On July 12 a mob of 300 comprising of domestic helpers, vegetable vendors and construction workers forced their way into Mahagun Moderne Society, Noida. At the centre of this clash was the alleged disappearance of 26-year old domestic help, Zohra Bibi, who had been working for one of the families in Mahagun. Bibi’s family, angry over her disappearance, stormed into the gated society and defied the hold of security guards. They claimed that Bibi was confined and physically assaulted by her employers following a disagreement over payment and they owed her Rs 12,000. Soon, there came another version of the story. The family in question, in turn, accused Bibi of stealing money.
After the clashes, different sets of cases were filed. One lodged by Zohra Bibi against her employers has been closed, according to a Financial Express report. Apparently, the case was shut even without recording Zohra’s statement. On their part, Zohra’s employers had lodged three FIRs. 13 people have been arrested based on their complaint. They haven’t received bail yet.
What is, however, difficult to comprehend is how a matter, which was essentially between a family and their domestic help, turned into a flash point between those living inside the gated society and those outside it. What made around 300 people rush to the society and allegedly indulge in vandalism and stone pelting, knowing that they may probably lose their jobs or may even land in jail? 13 of them are behind bars on account of “rioting”, “damaging property” and “attempt to murder”. 60 of those in the mob caught on the CCTV have been barred from working in the society. Four days after the incident, 60 shanties (right opposite Mahagaun), which were home to these domestic helpers, were demolished. What was worse, these domestic helpers were branded “illegal Bangladeshi immigrants”.
Today, the existing narrative around “illegal Bangladeshi immigrant” has a sinister political, social and communal connotation. Even if we were to ignore the fact that the people, who were part of the alleged mob on 12th July, had Aadhar cards, there is no denying that the rickshaw pullers, the autowallahs, the vegetable vendors and the maids — somehow always get branded as the “unwelcome outsider”, hated by the native population, and the first to be blamed for anything bad that happens in their city — be it petty theft or a ghastly rape. If in Noida these “unwanted outsiders” were imagined as a homogeneous group of “illegal Bangladeshi immigrants”, then in Mumbai they are migrants from Bihar and UP. Yet, people living in bungalows and high rises will never shy away from using their services. Yet, these “unwelcome and hated outsiders” become our only true ally in navigating through the crazy, busy, cruel city life. If not for these “unwelcome outsiders”, the working mother could have never made it to her child’s PTM, our ailing old parents would be deprived of basic care, the heap of dishes in the sink would have ensured we never reached office on time and the constant threat of being robbed would never give us a moment to ourselves.
In the face of increasing and mostly misplaced anger against them, we made an effort to reach out to them and document their stories. We did so by spending a day each with seven mostly invisible Indians – people like an autowallah from Bihar, a security guard from Etawah, UP, a metro cleaner cum teacher, a caretaker of the old and ailing. The purpose is to infuse some love and empathy for these people who form the backbone of our lives but aren’t appreciated enough, often getting overshadowed as the cog in the larger wheel.
One might dismiss this as an overenthusiastic attempt at romanticising the lives of people who are duly paid for what they do for us. But when you look at their stories — the caretaker who helps the old in relieving themselves and cleans their soiled clothes without any disgust, or the mechanic who deals with gun-toting customers on a daily basis and is “ready to fight for India against China”, or the metro cleaner who teaches the unprivileged kids under a flyover, you wonder where they get the strength to do what they do? What if we were in their place? Could we be as happy and satisfied with life as they are? Despite a difficult life they never talk ill of the country. Yes, they may have problems with governments, but none of the people we spoke to expressed any anger at being born a poor Indian. It is incredible how they deal with their difficult lives and work towards providing a better future for their kids, while simultaneously helping us construct our lives.
As we celebrate 70 years of Independence and the tremendous economic and technological progress we have made as a nation, let’s also take a moment out to celebrate the lives of these 7 invisible Hindustani.
Meet Prahlad Kumar JhaThe bindaas Mechanic from Bihar who while dealing with gun-totting customers is ready to “fight against China” if there is ever a war that needs his contribution
The story of Pankaj Kumar, a 21 -year old Metro cleaner.
The story of 40-year-old Seema Devi a pillar support for every family with ailing parents.
Meet L. P. Singh, the 60-year-old hairstylist who believes that everyone has an artist hidden inside them
Chandraprakash has been a washerman for 40 years. His dream? To own a house.
Meet Harinder Prasad, an auto driver who understands the biggest problem India faces today – unemployment
The story of 50-year-old watchman from Etawah and how he ensured that his kids got a good life.