A 14-year-old girl who was working as a domestic help with a couple in Gurugram has just been rescued after living through five months of gruesome torture and abuse at the hands of her employers. She was regularly beaten, burnt with hot metal tongs, slashed with blades, hit on her genitalia, kept in a state of near starvation, not allowed to speak to her relatives, and not paid a penny for the relentless work that she was made to do.
The brutalities that she was subjected to are stomach-turning, and if you have seen the pictures of her swollen lips, ravaged limbs, and gaping wounds on social media, you will want to dispense with the nicety of saying that her employers “allegedly” beat her up.
While the girl is now recovering at a hospital, Manish Khattar and Kamaljeet Kaur, the couple who enslaved and tortured her, have been arrested under Sections 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), Section 342 (wrongful confinement) of the Indian Penal Code, Section 75 (cruelty to child) and Section 79 (exploitation of a child employee) of the Juvenile Justice Act, and Section 12 (sexual harassment of child) of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act(POCSO).
Once the news hit the headlines, the husband and the wife, both educated professionals, were also sacked from their respective places of work.
How India's Urban Dwellers Resort to Class Violence To Exercise Power
It is good to know that the law, as well as society, have caught up with the couple’s savage abuse of a child who was employed ostensibly to look after their own toddler. Leaving aside the fact that it is not even legal to make a 14-year-old do manual work, this shocking case is yet another reminder of the rising incidence of class violence in India’s urban centres.
It is as if many among those who belong to the dominant, more affluent classes have begun to feel that they are entitled to commit any manner of verbal and physical offences against those who are relatively powerless and do not have the economic and social equity to hit back. And this makes you wonder if the caste violence in India’s hinterland has shifted shape and manifested itself as class violence in the country’s urban melting pots.
In December 2022, a woman in a Noida condominium was caught on camera, dragging her domestic help out of an elevator. The video went viral on social media. Later, the woman, identified as Shefali Kaul, was arrested on charges that she regularly beat up the girl, and threatened to set her on fire and throw her off the roof when she wanted to leave.
All too often, disturbing videos emerge of people intimidating their building guards and members of staff and throwing the rawest expletives at them. These are educated, well-heeled persons who live in luxury gated communities in the National Capital Region(NCR).
In an incident last year, one of the offenders happened to be a lawyer, though you wouldn’t think so, given that she brazenly (and perhaps, drunkenly) flouted every law of decency and several laws in the book by threatening and abusing the guards in her building complex.
Caste & Class Violence Stem From Entitlement To Oppress the Marginalised
The instinct to oppress the weak, and to keep them in their place through violence and intimidation, is perhaps atavistic in humankind. Whether it is the colonialist’s treatment of the colonised, the slave master’s treatment of his slaves, the white supremacist’s contempt and violence towards coloured people, or, indeed, patriarchy’s subjugation of women — they are all part of the basic instinct to assert one’s power by tyrannising and subduing those with less power. It is self-determination through the persecution of others.
But wasn’t civilisation supposed to have put an end to this? Should education and enlightenment not have instilled the values of egalitarianism, tolerance, respect for one another, and respect for the laws of the land?
Evidently not. Take the caste violence that continues to benight India’s villages and small towns. The backward castes and Adivasis are considered fair game by those who are more powerful simply by virtue of the fact that they belong to the so-called upper castes.
Incidents of Dalits being flogged, beaten, and assaulted occur regularly — sometimes for no other reason than a groom daring to ride a horse at his wedding procession, or someone drinking from a well or a pot that is meant to be the sole preserve of the privileged upper castes. Again, while rapes are common enough, the rape of Dalit girls by upper-caste men is even more so.
Urban Indians may sometimes look upon incidents of caste violence as unfortunate things that take place only in the country’s vast outbacks, where social behaviour and attitudes are perhaps more primitive and retrogressive than in their slick, glitzy cityscapes.
But maybe it’s time for a reality check. In truth, urban class violence which is clearly on the rise, springs from the same primitive mindset— the desire to oppress the weak and keep them perennially cowering and powerless.
Is Urban Violence the New Normal In India?
The Gurugram couple who committed such diabolic atrocities on a 14-year-old domestic help is not of unsound mind. They were functioning individuals at work, and, no doubt, at family events and social gatherings. The fact that they thought they had the right to enslave and brutalise a young girl who was poor and without support, speaks volumes about the way in which urban class violence is increasingly being normalised.
The perpetrators deserve the most stringent punishment that the law allows. And one hopes that in this particular case, the woman’s pleas that she is a mother with a small child will not be grounds to dilute the penalty that is due to her for her and her husband’s horrific crime.
(Shuma Raha is a journalist and author. She tweets @ShumaRaha. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)