Noida Violence: Worlds under ivory tower

At the centre of the controversy was 26-year-old Zohra Bibi, who had ‘disappeared’ after being accused of stealing money by her employers. When she re-emerged on Wednesday, Bibi alleged she had been beaten and kept captive — a charge denied by her employers.

Written by Aniruddha Ghosal , Aditi Vatsa | Noida | Updated: July 17, 2017 6:19 am
Despite the ban on refusing entry to the 500 domestic helps to be partly lifted from Monday, many are unsure if they will get their jobs back.

Their day begins at 5 am. A cup of tea, perhaps a biscuit, and a dose of nostalgia for their homes back in north Bengal is all they have for breakfast before they head for the thousands of flats that have come up in Noida’s Sector 78, where they sweep floors or cook. Many of them are migrants from Bengal, who came to Noida in search of a better job and a better life. They live in a temporary settlement less than a kilometre away from Mahagun Moderne — a gated society that on Wednesday woke up to find 100-150 people from the community standing outside its gate, hurling stones and demanding the ‘return’ of a domestic help who had ‘gone missing’ the previous evening.

At the centre of the controversy was 26-year-old Zohra Bibi, who had ‘disappeared’ after being accused of stealing money by her employers. When she re-emerged on Wednesday, Bibi alleged she had been beaten and kept captive — a charge denied by her employers. Almost immediately after, Mahagun Moderne placed restrictions on the entry of domestic helps into the complex. Other condominiums followed suit, with WhatsApp messages urging residents and RWAs to ‘keep Bangladeshis out’.

With the fragile employer-employee relationship coming under strain, domestic helps told The Indian Express that questions like, ‘are you a Bengali Muslim’ have become common. Those who reply in the affirmative are told to leave immediately.  Back at the settlement, disparagingly called ‘Bangladeshi colony’ by those at the housing complexes, there is anger, resentment and fear, especially after 13 men were picked up by police late on Wednesday. “Many of the men aren’t here. Our homes are empty and we have no job. What will we do, with no work and nowhere to go? The police came later and broke open our doors. Zohra’s eldest son, who is 15, was also picked up,” alleged Mohsina Bibi, who worked at six households.

These 13 men were charged under IPC sections relating to rioting and damage to property. On whether Zohra’s son was among those picked up by police and later released, Gautam Buddha Nagar SSP Love Kumar said, “Apart from the 13 who were arrested, more people were picked up but were let off. The arrests were made only after these people were identified as among those responsible for the violence that day. CCTV footage from the society was used to identify them. Others were not arrested.”

Despite the ban on refusing entry to the 500 domestic helps to be partly lifted from Monday, many are unsure if they will get their jobs back.

Study in contrast

By 6 am, a part of the colony empties out. At many jobs — from selling vegetables to working at construction sites — the worker’s identity matters little. But not everyone is as lucky. Many, like Meena Bibi, haven’t been paid this month and are now without a job.

“We came here a decade ago, or maybe more. Most of us are from Cooch Behar in north Bengal. We have lived here for about two years; before this we were in Indirapuram, and before that, when there were no flats, we worked at construction sites. Many of us built these flats with our own hands; the same flats they are kicking us out of now,” Zohra’s husband, Abdul Sattar, said.

The real estate sector, buoyed by the Noida Authority’s decision to defer three infrastructure projects in a bid to ensure Metro connectivity, has seen thousands of flats spring up — each costing around Rs 55,000-Rs 70,000 per sqft. The massive towers are named after parks in London and squares in New York, representative of the middle-class dream of owning a ‘golf view’ apartment.

 

“Poverty in Bengal was different. We wouldn’t go hungry, but there were no jobs. We thought we could move here, find work and save money, so that at least our children could go to school… and we could maybe buy a house one day,” said Amina Bibi, 24.

Back at the colony, though, even dreams are a luxury. There are no windows, no view, just the surety of knowing that rent is due every month — Rs 500 for a 50 sqft porta cabin, to be paid to the local who erected the cabins and turns up every month to collect rent.

While the local refused to comment on the status of land ownership, a senior government official said, “It is unlikely that the land is privately owned.”
By 9 am, not everyone has left. Many like Marjina Bibi don’t have a job now. Not used to being idle, she starts speaking of her home. Cooch Behar, she says, was India’s first planned city, built by the legendary king of the princely state of Koch Bihar, Nripendra Narayan, in the early 1900s.

“Cooch Behar taught the rest of India about modernity, about roads. Our palace continues to inspire whoever goes there. We are here not because we want to, but because we are trying to survive. It might be beautiful back there, but there are no jobs. If our king was still alive, none of this would be happening,” she said.

It wasn’t until 1949 that Cooch Behar became a part of India, leading to discomfiture among its residents. An accusation that flares up during elections is that Cooch Behar’s merger with West Bengal was a betrayal of the original agreement between the Maharaja of Cooch Behar and India. According to the West Bengal government, in 2005, when many of these residents moved to Noida, rural poverty in the district was as high as 25.62 per cent.

“Poverty in Bengal was different. We wouldn’t go hungry, but there were no jobs. We thought we could move here, find work and save money, so that at least our children could go to school… and we could maybe buy a house one day,” said Amina Bibi, 24.

But the community hasn’t let go of its roots entirely. Take, for instance, the houses. Each tin roof has been lined with bamboo thatchwork, a traditional cultural practice in north Bengal where, as one resident put it, children start learning to make the thatch as soon as they turn five. Every home also has the traditional Bengali hath pakha (hand fan).

An hour later, as bright yellow school buses start arriving at the housing complexes to take smartly dressed children to school, kids at the settlement stay put. Abdul and Zohra’s sons, aged 15 and 12, dropped out of school last year because it was too far and transportation options were limited.
There are no signs of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the government’s ICDS scheme, health schemes for mothers, zero balance bank accounts, or even toilets. Access to electricity too is limited from evening till morning. Yet, the residents diligently carry a series of documents proving their identity — Aadhaar card, documents from their village panchayat, PAN card, driver’s licence and, in rare cases, bank documents.

Sattar, one of the accused in the case registered by police, takes out his wallet with practiced ease for anyone who asks to see it. Each document has been neatly tucked into a plastic packet. “We are far away from home, so we always carry documents because anyone can stop us or the police can harass us. This is what migrants do,” he said.

Uncertain future

On most days, work at different homes finishes by 2 pm. Breakfast is usually a question of whether an employer gives them food. The men usually flock to a tiny shop, the Bangali Hindu Hotel, which serves parotta and dal in the morning and fish and rice in the afternoon.

“After lunch, we get some rest, then we work again till evening. Women usually get done by 7 pm, and the men return by 8 pm,” said Sattar, who works at a construction site. But he hasn’t gone to work since Tuesday for fear of being arrested. He said he was among those who constructed the Golf Course Metro station and a temple at Badalpur, Mayawati’s village. “There, I was called ‘Babu’ and treated with a lot of respect. The guards would take us out for dinner. Not like this,” he said.

“In all these years, we have never been accused of being Bangladeshi. What does that even mean? Do these people know that Bangladesh and Bengal were the same? That we continue to be the same people? In Cooch Behar, the Hilsa is as great as the one in Bangladesh. We speak the same language and have the same culture of treating outsiders with respect. It’s only here, in north India, that we are targeted like this for being Muslim,” said Moinuddin, a rickshaw puller.

As the light begins to fade, families start lining up next to the solitary tubewell, the only source of water for 100-odd households. Some wash the fish bought from a nearby market, others, mostly children, pick coriander leaves from plants that grow in tiny herb gardens outside their homes.
Rohu, the residents explain, is the most common and affordable fish available. Puti, a small bony freshwater fish, isn’t as tasty in Noida, while chingri (prawn) is reserved for special occasions. “Some of us cook as well. But no one wants Bengali food as it is spicy. So we have learnt new dishes for them, like chole and rajma. But we rarely cook those at our home,” said Mamata Bibi.

Meanwhile, Zohra Bibi, who said she is “still unwell” from Wednesday’s incident, rests inside a dimly lit room. “I have a headache… Doctors have given me medicine but no prescription, so there is no proof of what happened to me,” she said.

Zohra has been prescribed a painkiller, an antacid and a calcium supplement. Muzaffar, her brother-in-law, said, “There is no justice in any of this. They have arrested our people, but nothing is being done to the people who did this to her. It’s because we are Muslim.”
Immediately, another woman, Parul, retorted that her husband, Lakshmiram, too has been picked up by police. They are among the few in the settlement, who aren’t from Cooch Behar, but from Farakka in Malda. “I am Hindu, so is my husband. He was picked up, too. They don’t care about our religion; for them we are poor and that is all that matters. Don’t start talking about religion, we have been living together for a decade and our blood is the same,” she said.

After dinner, the men crush tobacco in their palms, lovingly brought from their hometowns. On most days, this would be the time when everyone sits in a huddle and discusses their day. Not today. The only thing on everyone’s mind is to bring back the 13 who have been detained. “What if they take them away to some jail and we don’t know where they are? What do we do then?” asked one.

For now, there are no answers. As the night grows darker, the settlement is illuminated only by the eerie glow of massive towers behind it. “Each lit window up there,” said 15-year-old Ashraf, “is a reminder to us of our place in the world.”

For all the latest India News, download Indian Express App

  1. V
    Vikas sharma
    Jul 17, 2017 at 10:47 pm
    Yes you gave right thought of the mishap, I woke up and seen hundreds of people pelting stones, ruckus was there, they destroyed the house, looted even the biscuits. I my family with two children lives nearby, my children studies in a christian missionary स्कूल with a fee structure of 60000 quaterly, just because the school has to admit these poor migrants, and the teachers are not agreed to teach them free, thus we have to pay, we have to pay स्वच्छ भारत टैक्स for cleaning our surroundings just because they made a mess, we have to buy extravagents just because they have made a झुग्गी shop our authority do not take action for keep a sake of their votes, we pay taxes to relax them, to pelt stones on us, we welcome refuge, we welcome foreigners, we welcome kashmiries all those who r thrown out of their nations. Sadly because of you people who do nothing but supports the culprits. Its time to identify people like you who explore lopsided news r not aware of the other side. Pelt
    Reply
    1. L
      Lovely
      Jul 18, 2017 at 7:13 am
      Sharma ji you are right. If you read history --- how a handful of miscreants and marauders across Khyber Pass were able to engulf whole of India.? Lack of unity and treachery only reason. This trend still continuing. We got opportunity in 1947 but we sheepishly missed it.We are refugees in our own country that is the crux.
      Reply
    2. S
      Sandeep Bhargava
      Jul 17, 2017 at 9:59 pm
      What a beautifully written one sided piece. There is no mention that the ladies earn almost 60000 per month plus festival perks, food etc. (source: zohra biwi's husband when he said that she was beaten as she asked for her two month ry of 12,000 from her employers) Its a case where when you see two people fighting, it just becomes easy to blame the richer one or the one with bigger car. I sympathise with them generally but if you live near this area then you know what nuisance they create sometimes. Please do not make a ''bechara'' out of every story. Research both sides and give the facts to people and let them decide. Dear Indian Express, maintain the dignity of your re tion. We all should stop making people feel pity for themselves. This article does nothing but that.
      Reply
      1. S
        Sandeep Bhargava
        Jul 17, 2017 at 10:01 pm
        Misses in source - the husband also salid that she works in 10 houses in the society and noone has problem with her. So back of the envelope calx 6000 X 10 12000
        Reply
        1. A
          Ankit Bhardwaj
          Jul 18, 2017 at 4:34 am
          Bhaiyya Brahmins like you should stop thinking you are superior. If it were so you wouldn't be migrating to Mumbai and Bengaluru. Why do you have a problem with other migrants?
          Reply
          1. L
            Lovely
            Jul 18, 2017 at 7:18 am
            Rich person is always superior, you want to be , you too can be. Do not weep.
        2. L
          Lovely
          Jul 17, 2017 at 4:09 pm
          This Islamic Express should write about Kashmiri pandits whose condition is worse than these Maids. KPs were highly educated and today they are staying in camps.IE must be making huge profit so it has some corporate responsibility, so it should employ these maids.
          Reply
          1. L
            Logic Induction
            Jul 17, 2017 at 3:25 pm
            We treat our own country men and women with Prejudice and Racist at ude ! It's time a "list" of the residents of the gated community is made.
            Reply
            1. L
              Lovely
              Jul 17, 2017 at 4:11 pm
              Logic, people like you have fueled unrest among these maids. Today they are unemployed and can you get employment .?
              Reply
              1. S
                Sandeep Bhargava
                Jul 17, 2017 at 10:03 pm
                There is already a list of residents at the gate and reception. I did not get the point you want to make.
                Reply
              2. A
                Arjun
                Jul 17, 2017 at 3:05 pm
                Whoever wrote this stupid article is clearly biased, lacks knowledge of basic arithmetic and is lazy to carry out a through research with proof. And like all good commies likes to push in invented stories in order to justify their point of view
                Reply
                1. s
                  stud.
                  Jul 17, 2017 at 2:48 pm
                  NOW PEOPLE OF BENGAL ARE REFERED AS BANGLADESHI.LOL ALL SHANGIS AND PAID WRITERS ARE ACTIVE HERE SINCE THE MATTER CONCERNS MUSLIM> THEIR BREAD AND BUTTER COMES FROM ABUSING MUSLIM.A MINI INDUSTRY
                  Reply
                  1. L
                    Lovely
                    Jul 17, 2017 at 4:12 pm
                    Stud ji --- proof of pudding is in eating, please go there and see.
                    Reply
                  2. R
                    rddy
                    Jul 17, 2017 at 1:30 pm
                    At the centre of the controversy was 26-year-old Zohra Bibi Zohra’s sons, aged 15 and 12 Do we need anything else , how much these pres utes can twist the stories to any length to lickk Muslims ,what a shame, that means Zohra Bibi became pregnant when she is 10 years old, common Islamic express, even in Quran Ayesha was 9 years old when she was married to 56 years old Mohammad , but was not pregnant at 10 , give us a break, we know how much you communist, liberals hate Hindutva , but this is too much yaar , each costing around Rs 55,000-Rs 70,000 per sqft. ,at this rate a 2 bed room flat with 1200 SFT will cost around Rs Eight crores, Islamic Express, keep some normal people as journalist, in Noida you can get a decent flat for 1 crore , not 8.5 crore , have some share ,donot be like a pros uutes
                    Reply
                    1. B
                      Bibhu Rout
                      Jul 17, 2017 at 12:38 pm
                      Somewhere i smell a communist dog barking...
                      Reply
                      1. Load More Comments