Smriti Kak Ramachandran
"I had to mop and scrub floors, wash utensils, help with the cooking"
NEW DELHI: The brief for 12-year-old Pintoo Kumar was to keep scrubbing the utensils till they shone like a mirror. And if he ever missed a spot, he was given a beating.
Rescued by the Delhi Government's Labour Department from a posh South Delhi residence on Thursday, Pintoo has finally been set free from forced confinement that lasted well over a year. Made to work as a domestic help in a house in Shanti Niketan, he was allegedly subject to physical and mental abuse by his employer who works for a multi-national bank.
"I came to Delhi in January 2006 with a property dealer who knows my maternal grandparents at Chappra in Bihar," says Pintoo, who quit school after the death of his parents.
"I studied up to Class V, but in 2004 I was sent to work at JCO Mess in Lucknow. I did not know anyone there and felt homesick so I went back to my grandparents," he says.
Once in Delhi, his life took a turn for the worse. "I was made to work from 7 in the morning to 11 at night. I had to mop and scrub floors, wash utensils and also help with the cooking. My employers had told my grandparents that they would pay me Rs. 1,500 a month, but all they have paid is Rs. 3,400 so far," he says.
For the more than 15 hours of work, what he got in return was some food, a place to sleep, and beating.
"First they made me sleep in the kitchen, then with the driver in the servant's quarters because they feared I might run away. I tired escaping once last month, but the guard brought me back," he recalls.
The employers had allegedly threatened him that if he ever tried to escape they would have him arrested on charges of theft.
"When I tried asking them for money, they refused to pay; whenever my elder brother called, they wouldn't let us speak. They even tore my address book."
Pintoo's ordeal came to an end when he managed to spot a leaflet printed by Nirmala Niketan, an organisation that works for providing social security to domestic workers, run by social activist Subhash Bhatnagar.
"Late at night when everyone went to sleep, I managed to call Subhashji and asked him to rescue me," he says.
Mr. Bhatnagar, who organised the rescue operation, says: "He called me after 11 p.m. a couple of days ago. We got in touch with Ashok Agarwal of Social Jurist who in turn lodged a complaint with the State Labour Department. A raid was conducted on Thursday and we have begun the process of locating his grandparents."
Officials of the Labour Department confirmed that a case has been registered against Pintoo's employers for employing a child under 14 years in age as domestic help.