Cameraperson: Ribhu Chatterjee
Video Editor: Prashant Chauhan
"Mad******, behn****... these cuss words are not new to us. We are abused with these words on a regular basis. But what can we do? It's our job," says Neha (name changed), a security guard who works at a society in Delhi's Rohini.
Neha says she faces harassment at her workplace every day. But she wouldn't dare go on camera to speak about it – over fear of losing her job. "It would make things difficult for me and my family," she tells The Quint.
A single mother, Neha raises her four-year-old daughter by herself. She was divorced merely two months after her daughter's birth because her husband wanted a boy.
"Aadmi log security guards ko pair ka joota samjhte hain. Wo samjhte hain ke hm insaan nahi hain. Janwaron se battar zindagi jee rahe hain hum. (People treat us like the shoes on their feet. They don't think of us as humans. Our lives are worse than those of animals)," says Sri Krishna, another security guard, who also works at a society in Rohini.
To ensure that their families don't go hungry, both Neha and Sri Krishna trade in their dignity to work as security guards, earning Rs 9,000 per month, which is way below the minimum wages mandated by the Delhi government.
But can they really fight back?
'How Will I Feed My Baby?'
As Neha was not comfortable speaking to us at her workplace, she invited us to Jahangirpuri, where she lives in a jhuggi. Her jhuggi is about 10x10 feet, and has a kitchen on one side and a bathroom adjacent to it. A bed placed opposite the kitchen area.
Neha stays with her mother, daughter, and a younger brother.
"I took the job to fulfil the needs of the household and those of my daughter. How would I have provided her with milk if I didn't have a job?" says Neha, pointing towards her daughter.
"People misbehave a lot with the security guards. Sometimes they manhandle us or try to beat us," she added.
"Most often, while we are following orders from people, they start misbehaving with us. They start questioning us. They threaten to kick us out of our job. We have to face a lot of this misbehaviour in this job. But what can we do?"Neha (name changed), security guard
While Neha started working as a security personnel during the pandemic in 2020, Sri Krishna, a resident of Sultanpur in western Uttar Pradesh, has been working as a security guard for over 15 years. Before settling in Delhi's Kanjhawala, he worked at different parts of West Bengal and Gujarat.
'Harassment Just the Tip of the Iceberg'
Seated on a plastic chair on the terrace of his house, Sri Krishna recalls one of the incidents of harassment that he had faced. "During Holi, a man from our society misbehaved with a woman. The woman complained to me, and when I informed the family of the man, they got angry with me and accused me of making false allegations against their son," says Sri Krishna.
He further says that they threatened him with an FIR, forcing him to back out.
But the constant harassment is just the tip of the iceberg – there is a deeper systematic rot in the security services industry.
Satish Kumar Goyal, an activist fighting for the rights of security guards, told The Quint that there have been several complaints, of various nature, raised by the guards. Non-payment of salaries as per minimum wages and the absence of Provident Fund (PF) and Employee State Insurance (ESI) in workplaces are some of the major issues.
Considering their situation at home and the lack of job opportunities, most security guards don't raise alarm. But Sri Krishna feels that it's important to talk about these issues to bring about change in the way that they are being treated.
And that is why, he says, he has been fighting a case against his previous employer since 2015.
Speaking about what happened, Sri Krishna says, "I joined as a security guard at M*** Apartments (in Rohini) on 1 May 2014. They promised to pay as per government norms. They also promised a yearly bonus. But they didn't live up to their promises. When I asked them to increase the salary and apply all the norms set by the government, they asked me to leave the job and barred me from entering the society."
In the hope of resolving the issue, he reached out to the Mediation Centre at the Labour Court in Rohini, Sector 16 – but to no avail. "Right now, my case is being heard at Rohini Court at Sector 9. According to my advocate, I am owed around Rs 6.75 lakh," says Sri Krishna.
Neha, Sri Krishna, and many others like them have been exploited at the hands of their contractors and employers. In fact, it is to protect security guards that the Delhi government had enacted the Private Security Agency (Regulation) Rules in 2009. It stipulates specific guidelines for the training of guards, verification of the agency, grant of licences, and provision of supervisors.
"But these rules are just on paper. In the real world, they are blatantly violated, and even the government doesn't have enough resources to keep track of them," says Satish Kumar Goyal.
Cycle of Exploitation
A study by 'SalaryBox' says that almost two-thirds of blue-collar workers earn less than Rs 15,000 per month. As for the security services industry, the presence of several unregistered agencies and contractors has pushed these guards into a cycle of exploitation.
"The unregistered contractors are mostly migrants. They bring people from their native places, open an agency here, employ them, and then exploit them. And out of the agreed-upon salary of Rs 8,000-9,000, these contractors pay the guards around Rs 1,000-2,500. In the process, in 5-7 months, Rs 25,000-30,000 from a guard's earnings remain locked up with the contractor. And then, they become bonded labourers because neither can the guards quit their job leaving all their money behind, nor do the contractors pay them their full due."Satish Kumar Goyal, Activist
"We have heard about slavery. Today, I feel ike this is a modern form of slavery," says Sri Krishna. For many others like them, it's a battle they fight every day – and one that they lose every day due to the responsibilities on their shoulders.
"My daughter has a lump [on her face]. Her treatment had cost me Rs 15,000. The doctor has recommended an operation once she is five years old. It will cost us a lot of money. I don't know where I will get that money from," Neha says, hopelessly.
She hopes that her daughter gets an education, does well in life, and doesn't end up in a job like hers.