“I work as a full-time professional cleaner and cook. My employer treats me as a friend and respects me. I’m a confident and optimistic woman today; vastly at odds with the person I used to be when I had just started out. I wish I’d had the courage to speak out about the treatment meted out to me then.
I started working as a household help for a family when I was thirteen. In the beginning my employers took good care of me, got me nice things, took me with them when they went on vacations and were kind to me. For some reason, things changed once their second child was born and they moved to a different area. They became very abusive. I once broke three cups and saucers while washing the dishes. They didn’t give me anything to eat for the next three days – one day for each cup and saucer. Eventually, I asked an old woman who lived nearby for some food. When I told her that I hadn’t eaten in three days, she took pity on me and gave me some vegetables to eat.
The situation only deteriorated. Each time the couple had a fight, they would beat me. If the husband was angry about something – whether it was work or home related – he would take off his belt and hit me with it. Even the wife would use her hands or her chappals on me. Whenever the family went out they would lock me and the other girl who helped with the household chores, up in a small enclosed room just off the kitchen. They would leave behind bread and biscuits in case we got hungry. The room was only enclosed with a grill on one side, leaving it open to the elements. There was a small toilet attached to the enclosure. This was where we would take shelter if it started raining.
I became so conditioned to it that I didn’t know what to tell anyone or how to say it. To me it had become a way of life. The only time I was allowed to visit my family was on festival or puja days. To ensure I wouldn’t talk, the couple would treat me well for a few days prior to my visits. I never complained to anyone.
When I could take no more, I appealed for help to the same old woman who had fed me earlier. Since my employers didn’t pay me, I had to borrow twenty rupees from her. I escaped the house and walked around the area till I found a road I recognized. From there, I was able to get a bus and flee toward home. I never returned.”