Waiting for Christmas: As domestic help's story roils India, US, others like her share their tales

MaidWaiting for Christmas: As domestic help's story roils India, US, other like her share their tales of hope and tragedy

As one domestic help's story roils two countries, DEEPU SEBASTIAN EDMOND meets the rescued Vasant Kunj girl who is now hoping to study again, her mother who can't afford to bring a second daughter home, and the others like them streaming out of Jharkhand to work in Indian homes — on hope and chance

She smiles and sways to the music as her housemates sing a song composed by their teachers. "Don't go to Delhi, Mumbai/ If you go, your life will be spoilt/ Don't go just because someone invites you/ If you go, you will find yourself all alone," go the lyrics, in Sadri language.

It was two and a half years ago that the 18-year-old made that trip, which ended with her rescue from a home in Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, in September, tortured and traumatised.

A month in hospital, seven plastic surgeries and a brief visit home later, the girl is at the Sakhi centre of the Union HRD Ministry's Mahila Samakhya Society in Khunti district, where she has been staying since November 23. A scarf covers her head and neck, concealing the scars that remain.

Sitting at the back of the class, she speaks about her experience with startling clarity, unlike other trafficked girls. Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini, the NGO that helped rescue her, says counselllors spent long hours with her. "It paid off," he says.

She did not want to go to Delhi, she recalls. "Dorothy said I could learn Hindi if I go... We were doing badly that year. My father was dead; we were borrowing food." Dorothy, the "agent" from Sahibganj who took girls like the 18-year-old to big cities for work, has since been arrested by the Delhi Police.

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The Muri Express from Tatanagar/Rourkela to Jammu Tawi covers 10 of Jharkhand's 24 districts, taking 30 hours to reach Delhi from Ranchi. Most of the stops it makes, in Maoist-hit districts such as Latehar, Palamu and Garhwa, are one-minute halts long after darkness has swallowed up the sleepy hamlets. However, at almost every halt, the train finds eager passengers — in one-crop Jharkhand, Muri Express is the way out for people seeking unskilled labour in North India. It's also the preferred mode of transport for domestic help like the Vasant Kunj girl, working in most of India's homes.

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