Minor domestic worker held captive in Gurugram | The seamy side of India’s millennium city

Yet another minor working as a domestic help has been brutalised in Gurugram. It is not just underage employment and torture, but also a daily struggle of inadequate pay and unmet basic human needs that people who provide informal but essential services go through

December 15, 2023 03:45 am | Updated February 08, 2024 04:31 pm IST

A girl, who was held captive in a home as a domestic worker, was freed last week in Gurugram after the mother sought the help of her employer.

A girl, who was held captive in a home as a domestic worker, was freed last week in Gurugram after the mother sought the help of her employer. | Photo Credit: SHASHI SHEKHAR KASHYAP

In Gurugram’s upscale, residential Sector 57, just a stone’s throw from the city’s malls and glass-and-steel corporate offices, a teenage girl working as a domestic help was rescued from her employers last week, after six months of captivity. The family of three that held her captive, including a woman and her adult sons in their 30s, had allegedly burnt her with acid, stripped her naked and filmed her, threatened to push her into prostitution, sexually abused her, hit her with hammers, and instigated their dog to bite her. In WhatsApp groups across gated communities in Delhi’s shiny suburb though, none of this was discussed. The ongoing chatter about ‘maids’ making ‘unreasonable’ demands carried on.

Women — many of them girls — are routinely exploited by their well-off employers in the National Capital Region. What changes is the degree of exploitation. This is not the only case this year. In February, a PR professional and an insurance company employee were accused of sexually harassing their help in Gurugram’s New Colony.

“For four months, her employers did not allow us to speak to her, not even over the phone. They threatened to kill me too if I turned up at their place. I was helpless; I had no support,” says the distraught father, a gardener, surrounded by cameras and journalists inside Gurugram’s Civil Hospital in Sector 10. As he recounts the numerous horrors meted out to his daughter, while she recuperated in the building behind him, he also admits to not reporting it to the police.

The family of three allegedly held her captive, threatened to push her into prostitution, sexually abused her, hit her with hammers, and instigated their dog to bite her.

The family of three allegedly held her captive, threatened to push her into prostitution, sexually abused her, hit her with hammers, and instigated their dog to bite her. | Photo Credit: SHASHI SHEKHAR KASHYAP

Family decisions

Reeling under a debt of ₹1.5 lakh borrowed to meet the medical expenses and other needs of the family, the 47-year-old father, a native of Bihar’s Sitamarhi district, had migrated with his family of eight to Gurugram two years ago hoping for a better future. They came along with a few others from the village. But the harsh reality of the metropolitan city soon hit them, and they found it difficult to even feed their six children.

“Despite both of us working, it was getting difficult for us to survive on our meagre incomes. My husband earns ₹100 to ₹150 a day; I make ₹2,000 a month. So, when an acquaintance, Sanjay, who cleans cars in a group housing society, offered to place our daughter in domestic work at a kothi (independent house) in Sector 57, we agreed,” says the mother, recalling the circumstances that forced the couple to send their minor daughter to work.

According to the First Information Report (FIR), it all went well for the first month, but the parents were not allowed to meet or speak to the girl thereafter. She was hired for ₹9,000 a month for round-the-clock domestic work, but her employers paid her only for the first two months. “They never paid us after that. They did not even take my calls most of the time,” says the mother in the police complaint.

When the girl’s family could not find any means to contact their daughter for six months, the mother finally turned to her employer, Smriti Pratap, a resident of The Legends Apartments in Sector 57, and narrated their ordeal. Pratap, along with the woman, reached the house of the girl’s employers and managed to free her. “I was shocked to see the state the girl was in. Her employer told us she had cut her hair as punishment for stealing. Later, the girl told us that she was hungry, and had ‘stolen’ a piece of bread because she was given food only on alternate days,” says Pratap, who the survivor’s family says has helped them in small ways, giving them a fan and bulbs in summer. After the rescue, she bought warm clothes and socks for the girl.

The girl shows her hands allegedly burnt by her employer and two adult sons in Gurugram’s Sector 57.

The girl shows her hands allegedly burnt by her employer and two adult sons in Gurugram’s Sector 57. | Photo Credit: SHASHI SHEKHAR KASHYAP

Social support

Aghast by the torture meted out to the girl, advocate and Gurugram Child Welfare Committee (CWC) member Upasana Sachdeva, who had provided support to her after the rescue, says the minor was left physically and mentally scarred by the long captivity and barbarity. “I didn’t know her, but those who did told me that she looked beautiful and was chirpy. Now, she is just a shadow of her former self,” says Sachdeva, adding that the girl’s hands and legs were sometimes tied so she could not run away, and that the family threatened to put out naked videos of her on social media if she tried to escape.

The CWC ordered for a bone ossification age test of the girl, and the police claim results reveal her age is between 16 and 17. So far, the FIR has been filed citing provisions under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012; the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015; Sections 289 (neglect of animals), 323 (causing hurt), 34 (common intention), 344 (wrongful confinement), 506 (criminal intimidation), and 509 (insulting a woman’s modesty) of the Indian Penal Code.

The girl’s family alleges that the police tried to dilute the case against the accused. “The police were insensitive when they interviewed my daughter. They made her sign papers claiming she was not sexually abused,” says the girl’s mother. Inspector Suman, Station House Officer, Sector 51, Women Police Station, denies the charges. None of the charges were dropped, and the matter is under investigation, Suman says.

Social activist Rishi Kant, who has been part of many rescue operations, says though the victims, in most cases, are minor girls trafficked from West Bengal, Bihar, and Odisha, which is seeing a rise post-COVID due to high school dropout rates and dwindling incomes, the perpetrators are often well-educated working couples. It’s a matter of vulnerability, he says. “Minors are cut off from their families and have no powerful support structures in the city. Most minors are placed by illegal placement agencies running in the absence of any legal framework,” says Kant.

He speaks about Gurugram’s New Colony case, where the victim, a minor, eventually turned hostile. Many survivors turn hostile during the trial, with them being “bought over” or “pressurised” by a more influential accused once the matter is out of the media’s limelight.

Daily trials

A couple, working as domestic workers at the upscale 140-acre residential colony, Suncity, off Golf Course Road in Gurugram’s Sector 54 for about two decades, says exploitation was “a way of life” for them. “While cases of extreme brutality like the recent one come out in the open, countless cases of routine sexual abuse and ill-treatment go unreported. Abuses, minor thrashing, denial of rightful wages are normal,” says Salma (name changed to protect privacy), adding that periodic wage hikes are left to the employers’ whims, and there are no weekly offs. Domestic workers have no choice but to suffer in silence for fear of losing their jobs, she says.

Working at a household for about a decade, Salma says she was not paid “enough” and often made to put in extra hours of work without any additional payment. It was difficult for her to find another job in the same township if she quit. “Madam will give me a bad name, spreading rumours about me among other residents on WhatsApp groups. Madam log sab WhatsApp per jude hue hai. Agar koi kaam chhodta hai to fir usko koi aur nahi leta (All employers are connected through WhatsApp groups. If someone quits a job, no one hires her),” she says.

Her husband, Aaqib (name changed), recalls how his sister-in-law’s employer falsely accused her of theft when she said she wanted to quit the job. “The woman called the police accusing my sister-in-law of stealing jewellery. The police searched her jhuggi, but found nothing. Still the couple was taken to the police station and beaten up. The two were set free after other residents from the society intervened. A few days later, her employer apologised for her behaviour saying she had lied.” Aaqib recounts another incident, in which an elderly person brutally beat up a minor domestic help, fracturing her hand, but the matter was hushed up.

Staying in a cluster of shanties close to Sector 54, Rapid metro station, Maahnoor (name changed), 37, works 11 hours — from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. — to earn ₹11,000 per month. “Only two out of 10 ma’ams are good,” she says.

Parvez (name changed), standing beside Maahnoor, agrees. “My wife worked at a flat in Westend Heights [Sector 53] for five days before she was fired. When she went to ask for her pending wages, the guards did not allow her inside,” says Parvez. Another woman chips in by saying that her employer vacated the flat without paying her wages for 20 days. “I have called her several times, she is saying she has transferred the money to my account, but I have not received anything. Whom should I turn to for help?” she says.

Habiba (name changed), 39, who worked for a Korean family for three years, says people from outside the country treated them better than those here. Staying in EWS (Economically Weaker Sections) flats in Suncity, she says the family paid her three times the existing rates for domestic work back in 2010, but also gave her two days off every week. “I had to quit the job after they left Gurugram,” says Habiba.

What is needed

Sangrami Gharelu-Kamgar Union member Shreya Ghosh, working among domestic workers in Delhi-NCR, Kolkata, and Bengaluru, says barring Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Kerala, no other State has legislation in place for the community. “Unless there is a law in place guaranteeing rights to domestic workers, they cannot legally demand them,” she says.

Gurugram Labour Inspector Abhishek Malik says labour laws, including the minimum wages law, are applied only to those working in establishments. Therefore, domestic workers, employed in homes, are outside the purview of any legal framework. “The law against child labour [Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act, 1986], though, applies to households as well,” Malik says.

Amid the uproar over the brutality meted out to the minor, the Gurugram district administration has set up a committee, comprising social activists, district officials and legal experts, to create a framework of regulations for hiring domestic workers and fix minimum wages for them.

Deputy Commissioner Nishant Yadav says legal opinion will be sought before releasing the charter to define minimum wages and working hours for domestic workers.

Gharelu Kamgar Union convener Maya John feels 24x7 work must be prohibited as it forces a large number of impoverished women and children into a situation akin to slavery.

“They are continuously under the physical control of their employers and forced to work at their beck and call,” John says. She also suggests maintaining a registry of all domestic workers and their employers.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.