There was this horrendous story on a news channel on 23rd November: Ill treatment of a domestic help by her employers. This domestic help was a girl, Rajitha, not more than 10. Thin emaciated, with burn marks all over her body ... her arms, legs, back, and a fresh wound on her stomach, earned that very day. Her fault: She was a little late in warming the milk for the employer's baby.
Her screams had been fortuitously heard by a child activist who happened to be passing by. She got suspicious, so heart wrenching, so agonized, the screams were. After hours of knocking on the door and ringing the bell, did they and the world get to see Rajita and her plight. The look on her face on being taken out of the employer's grasp was not of relief. She still looked very unsure, frightened. She simply couldnot trust anybody. And with good reason. Seeing the burn marks on her body, this must not have been the first time she must have screamed. And yet, the neighbours had been mute onlookers for the 6 months that she had been in Hyderabad.
Here too, in Gurgaon, I have seen many families with several little children as domestic help. Once at a local restaurant, while a family gorged themselves at a table, a little boy of maybe 7 or 8, difficult to guess since their growth is stunted due to chronic malnutrition, waiting (not even seated), next to the table, patiently. Occasional, he would walk the couple's crying baby in his tiny, not yet adult arms. The couple went on calmly consuming great quantities of food.
Yet another day, I met a couple in our very building, coming up the elevator with their tot and her minder ... another little girl, barely 7. This 7 year old girl, was well dressed and looked well fed, but she was so adult like, so responsibly, gently preventing her guard, the baby from clutching onto the various buttons in the elevator. No time for her ofcourse, to indulge in simple childish pleasures.
The only good thing to come out of this sordid incident, is possibly highlight the plight of thousands, maybe millions
of children in so many houses in India. Domestic labour. Hyderabad alone, according to the news report has 47,000 children working as domestic laborers. God knows how many there are, through out the country.
There are laws to put an end to such things and maybe, India will get its act together to make sure, legislation is in place to end domestic labour and their ill treatment.
But what is frightening is, this is human behavior. Of educated, well off people. Those who without any qualms whatsoever, in cold blood torture helpless, innocent children; And those, who are mute, unhearing spectators. Can we change human behaviour with a few laws? It can be suppressed but not eliminated. Despite the threat of the death penalty, rape happens. God knows how many Rajithas there are, crying, with no one to hear them cry.