Prestige Shantiniketan had imposed a rule last year that certain common areas were a no-go for "maids, cooks and help staff".

Bengaluru township continues class discrimination against house helps but few fight itPhoto by Amol Gaikonde via Wikimedia Commons
news Discrimination Friday, January 13, 2017 - 19:02

In April 2016, Bengaluru’s Prestige Shantiniketan, a township in Whitefield, landed in a controversy for imposing a ban on the presence on “maids, cooks and help staff” at the “podium level” and swimming pool. The apartment was criticised for being blatantly classist and elitist, and even violating Article 17 of the Constitution which abolishes untouchability.

Despite opposition of some residents, it appears that the rule is still in place, with the podium and swimming pool area continuing to be “a strict red zone” for the help staff. Vinodh Rajaraman, a resident of Shantiniketan since 2010, wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on Friday, among others, asking them to intervene in the issue.

The letter alleges that the order imposed by the residents’ association, restricts the help staff to the basement area, and is “unconstitutional”. The letter also states that apart from Article 17, the restriction also violates Prevention of Atrocities Act – 1989 and Protection of Civil Rights Act-1976 as most of the working class tends to be from “lower social hierarchy and caste”.

According to the association however, the rationale behind the order is that of “children’s safety”, as per a report in Bangalore Mirror. Vinodh, a resident says he and a few other residents tried to take it up with the association during November and December, their demands were turned down. “They told us that it was private property and hence they weren’t doing anything wrong in imposing the rules,” Vinodh said.

Clifton D’ Rozario, a member of All India Central Council of Trade Unions and advocate at Karnataka High Court, says that you cannot defy the Constitution whether it is private property or not. “It’s a far-fetched argument. That way you will justify abuse if it happens on private property,” he argues.

Clifton adds that this increases the class divide and internalization of the discrimination among lower classes.

Vinodh also said that the restrictions enjoy popular support, at least among those actively involved in the managerial discussions. These discussions take place on an online portal, where Vinodh says that only 100-200 people are active out of the 2,500-2,600 flats which are occupied in the township. Out of these Vinodh, MA Deviah and 4-5 others are the only ones actively opposing the move.

Debasis Mishra, President of the residents' association rubbished claims that the restrictions were unconstitutional. "Every workplace will have some restrictions, right? People who work there will have to comply with them," he argues. 

He adds that upon consulting the association's lawyer, it was found that there was nothing unconstitutional about the order as the areas restricted for the help staff are not public property, but fall under the amenities whose maintenance is paid for by residents. 

"The help staff all work in various houses so they really have no business being in the restricted areas after or before work. The staff who is required there, like the horticulture staff for the garden area, they are allowed. The others are not needed there," Debasis maintains. 

MA Deviah, although not a resident of Shantiniketan, has been a house-owner there for eight years now. While actively opposing the restriction on the help staff, Deviah says they have restrained from filing a legal complaint in the regard out of consideration for the residents association members.

“We do not want to ruin their careers. They say it’s a security issue, but the security threat that the house helps and women workers face when they have to wait in the dark and dank basement is also very real. You cannot restrict an entire class of people because of some security incidents that may have happened. The police can take care of the law and order,” Deviah argues.

Deviah says that he approached Satheesh Kumar, DCP East Bengaluru in December to intervene in the issue. However, no action has been taken so far, he says. 

Brijesh Kalappa, Supreme Court lawyer and legal advisor to Karnataka government, had also written to G Parameshwara, Karnataka Home Minister, in December, asking the latter to direct concerned officers to take “remedial measures”.

While Kalappa agrees with Vinodh that most of the working staff belong to oppressed classes and therefore this is a “clear case of discrimination”, he tells TNM that he hasn’t yet followed up with Parameshwara about the same. He adds that the legal recourse that can be taken here is either filing a case with the jurisdictional police or approaching the State Civil Rights Enforcement Cell.

The latter recourse is something Deviah says they are considering if the association does not budge from its stand. “We are planning to approach the Human Rights Commission. We may also approach the High court, but that’s the last resort,” he says.

Here's a copy of the letter Vinodh has sent to authorities:

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