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Zohra’s Story: The Noida Domestic Worker Who Won’t Be ‘Treated Like A Dog’

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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.

Featured image source: Arya Thomas/Facebook
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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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