The events at Noida’s Mahagun Moderne society last week have been interpreted as an example of the class conflict rife in India, with the colony’s richer residents pitted against the unorganised domestic workers they employ.
However, emails and conversations on instant messaging service Telegram reveal that the conflict at the gated residential complex is not limited to residents versus workers alone. There is a growing divide among the residents themselves with some determined to clamp down on a certain kind of worker, and others concerned about the class conflict narrative that has emerged.
On July 12, a group of over 100 persons stormed Mahagun Moderne society in Noida’s Sector 78, approximately 23 km from New Delhi, after Zohra Bibi, a 27-year-old domestic worker employed in different households in the complex, did not return home the previous night. The complex’s security guards found her in the morning, as the group, comprising her relatives and neighbours, stood pushing at the colony gates. Zohra Bibi alleged that she had been assaulted and held captive by one of her employers. A case has been registered against the couple she accused of confining her, while three separate First Information Reports – one of which includes the charge of attempt to murder, a non-bailable offence – have been filed against the domestic workers and and their relatives. The police arrested 13 persons from the nearby slum clusters in connection with these cases.
On social media, some attempted to compare the incident to communal violence in West Bengal’s Malda district in 2016, even referring to the domestic workers and their families – who are migrants from West Bengal – as Bangladeshis. According to the police, which examined the identity documents of the slum residents, there is little evidence that any illegal Bangladeshi immigrants were involved in the incident. Elsewhere observers pointed out the inherent class conflict of the story, which came into sharper focus after Union Minister Mahesh Sharma told flat owners in a private meeting that he stood with them and would take action against the workers involved in the incident.
Since Sharma’s meeting, the society has blacklisted 81 domestic workers. Additionally, around 30 makeshift shops near Mahagun Moderne, owned by migrants from Bihar and other districts of Uttar Pradesh, were demolished by the Noida Authority.
At the complex, many residents remain unhappy about the action taken against domestic workers following the July 12 episode. A resident said that the blacklisting of domestic workers was not a unanimous decision. The resident said that a few had taken the decision and the others could not do much about it. The actual task of identifying and restricting the blacklisted workers from entry was implemented by the complex’s management.
Others believe that more must be done to prevent domestic workers from engaging in a similar incident. Others still are concerned about the rich versus poor narrative that has emerged, as it portrays them in a bad light. The debate started on email but became sharper after a Telegram group titled “MM Platform” was created following Union minister Sharma’s visit. As of July 20, the group had around 1,250 residents of the society as members.
Scroll.in has access to several conversations on the subject conducted on the Telegram group as well as on a Gmail group that Mahagun Moderne residents are part of.
In one of the messages posted on the Telegram group on July 18, a resident posed questions to other residents – referring to them as “pro-ban leaders” – asking them what has been achieved by restricting domestic workers from entering the society.
The resident also said that the actions of these “leaders” had turned all Mahagun residents into “the symbol of rich who exploit”.
In another message, a second resident said that members of the society should jointly “defame” those residents who spoke out against the restrictions on domestic workers and the emerging Bangladeshi narrative. Some others agreed that residents should call out those who spoke out against the restrictions. One member of the group even identified and accused a fellow resident of hiring one of the blacklisted domestic workers.
Many residents reacted sharply to anyone questioning the “ban”, insisting that those who were “supporting maids” were also “bringing society’s residents’ life to risk”.
When one resident asked for a more reasonable discussion, another retorted saying that if domestic workers engage in any hooliganism in the future, those supporting them currently should be held accountable.
Bangladeshis or Bengali Muslims?
The conversation entered tricky cultural and religious territory as residents called for the current restrictions on domestic workers to be extended to all “Bangladeshis”. One even demanded a “ban” on all Bengali-speaking Muslims, whether Bangladeshi or Indian. Others replied asking how the society will be able to identify and keep out West Bengal Muslims.
Over email, some residents tried to convince others that they were not taking the incident seriously enough, insisting that “Bangladeshi workers would again unite and create the same mess”. One decided to call the the July 12 incident a “semi-terrorist attack”, saying that continuing to employ a “Bangladeshi” is like harbouring a terrorist.
But another resident objected to the term “semi-terrorist attack”. This resident felt that the term was not strong enough, and the incident was actually a “full terrorist attack”.
A common refrain across several emails involved justifying the calls for a ban, not just on “Bangladeshis” but on Muslims, by telling members of the group to take note of the community usually involved in “terror attacks”. One resident even made a reference to the US’ response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The Mahagun website says that the homes in Mahagun Moderne, one of the several luxury properties the realty firm has constructed, “mirror the taste of affluent class and include an array of space options (2, 3, 4 BHK units) comprising of high rise apartments, duplex apartments, independent floors, penthouses in addition to an iconic tower Marvella dedicated to luxurious 5 BHK units”.
The complex, which only began to be occupied two years ago, is yet to form a Resident Welfare Association. Elections for the association are likely to be held soon.
Some residents believe that other members of the society are using the July 12 episode to project themselves as leaders in the run-up to the elections.
“When it comes to a residential welfare society, there is a lot of money involved,” said a resident who did not wish to be identified. “When the latest incident happened, some people contributed to communal narratives in a subtle manner. They saw the Bangladeshi and Malda narratives developing and never made any attempt to stop it when they actually could. After a point, they fanned the flames, being careful enough not to use such words themselves.”
The resident added: “In the later stages, the same persons suddenly became pacifiers and started to convince other residents about how the matter should be put to rest. They suddenly started showing leadership qualities. It is sad that all residents of the society are earning a bad name for the vested interests of a few.”
However, another resident countered this theory, saying that it was not possible to make a direct link between the discussions over domestic workers and the residential welfare elections. “The elections are a parallel process,” he said. “It should not be seen in the light of this incident.”
A third resident said that there were no vested interests involved when it came to dealing with a “mob” in the Zohra Bibi case. “It is true that a lot of people are trying to emerge as leaders ahead of the society elections but it cannot be said whether this incident will give them any leverage,” he said.