Saturday, April 2, 2011

In India, domestic helps work in an unsafe environment

The Shiney Ahuja case - the Bollywood actor convicted for raping the 20 year old maid working in his house - reflects two disturbing facts. One, that domestic help in this country work in conditions that are not always safe or harmonious. Add to this, the possibility of abuse, overwork, withholding of pay, employment of child labour and other indignities of working in middle class households. Given the social divide between the employer and the employee, the dice is already loaded. This was especially so in this case where the girl was a poor villager lately come to Mumbai for her livelihood, and who was so unlearned in self-defence that a preliminary pass made by the actor a couple of days before the rape did not alert her to the horrors in store.

The second aspect is the relentless defence of Ahuja by his wife. Ok, so he is her husband, albeit one who cheated the minute she was away, but did the unfairness of his attack - one can call it nothing else given the brutality revealed in the medical evidence - on a young girl mean nothing in the face of so called family values? Family here may also include the larger Bollywood family, who have as always, swung together to defend one of their own, spearheaded by that actor with the most 'records' in various police districts, Salman Khan himself, castigating the judge for bias against actors. Actors are as subject to the due process of law as any other citizen, yet it is they who expect special dispensation whenever they indulge in criminal activity.

The media has been largely ambivalent. An exception is today's editorial in the Deccan Herald, which talks of the way the Ahujas tried everything from threats to bribery until the victim retracted from her initial complaint. "Convictions in cases of rape are rare in this country. This is because assailants often use intimidation to silence the victims. There are social pressures too that prevent victims from going to the police and the courts. Initially, Ahuja’s maid overcame her fears and inhibitions to go to the police but relentless pressure saw her withdraw her charges." [Read more]

Kudos to the judge therefore, who ignored this 'hostile evidence' and based the sentence on the medical evidence instead to sentence Shiney Ahuja to seven years rigorous imprisonment. One hopes the higher courts will also uphold the sentence.

Lina Krishnan


  1. I feel proper justice has been delivered.He should be punished

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  3. Yes Soumya, you are right. But look at the way the system works...bail was granted yesterday for facilitating further appeal. Unbelievable!