My name is Beena and I am a domestic worker from Faridabad. I live in an informal slum settlement called Gadakhor village with my family. I belong to Sundarban village in Bengal and started working as a domestic worker at a young age.
When I was young, I lived with my parents in the village. I was a bright student in school and was excited to prepare for my future education. In 2004, an agent visited the village and tried to convince my parents to send me to Delhi for work. He told them that I would make a lot of money, much more than if they invested in my education.
My family agreed, because we were very poor and desperate for additional income. I left with two other young girls and boys from the village and moved to Delhi with the agent. I still remember our train ride to Delhi. The agent left us in a crowded coach, and himself sat in a separate coach to avoid suspicion or questions from the police.
Once we reached Delhi, we were taken to an office, where we stayed for a week. Then, I was sent to a house to do domestic work there. I was placed with a family of four – my employers consisted of a man, a woman and their two children. I used to sleep with the children, but one day, the man asked me to sleep next to him.
I had no idea how to respond, and who I could speak to.
I plucked up the courage to share the story with one of the boys who worked in my employer’s shop, which was set up right below the house. He was Bengali too. He told me to run away from the house, which I did. I left to go to the agent’s office. There, they verbally abused me, and decided to send me somewhere else, somewhere far away.
I was sent to Jaipur to work for another family as a domestic worker. I worked there for six months to be able to earn and save some money.
The family in Jaipur were extremely abusive. I didn’t know how to use the stove in their house to do the cooking. My employer got angry when I asked her, came to the kitchen, switched on the stove and forcibly put my hand on the burner.
I was afraid, in pain and didn’t know what to do. I used the little savings I had to run away and return to my village.
There, I found out that the other two girls who had moved to Delhi with me had been placed by the agent in households for full-time domestic work, where they weren’t given food and water. When they tried to run away though, they were caught. Their employer threatened to have them arrested, and they were forced to work with him for a year after that, without any pay. Their earnings were taken by the agents.
I tried to move on from these experiences, back in the village. But very soon, I had to return to Delhi again to look for a job and begin earning. This time, I took support from the people I knew and trusted. In 2008, I got a job in Defense Colony and eventually got married to a man and settled with my family in Faridabad. I continued to do domestic work around my community in Faridabad.
Recently, however, my sister and her husband were lured by agents to come to Delhi with the promise of a job. The agency promised both of them that they would get well paying jobs at the same place.
However, after reaching Delhi, my sister was asked to stay in the agency office and her husband was sent far away for work. After a few days, my sister was sent to Faridabad for domestic work. She wanted to meet her husband, but her employers did not let her do so. She called up the agent’s office and asked them for help. At the agent’s office, she was gang-raped and beaten by four of the agents, before being sent back to her employer’s home to work.
Somehow, because she knew I lived close by, my sister was able to find my number and contact me. After her call, I spoke with her husband and together, we managed to rescue her and they returned to the village.
Beena and her sister are among millions of domestic workers who are forced to keep silent about their experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace. Migrant status, desperation to earn and lack of strong legal mechanisms to prevent and redress such instances in their workplace make it harder for them to open up about their experiences. With #MainBhi, Beena has joined hands with the Martha Farrell Foundation, supported by the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, to strengthen institutional mechanisms and response to women domestic workers’ experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace. Find out more about the project here.