INDIAN maid 'Anita' thought she was entering Nirvana when she walked into the luxury Mid-Levels mansion where her employers promised a salary four times higher than she earned in Bombay. But her dreams dissolved into months of abuse, threats, exhaustion - and having to fight her employers for any pay at all. When the 36-year-old signed a contract in India to work here, there was no talk of 17-hour days spent polishing the car, cooking, cleaning the three-storey house, and tending to its nine occupants. She was unable to check the terms of her contract because she could neither read nor write. Her employers instructed her not to speak to others, not to see friends, and rarely allowed her to take phone calls. She fortified herself with thoughts of the $1,500 a month supposedly being paid to her family's account in India . . . but after four months, Anita realised she had not been paid a cent. 'Any time I asked my employers about it, they would say they had forgotten to do it,' she said. 'In the meantime, I did not get any money - only when I had to go out and they might give me $50 or $60. But they would take it off my salary. 'I only wanted what I was owed. It was so much money to me - back home I would be earning about 1,500 rupees a month [about HK$379]. 'When the daughter told me I had to clean another house as well, I told them I physically couldn't do it.' That afternoon, Anita said she was called 'garbage' and ordered out of the home under threat of violence and without wages. According to Labour Department rules, the 1,200 Indian domestic workers in Hong Kong have the same basic rights as locals and are protected under the labour ordinance. So Anita took her case to the Labour Tribunal, but accepted a settlement of $13,000 from the family because she could ill-afford to wait six months for her case to be heard. 'Even if they don't want to give us full pay, can't they treat us like human beings? I would not have been treated like this in India,' she said. Anita's tale is common among Indian maids, but Indian community leaders contacted by the Sunday Morning Post said the responsibility to free themselves from such employment lay with the girls. Asian Migrant Centre work co-ordinator Raynah Braganza Passanha said some were paid a paltry $20 or $50 a month, and rarely received the legal minimum $3,750 a month. 'Employers will say they are paying the money into a bank account at home, but often they are not. Some of the maids are not even fed. One was given a potato and a handful of rice as her meal - for two days,' Ms Passanha said. 'Then there are some maids who have literally not been out of the house for two or three years. Others have not been allowed to use the bathrooms and must have a bath in a bucket on the balcony and use public toilets. 'Nobody in the community is sympathetic. It's an attitude problem,' she said. But Indian community leaders refuse to acknowledge maids have a serious grievance. Indian Resources Group chairman Kishore Sakhrani said claims of underpayment and mistreatment should be put into context. 'If an employer is bringing in a maid from India, he is working from the position that she is doing better than she would be in India,' he said. 'In their hearts these people think they are doing the maids good by paying them, say, $650 to $700 a month.' Kowloon Indian Ladies Association president Kanta Chugani said maids who felt their rights were ignored should contact the Indian Commission. 'Maids know the Indian Commission is here to help them and I don't know why they are making such a big stink about it,' she said. The Indian Commissioner for Hong Kong, Kamlesh Kumar, failed to respond to repeated phone calls from the Sunday Morning Post. One long-term Hong Kong resident, Priya Babani, refuses to employ an Indian maid, saying they do not deserve the legal wage for a domestic. 'They are paid very reasonably according to their ability. What they earn is enough for them, even though they are not really worth it,' she said. 'All day they are at home, so why should they get so much? In their own country they would not earn so much. I won't even employ an Indian maid because they are not as clean as Filipinas.'