Minor girl working as domestic worker dies in Hyderabad, activists cry foul

Aparna had been telling her mother that she wanted to leave the job and to send her brother to take her home.
Minor girl working as domestic worker dies in Hyderabad, activists cry foul
Minor girl working as domestic worker dies in Hyderabad, activists cry foul
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When B Arjamma last spoke to her 16-year-old daughter Aparna on June 1 around 8:35 am, her daughter was desperate to leave the job she was working. Aparna was employed as a full-time domestic worker in Hyderabad when she was 13 years old in 2017. "She wanted us to take her from the house as she was being harassed by her madam. But Aparna was afraid that her employer would hurt her," alleged the teen’s mother.

Much to Arjamma’s horror, she learnt three days later that her daughter was found unconscious by the house owners, and ultimately passed away at a hospital. The police have opened a case under suspicious death under Section 174 Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). However, there is no case against the employers yet, despite Aparna’s allegations of harassment and despite her being a minor.  

A case was registered at the Bachupally Police Station for suspicious death under section 174 Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). According to the police, the house owners found Aparna unconscious at 10:30 am. She was taken to a private hospital past 11 am and then shifted to Osmania hospital where she passed away.

The Bachupally police told TNM that they found a pesticide bottle inside her room which was half open and empty. “Her body was found in one of the rooms on the first floor,” says Jagadeeshwar, the Station House Officer. “When the employers came upstairs past 10: 30 am, they found her body. We suspect that she fell unconscious between 8:30 am and 10:30 am. The pesticide bottles were found inside the room,” he adds.

The alleged harassment

Arjamma, a single mother of three, told TNM, "Aparna started complaining about the harassment three days before her death."

Aparna dropped out of school at the age of 13 and began work as a full-time domestic help at the residence of a furniture sales businessman and his wife. “When I asked her what was wrong, she said she would come home and tell everything. She wanted her brother to come and pick her up," Arjamma narrates. However, Aparna’s family was unable to send help due to lack of public transport due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

The many discrepancies 

What makes the circumstances around Aparna’s death suspicious are the discrepancies. For one, the FIR filed at Bachupally police station states that the house owner informed Arjamma that her daughter was found unconscious and needed medical attention at 9:25 am on June 1. However, according to the police, the employers only found Aparna’s body at 10:30 am.  

Arjamma said, “The madam called saying my daughter is unwell and asked me to come and take her away. I informed her that my relatives who live in Hyderabad will take her to the hospital. But when they reached there, the house was locked, and the watchman was missing. Aparna was already taken to a hospital.”

Further, the Bachupally police say they reviewed CCTV footage from inside the house and found Aparna went to the first floor – where she was allegedly found unconscious by her employers – at 8:40 am.

“We are still investigating the case,” said a police official.

Police allegedly not serious about the case

Lissy Joseph, Chairperson, National Workers Welfare Trust that works on domestic workers and migrant rights, had helped Aparna’s family file a police case with the Bachupally police station. The activist alleged that the officials were initially hesitant to even register a case.

“The police did not file an FIR on the day she died, but only on June 2. That too after we put pressure on them through senior women police officers. It was only after they got involved that the police visited the crime scene,” alleged Lissy, who was with Aparna’s family at the time of filing FIR.

Referring to the pesticide bottles to indicate that this was a suicide, Lissy alleged that the police seem to be acting in the interest of Aparna’s employer. The activist said that the employer did not mention the pesticide bottles until the police brought it up. “It was the police officer who suggestively asked if there was any pesticide at the house. Only then did the woman employer's husband say that yes there was pesticide in the house,” she said.

Lissy, however, is sceptical. “The attitude of the police towards the domestic workers from the Schedule Caste community is like treating them like dirt. If this was some high profile person’s daughter, they would have treated the case differently. But for an SC minor girl, no one cares. The watchman is missing now and his phone is switched off,” she alleged.

Several activists say that employers should be booked for bonded labour, employing an underage child below the age of 14, abetments to suicide and wrongful confinement, apart from sections of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. The police said further sections will be added during the course of the investigation. 

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