Yet, all this happened. Thirteen people who came to rescue me in the morning were arrested and are now in jail. What do I want? I want justice. And I want those that have been arrested freed.