It has been over three weeks since a riot-like situation emerged at the Mahagun Moderne Society in Sector-78, Noida, where low-income workers gheraoed the society, protesting the alleged abuse of Zohra Bibi, a Bengali Muslim woman domestic worker, by her employer.
Shocked by the incident, some residents wanted to put a ban on the entry of the Bengali Muslim women domestic workers who worked in the society. And in the process, the conflict, which was described by many as a ‘class war’, took an ugly turn, with nationalism and communalism being interwoven in the narrative.
More than 20 days on, the situation at Mahagun has changed considerably. While some residents say that things have ‘normalised’, with many Bengali women workers returning to work, many things are no longer the same. Not all Bengali women workers have been very fortunate.
The immediate impact of the violence was the creation of a list by security guards of 61 domestic workers who had been ‘identified creating chaos during mob attack’. The list was made to check the entry of workers in the society.
Since then, as per Ramesh (name changed), a resident of the society, the list has been updated twice. The number of workers went up to over 80 in the second list based on CCTV footage. While the third list had more than 140 names, based on the guards personally identifying the workers.
For now, workers included in the list are only being allowed in the society if the owners are willing to take responsibility after signing an undertaking.
According to residents, around 60 workers from the list of 140 or a little less than half the number of them have been called back to work. The rest, haven’t come back.
Youth Ki Awaaz (YKA) tried to get in touch with Zohra many times. According to this report in the Times of India, Zohra has gone incommunicado.
Others too have left the area. Jahnavi (name changed), Ramesh’s worker, for example, had to shift base to her home in Cooch Behar. Despite Ramesh being willing to take her in, she decided to leave because of the situation in the society.
Like her, many slum dwellers had to face other hardships in the aftermath of the incident. Just two days after the incident, the electricity and water supply of the slum clusters opposite Mahagun Moderne was stopped. Then there was fear of police raiding the tin sheds.
Jahnavi isn’t the only one to have given into the fear. Many in the slum clusters right opposite Mahagun have either gone to their hometown or shifted to nearby slums. Rows of tin sheds lie empty.
And while everyone YKA spoke to from the slum clusters claimed they had nothing to do with what happened at Mahagun, many talked about how they were out of a job nonetheless. However, some like Rukma (worker), a 28-year-old worker, have been lucky enough to be taken back by their employers. She had resumed work about a week after the incident. Rukma said that she would have supported Zohra Bibi in her struggle had her livelihood not been on the line.
Many others harbour a palpable resentment against Zohra Bibi. They hold her responsible for the hardships they all have had to go through.
Sabrina (name changed), another 24-year-old woman who continues to work in Mahagun said, “Ami or side ni ni. Chini o naa, jaani o na. Oder jonne amader o dikkat.” (I did not take her (Zohra’s) side. I don’t know who she is. Because of them, there’s problem for us too.)
In the society, private agencies that provide domestic workers, are filling the gap created due to the reduction in the number of workers who have been rendered jobless. And many residents are hiring the services of these agencies now, instead of informal workers.
“There is a severe crunch (of workers). Many people, what they have done is that they are hiring these professional agencies and they send you daily workers… It’s expensive but people are opting for that,” Amrit, a resident, told YKA.
That said, not everyone is opposed to hiring informal workers and there are people in Mahagun who are recommending Bengali workers to each other, on social messaging groups, a resident told YKA.
“There also have been messages of people objecting and saying that we should not lose our sense of empathy towards the disadvantaged. There have been messages like that also, and quite long ones,” Amrit added.
The backlash of the domestic workers over the alleged abuse of one Zohra Bibi has resulted in the livelihoods of many workers being temporarily hijacked. Some of whom had probably not even seen Zohra Bibi. While the ‘class war’ has generated fear and insecurities in the minds of some of the Mahagun Moderne residents, the consequences for the ones who worked in these homes have been far more. Only time will tell if all Mahagun residents will trust informal domestic workers again, or whether the business of private agencies will continue to thrive. For now, everyone is trying to get on with their lives the best way they know.