It is so distressing to see this new form of slavery in big cities like Delhi- the child maidservant and boy servants. It is rarely that one or two cases get publicity through the television news. The inhuman reality is that the number of child servants (both female & male) is as high as the regular income earning households in Delhi and other big cities. It is so in spite of a plethora of all kinds of legislation on the statute book. It is naked exploitation of children of a very vulnerable category, who generally are not paid their wages in cash but inadequate food and tattered clothing and subjected to child abuse, torture, physical harm, slavery and the most inhuman brutality that pales even the medieval ages! Such atrocities are inflicted on the helpless children right under the nose of the law enforcement agencies in the homes of law makers and enforcers; above all the well provided sections of the society; highly educated families and worst of all by or under the supervision of working women in very well paid jobs in the government & private sector, many of whom are in high professions and hence empowered women. The brutalities inflicted on a maid servant in Delhi, which was the subject of media report recently, will shame any ordinary human being: the maid servant was found naked, injuries of a knife like sharp object all over her body and dog bites from the pet of the two women employers in the flat. The women were so insensitive that they refused to allow the police & NGO team to meet the girl, threatened them with their dogs and shut the door on the face of the investigating team. They have been arrested. But they will manage to escape the law, like in the case of another victim of a doctor couple in Dwarka some months ago.
I have seen children lying dead on the roadside in colonies, in all probability victims of employer torture and violence, who found the only convenient way to dispose of the body by throwing it on the roadside in the dead of the night to escape the law. Who else would dispose of a corpse like this? I have seen with pain small children fetching milk from the DMS (Delhi Milk Supply) & Mother Dairy booths in the chilly Delhi mornings when temperatures froze the residents at 3 degrees Celsius. They were not sons or daughters of the residents, who were either enjoying their hot morning cup of coffee or tea or preparing their dear sons and daughters for school, which start picking up children from 0530-0630 hours. These shivering milk fetchers are decidedly servants, at a delicate age which makes them ineligible for such employment under the Indian law. Watch them clad in a tattered un-warm sweater or even a bare shirt and you will wring your hands in impotent rage and cry silently before your mundane daily routine diverts your attention! Children remain vulnerable, un-provided, poor, malnourished, hungry, sick, uneducated, mentally stunted, emotionally traumatized, deprived of the fundamental rights to life, liberty and justice. They have no voice. They have no right to freedom of thought, expression, belief or worship. They don’t have even human rights. All this in a city which takes pride in being the seat of the Supreme Court of India & The National Human Rights Commission! Can children not expect these revered institutions to take suo moto cognizance of their plight and devise systems for childhood to bloom and experience a few years of happiness? Only the Justices and Chairman can answer. The government, who is primarily charged with the duty to ensure safety and well being of children, has simply turned its face away. It has created several Commissions and Autonomous Authorities in the name of children, only to provide cushy jobs, perks & privileges of office to their favourites, which is injury on injury (how can there be insult to children in these circumstances?). The occasional media reports surface mostly due to the neighbours unable to tolerate such brutalities and taking action independently or jointly with some NGO. If the NGOs were really honest in their mission, they would have ended this new kind of slavery. Contrary to it, it has been growing with alarming speed. The evidence lies in the mush-rooming of “placement agencies”. What do these agencies do? They “procure” children from poor villages or human traffickers; brutalize them as a part of training; provide them to the employers (who have been described in the foregoing) on charge of a hefty sum of 20000 and above depending on the need and paying capacity of the client; collect the monthly wages and swindle it away tricking the child in to believing that the money is going to their parents regularly. This is no “human trafficking”: it is “trade in modern day slavery”. Many of these children are sent to the gulf countries, never to return alive or live a life of safety. Everyone knows it: the government knows it, the enforcement agencies know it, the airlines know it, the immigration authorities know it, the police know it, the NGOs know it (they are expected to keep a watch on airports etc as they do at the railway stations or bus stands). But Alas! Nobody can help it!
What could be the number of such suffering children? Millions. Someone may say- what is a million in a billion plus demographic asset? I am not qualified to question their thinking, since every disturbing question elicits such answer every time in the democratic set up in my beloved India! But we can consider the reasons for preference for child servants in India. There are several reasons. Some of them can be enumerated thus: pliable, manageable, vulnerable, easy to frighten, lowest wages or unpaid labour (the old practice of “Begar” or unpaid labour was prohibited the day the Constitution of India came in to force i.e. 26th January 1950), 24 hour working , no health care liability, no insurance, no welfare, no identity (Adhaar or Election Commission’s Voter Identity Card or Ration Card), no address, no accountability and sexploitation. The employers take advantage of the mass poverty, backwardness and lack of education to exploit children. They flourish being the rich, educated or influential people in the society. They are indulging in the same kind of Social Crime which was practiced for centuries and which is visiting the social order with vengeance in the form of the backlash from the exploited in class antagonism under the banner of “schedule caste” & “schedule Tribes”. The child slavery practiced in cities like Delhi is bound to re-create the deadly venomous practice of “Begar”. It will disturb the social order in a way that will prove to be more dangerous than civil strife!
Is there a remedy for this dangerous practice? Yes, only if the government decides to do something. I emphasize the point “only if” because any criminal practice prospers under the patronage of the influential sections of society which comprises politician, bureaucracy, rich, middle class, civil society, media, doctors, managers and all kinds of other professionals, who cannot run their households without the services of maidservants even for a day. They are in their jobs, businesses or profession due to the “mercies” of these poor people, whom they hate to call anything more than a servant ! Their affectation of love or kindness towards these servants makes them poorer as compared to the genuine love and kindness of these child servants to them or their children. This variety of love of the powerful placed in a dominant position over their servant and employee is a very mean mechanism of the exploiting classes of India . This single measuring instrument reveals the total absence of values, mercy, kindness or humanity of the Indians belonging to all sections irrespective of denominations of caste, creed, religion, language, gender or region. Worst of all, they belie the traditional picture of the Indian woman, who is perceived to be the very epitome of kindness, mercy and human love. The perpetrators of brutalities on the pre-adolescent female servants have so far been women- they have proved themselves more wicked than the Al Qaida terrorists dismembering their victims in full view of TV cameras and eating their hearts! Since these perpetrators fear not the law or jail term, they deserve to be fined heavily and forced also to pay full wages to the servant for the entire duration of employment as prescribed under the law plus heavy damages for injury, exploitation, trauma etc. For the suggested action to operate from next day, no new law is required- it can happen under the existing laws, in addition to the law of Torts. Only the Supreme Court has to show the way. The NHRC or various Commissions for child welfare will get the cue and follow suit. The government must ensure only one thing: it assigns the child welfare agencies to the charge of honest and humane civil & police officers and not allow even a single slot for the unwanted people as a gift of an office of profit.
Whether the powers that are blessed with the capabilities to do justice to children discharge their duties faithfully or not, it is time the society wakes up to the dangers of child abuse of the kind covered in this article. Neglecting it anymore is going to create hordes of rapists and murderers, if the growing numbers of juvenile criminals brought to justice for most heinous crimes like the Nirbhaya case or several murders of teachers or class fellows in schools or burglaries in flats which were put on fire after the crime etc are any indication. The age of criminal has gone down to as low as 5 years! The crime against children by adults has brought down the age of the victim to 2 years or even less! Is it the kind of society we want to build? It is necessary to revive the social values of care for each other and the wherewithal to ensure a happy existence for everyone. It was the norm till about the 1970s. Thereafter politics started interfering dangerously in most walks of life. The elders, teachers and parents who were admonishing delinquent children and youth earlier, suddenly started instigating them to indulge in offending behaviour. The recent riots in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh and also elsewhere bear testimony to the society failing to do their duty. The elders could have stopped escalation of the situation by effective intervention the very instant the harassment of the girl started. But they chose to keep silent and ignore it. It was tacit permission of society to carry on with the mischief. The result was death of some 60 persons and displacement of thousands. A tragedy of this order turned out to be boon a for the politician, who is indulging in unabashed politicking with an eye on the ensuing general elections. The contribution of society, both in the positive and the negative sense, cannot be overemphasized. Everything cannot be left to the care of the government, society also has to own up its responsibility. Let us start contributing as individuals without bothering about others doing or not doing so. Let us start with ensuring safety of children. Any instance of child abuse must be reported to the police immediately. The police must be directed by the Supreme Court not to disclose the identity of the complainant. We have greater hopes from the judiciary in the environment of valueless politicking in the country at present. Only a healthy society can rear healthy children.
There is another horrific case of a maidservant being tortured, brutalized and killed by a lady doctor, who is the wife of a sitting Member of Parliament; torture and brutalization of 3 more servants, one of whom is under age 17 years. They were hit with sharp edged weapons, iron rods, hot iron press, antler horns, burnt, teeth broken and unimaginable acts of barbarity. These instances of barbarity of the educated, globalized, economically empowered new age modern Indian woman points to the emergence of a new kind of rulership which I have termed “Neo-feudalism” and “New Age Slavery”.
Yet another woman, an air hostess , has been found to have locked up her child girl servant in her flat before going on her flight duty abroad for a few days! The feudal India of the old Princes (called Maharaja, Raja, Nawab, Nizam etc) was practicing freely everything that these three women have done to their servants. But their resorting to such deadly practices is terrible. Unless put down with equal ferocity by the authority of the law, Indian democracy will turn in to nothing more than Neo-feudalism of the plutocrat class, who have acquired all their wealth and power through illegal means only!