By Anuradha Nagaraj
CHENNAI, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The death of a housemaid who said she was abused by her New Delhi employers after being lured to the city with the promise of a job has raised new concerns over those trapped in domestic servitude in India.
Campaigners are demanding a renewed crackdown on unregulated employment agencies that profit from workers from impoverished states attracted to cities hoping to earn money to support their families back home.
The 24-year-old housemaid died in hospital on Wednesday, two weeks after she was admitted with multiple fractures and injuries, police said.
She had been trafficked from the eastern Indian state of West Bengal three years ago.
The woman's cousin, who also works as a housemaid in the city, called a helpline asking for help on Dec. 19.
Swati Maliwal, head of the Delhi Commission for Women, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation: "When I reached the hospital, what I saw was horrifying.
"She looked starved and could barely move. In her statement to the police she said that she had been beaten with iron rods by her employer for complaining about excess work."
There are an estimated 50 million domestic workers in India, most of them women, who are regularly exploited in the absence of any legal protection with a nationwide policy to support domestic workers awaiting cabinet approval, activists say.
Traffickers zero in on poor villages in states such as West Bengal, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, convincing vulnerable families to send their daughters away for employment.
But the children and young women are often passed onto unregulated placement agencies and transported in groups to cities where a growing middle class is looking for cheap live-in labor.
Rishi Kant of anti-trafficking charity Shakti Vahini, which is assisting the victim's family, said her mother didn't know where her daughter was and kept calling the agency asking them to send her back.
"They kept promising they would and now the girl has died," said Kant. "Every day there are cases coming to light and yet people in the capital city are silent."
Kant said he hoped this case would be a wake-up call for policy makers and law enforcement to come up with a comprehensive plan to end exploitation.
He added that people want maids but don't want to pay proper wages and instead keep them as slaves.
There have been numerous previous reports of employers not paying maids, failing to provide them with proper food and shelter, forcing them to work long hours and even locking them up when they go on holiday.
(Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj, Editing by Ed Upright; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)