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Murder by domestic workers in India

October 30, 2006

A 20 year old domestic worker, Sandeep, hired just three days previously, has been accused of brutally murdering the four-year-old son of his employer in Roop Nagar in Delhi this month and also sexually assaulting one of the daughters. The man was recommended by the driver of the employer. When they hired him, the family, the Aggarwals, did not bother to ask for the address of the accused and neither did they have a photograph of the man to show the police.

You are vulnerable
A tiny percentage of domestic workers are violent criminals but when a domestic worker criminal attacks you, no amount of fortification by heavy iron grills, intricate locking arrangements or sophisticated alarm systems can stop him from striking. Domestic workers if they decide to kill can be the most formidable killers, because they catch their victim unawares and they stop at nothing…neither murder, rape nor petty burglary. And often, they know their victims only too well.

Police verification a must
Police plead with families to verify their domestic worker’s/ servants’ credentials but this is not routinely done. True, verification takes time, but at times, like in the above case, the police do not get even a photograph or address and this makes it difficult to track down the accused. It was lucky that in this case the accused’s brother was traced and through him, the alleged killer.

At times, when employers note down addresses of their domestics, it is of no use. A man with criminal intent invariably furnishes a false name and address. That is why police verification is essential. People are usually reluctant to go to the police because they feel this will frighten away their help. According to Gautam Chakraborty, Deputy Commissioner, Detective Department, such fears are groundless. ‘The domestic worker need not even know that his employer has gone to the police. He will not be questioned and the inquiry at his village or with the police of his native state can be done discreetly.”

Tushar Talukdar, Commissioner, Calcutta Police says that the rising disparity in incomes and the influx of immigrants from neighboring states is the reason for the increasing crime graph. This is common in metros like Delhi, Mumbai and Calcutta. ‘Unfortunately, our appeals to families to register workers with us falls often on deaf ears,’ he says. He advises against hiring domestics on the recommendation of a milkman, security guard or even a trusted driver as no one can know what is going on in the mind of a killer. The recent Aggarwal case shows that this does not help. ‘Middlemen usually know nothing about the background of the people they recommend,’ says Talukdar.

Good ‘references’ are not enough
It is also important to remember that some who come with a good reference might be tempted to steal if they are exposed to temptation and there is a problem at their home. We usually cannot imagine the deprived life the domestic worker leads and therefore it is advisable not to talk of money in his/her presence, or keep jewellery in the house. If you want to protect your hard-earned money, don’t flaunt it, for your own protection.

High rise apartments are more vulnerable
People living in high-rise apartments seem to be the most vulnerable, going by the crime statistics. Why this should be so when multi-stored buildings invariably have security guards? According to the police, there is anonymity in many such apartment complexes as there is not much contact between families. Also, many families living in apartment blocks are small units. Once the husband leaves for office and the children for school, the housewife is alone with the domestic. He (usually the criminals are male) can let in anyone he pleases. Very often gangs take up work as domestic workers, and their intent is to steal from the very first day. They are simply waiting for the right opportunity.

Security guards do not really guard
A criminal could invite his criminal friends to the flat and the presence of a security guard at the entrance of the building is useless most of the time. Guards usually do not accompany the visitors to the door and often have no idea which apartment the stranger is headed for. And even strangers can come in without much trouble. People posing as courier people or repairmen. Ideally, there should be an intercom system connecting every apartment to the security guard so that he can enquire whether the visitor should be sent up. In case the person is a plumber or electrician, the security guard should accompany the person to the flat and remain there till the repair work is finished.
Needless to say, the particulars of the security guard himself should be filed with the police. There have been numerous instances in which the security guards themselves have been involved in crimes.

Bungalows have their own problems
Those who have a full house are fairly safe (a house bustling with activity is seldom the choice of a criminal) but those who live in smaller units in quiet neighborhoods are at risk. They need to take common sense precautions like installing peepholes, grills and double doors. Dogs are definitely useful.

Crimes by domestic servants are very well-planned
One has to keep in mind that any crimes by domestic workers are meticulously planned. The domestic worker, even a part-time one, becomes privy to a lot of ‘inside’ information, like the location of cash and jewellery and the daily routine of the inhabitants. He may collude with robbers and not always for money. Revenge can be a motive as well, if the worker is ill-treated.

Some myths
However, it  is a myth that only recently hired domestics commit crimes or that well-treated workers do not. There was a well publicized case about a decade ago about a domestic worker who had been a ‘part’ of a stock-broker’s household for years, having been hired as a boy of 12, but at the age of 19, he murdered the middle-aged woman of the house when her husband and son were out. The boy was well-treated, and considered ‘one of the family.’ Later, the family surmised that they had made a mistake of talking openly about money in his presence. The amounts discussed were always in lakhs. Just the day before the murder the boy had been denied a loan of Rs 10,000/- Desperation as well as the lure of easy money was a temptation to him. There is also no doubt that this boy must have had a criminal mindset from the start, and as he grew into an adult he committed the crime. At times householders ignore little signs from their domestics which indicate that the person is not a law abiding person. There are instances where householders tolerate even petty thefts so desperate they are to keep the “worker”.

However, ‘…murder is usually the last resort of a professional criminal,’ says Chakraborty. Murder is committed only if the criminal perceives the victim to be vulnerable. Old people are typically targets.

To keep yourself safe:

  • Construct grills and double doors.
  • Verify all domestic help with the police, even those who work part-time.
  • Do not talk of money in front of the domestic help and keep all valuables in bank lockers.
  • Do not hire any domestic servant on the recommendation of your milkman, driver and security man. Get references from employers.
  • Do not let your domestic servant’s ‘friends’ inside your house.
  • Avoid giving water or tea to workmen who work outside your apartment. This is often used as a pretext to gain entry.
  • And last but not the least:
  • Treat domestic servants with dignity.

(This is a revised version of the article which I wrote for The Telegraph, Calcutta. Inputs from the latest crime have been added later.)

Some Additional information: From a police website (Rajasthan Police)

  • Hire qualified / experienced chowkidars only.
  • Check the antecedents / credentials of chowkidars and domestic servants before hiring them. Insist on references from their previous employers. Furnish their full particulars to your police station in the format suggested by them.
  • Always employ different chowkidars for day and night duties.
  • Brief all the security men/ chowkidars/ lift men about various aspects of security. Such as the following:
  • Enquire about taxis or autorikshaws parked inside the compound or outside the building for a long time.
  • Enquire with people who bring in or take out heavy parcels, suitcases, etc.
  • Inform the police in case any vehicle is parked inside the building (if ownership is not known) for a long time.

All the residents of the locality should be briefed on the following :

  • Whenever a new servant is employed, the police station should be informed. His photographs, fingerprints and other details must be obtained and verified.
  • Whenever any family plans to go out of the city for a long time, they should inform Police (beat officers), so that a special watch can be kept.
  • People are advised to install a door with iron bars inside the flat, superior quality night latches and special eye lens on the main door, so that the door is opened only after identifying the visitors. Ideally, interaction with strangers and vendors should be through the grilled door. Also a high wattage light source with pilfer proof cover should be attached outside the main door.
  • Huge amounts of cash, valuable ornaments etc. should not be kept in the house.
  • Money transactions and other important family matters should not be discussed in the presence of servants or any outsiders.
  • Servants should not be humiliated or penalised for petty matters.

(This article is obviously about those domestic workers who are criminals and not all domestic workers).

Related Reading: Burglars in India getting smarter

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