The Big Story: Blessed are the strong

On Sunday, the Union minister of culture Mahesh Sharma addressed the residents of a posh gated community in Noida, Uttar Pradesh. The community, Mahagun Moderne, had seen a dispute between its residents and the domestic workers who worked in its flats. A domestic worker, Zohra Bibi, had gone missing and attempts to find her resulted in her husband and other people from her slum clashing with the guards of Mahagun Moderne on July 12. While Zohra claimed in a first information report that she was detained against her will by her employers, the Sethi family, the Sethis in turn filed a case against the people who had forced their way into Mahagun Moderne looking for Zohra.

Union minister Mahesh Sharma, though, had little time to look at the grievances of both parties. On Sunday, he announced that the Sethis were innocent of all wrongdoing. Moreover, he threatened the domestic workers who had been arrested by the police claiming that “they will not get bail for years to come”. This announcement was backed up by action on the ground: the Uttar Pradesh police have booked the arrested domestic workers for attempt to murder. As this report in Caravan points out, this is absurd given that no resident of Mahagun Moderne reported any injuries, and none of the FIRs mention any attempts of physical attacks on the residents.

In effect, then, the Indian state has announced that it will not carry out a fair investigation into matters. It will openly favour the residents of Mahagun Moderne over the domestic workers. This has little to do with the particulars of the case per se – no matter the crime, nothing justifies a Union minister threatening to deny bail. The attitude of the state is driven purely by the identities of the people involved in the case.

On the one side are the rich residents of a gated community in the heart of the National Capital Region. Privileged in every sense: class, community and caste. The domestic workers are the mirror image: they are migrants from West Bengal, Muslim and poor. In fact, right from the start, the identity of the domestic workers loaded the dice against them. “Malda again” ran a hashtag on social media, characterising this as a communal riot, painting the domestic workers as Bangladeshi citizens: both false.

In effect, the incident is a stark reminder of how sharp the class divide is in India’s cities. A conflict between rich and poor will result in the poor being backed into a corner, with everything from the state to the media thrown at them. The problem of domestic workers is particularly acute. Horrific stories of abuse emerge from time to time with little resolution, given the balance of power that exists between employer and employee. There are no laws to regulate this work. Domestic workers in India’s posh cities are treated in ways that border on slavery. Segregation – of elevators, cutlery and seating space – is considered normal in India’s rich households in much the way as separate seating for African Americans was normal in the United States till the 1950s.

This discrimination makes little impact on the psyche of the rich India. In fact, even as 13 domestic workers face crushing jail terms, the Union minister joked to the residents of Mahagun Moderne that most people find their naukranis (women domestic workers) more valuable than their spouses.

India can be a brutal place if one does not belong to the right class and community. Mahagun Moderne demonstrates this

The Big Scroll

Abhishek Dey’s reports:

  1. In the class conflict unfolding in Noida, union minister makes it clear he stands with flat owners.
  2. Branded as Bangladeshis: In Noida, anger turns to fear for domestic workers after police raid
  3. In Noida, a riot-like situation over a domestic worker puts the focus on India’s bitter class chasm

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  1. The expanding power gap between China and India means the former is getting emboldened to strike aggressive postures even as New Delhi seeks dialogue, argues Kanwal Sibal in the Telegraph.
  2. The trouble for the Bahujan Samaj Party is that a much younger and energetic Dalit leadership has started shaping the discourse within Dalit politics. The BSP’s future in Indian politics depends heavily on what Mayawati chooses to do in the coming months, write Rahul Verma and Pranav Gupta in the Indian Express.
  3. All Opposition parties that want to craft an alternative to the BJP in the 2019 general elections have a stake in what happens in Bihar in the coming days, says Neerje Chowdhury in the Hindustan Times.

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