NEW DELHI (AFP) – A teenage girl working as a maid in India’s capital was recovering in hospital Tuesday after being rescued from a home where campaigners said she was slashed with knives and mauled by dogs.
Police told AFP they had arrested her employer, a 50-year-old woman who lives with her 85-year-old mother in the upmarket Vasant Kunj area of southern New Delhi, on suspicion of illegal confinement and assault.
The 15-year-old’s injuries have cast a spotlight again on the abuse of domestic servants in the capital where thousands of workers, often children trafficked from remote and poverty-stricken states, toil for long hours in homes with almost no legal protection.
“It is horrible and barbaric,” Kiran Walia, Delhi’s minister for women and child development, told reporters after visiting the victim in a city hospital where she is being treated for multiple injuries.
The girl, from the eastern state of Jharkhand, reportedly told police after her rescue on Monday night that she had been working with her employers for the past year and was unable to leave.
“Such a heinous crime has happened to this girl. The whole head was smashed, the whole body, dog bites are there,” Rishi Kant, from the anti-trafficking campaign group Shakti Vahini, told the NDTV news channel, adding she had also been slashed with knives.
“In this house they are well off, they are not poor people,” he added after a joint operation with police to rescue the maid.
A crowd of onlookers gathered outside the four-storey residential block on Tuesday as news of the rescue operation spread, with locals saying the two women were known as unpredictable and frequently involved in neighbourhood disputes.
“I heard shrieks yesterday while I was walking in the park. Then my maid came running to me and said ‘There is something wrong in that house, come with me’,” said Achla Bhandari, a resident in the middle-class neighbourhood.
“We both rushed there and tried to peek through the windows,” she added. “I was horrified when I saw her.”
She and other neighbours said the two women kept five dogs and often had street dogs roam inside their home.
Neeraj Kumar Yadav, a Vasant Kunj police inspector, told AFP the 45-year-old employer was in policy custody. Charges would not be pressed against her elderly mother on account of her age, he said.
In April last year police arrested a wealthy doctor couple who locked up their 13-year-old maid while they went away on holiday. She was rescued by firefighters when neighbours spotted her crying on an outside balcony.
“Rich people are willing to pay any amount of money to get servants who can clean their houses, survive on left-over food,” campaigner Kant told AFP recently.
“Illegal placement agencies offering housemaids have mushroomed in every city across India.”
“The rich employers are specifically looking at children because they come cheaper, complain less and can be exploited.”
In 2006 India passed legislation banning employment of children under 14 in households, roadside eateries and hotels, but the law is widely flouted in the country of 1.2 billion people.