'My boss would wake me up by kicking me'

BY THE time Durga Jadhav was thrown out of her employer's Kowloon flat, she had been kept a prisoner for more than a month.

In that time, she was kicked awake by her boss every morning, slapped across the face if the tea was less than perfect and had pots of food dumped on her if there wasn't enough salt.

She was prohibited from making or receiving telephone calls, never set foot outside the house - and for all her heartache and suffering, did not see one dollar of compensation.

Ms Jadhav, 26, knows her case is not an uncommon one. She is one of about 1,000 Indian maids in Hongkong, all of whom have Indian employers. And according to social worker Raynah Braganza-Passanha at the Asian Migrant Centre, almost 95 per cent of them are grossly underpaid and verbally or physically abused.

''But the difference between the Indian domestic helpers and those from the Philippines, is Indian women don't complain,'' Ms Braganza-Passanha said. ''They accept their suffering as their lot in life. It's a psychological thing, particularly because they have Indian employers.'' Despite the inhumane way in which Ms Jadhav was treated, she said she would have remained with her employers; the emotional and physical abuse would have been worth the ''fortune'' she would have made at the end of her stay.

Ironically, when she was given the opportunity to work in Hongkong, she thought she had been blessed. As a villager in one of the backstreets of Pune, India, with four children between the ages of two and 10 and an unemployed husband, Ms Jadhav was not unlike many other villagers who would make about 500 rupees (HK$120) a month working as a washer-woman.


But one day she was approached by a woman who said her niece in Hongkong was looking for a maid; she would only have to work for three months and would be paid 1,200 rupees monthly, which she would collect after returning to India.

Completely illiterate - her signature is her thumb-print and she never attended one day of school - Ms Jadhav set off for Hongkong with no contract or work permit. All she had was US$200 (HK$1,500) in cash to show to immigration officials in the territory in case they asked her about how she would support herself, and a letter stating she was coming to Hongkong to visit her brother.

''When I arrived, the family I was to be working for was there to receive me, but as soon as I came out they took my ticket and passport and the money and letter,'' she said. ''I went home with them and started work immediately.'' For the first four days, everything was fine apart from a bit of angry name-calling on the part of her boss - an Indian watch importer and exporter - and his wife. But then the nightmare began.

''The family had a Filipina maid who had the maid's room, so I had to sleep on the floor of the kitchen,'' she said. ''My boss would wake me up at 5 am by kicking me so I could help get the children ready for school.


''I would work almost all day and then she would send me to her sister's house to help them a few days a week. They used to give parties at home so I never went to sleep before 1 am. It was very hard work.'' But Ms Jadhav said she did not mind the work. What hurt her was the constant abuse - the pinching, slapping, kicking and yelling. But she never complained, she felt she had no right to.

A committee member of the Hongkong Indian Women's Club, Pamela Kapoor, said exploitation of Indian maids was easy because they were so desperate for work.


''They are ready to do anything for a few hundred rupees because what they get in India is a pittance,'' she said. ''But in two years, they get smart. They know others are getting the going rate.'' But Mrs Kapoor said many Indian employers did not regard their maids as deserving the full salary.

''Indian maids are not half as efficient as the Filipinas,'' she said. ''What a Filipina can do in half a day takes an Indian maid a full day. That is why they have to employ somebody else.

''But if one can help these women out, why not? They come from the villages and are very poor so they don't mind coming out for even 600 rupees. We can give them sustenance and start them off but all of them get smart, believe me.'' A month into Ms Jadhav's stay a minor misunderstanding escalated into a major row, after which she was thrown out of the house with nothing but the two sarees she had brought with her, and her passport.


''I was washing my clothes in the bathroom when maybe I should not have been,'' she said. ''So my boss started to shout at me. Then from 7-11 pm, she got her sisters and children to stand around me kicking and pinching me.

''I was crying and screaming. I said I was going to call the police but I didn't even know how to do that. When they pushed me out of the door I pleaded with them, I said I had nowhere to go and that I would have to kill myself. They told me I could do what I wanted but I could not expect to get my ticket back from them.'' Ms Jadhav spent the night on the stairwell crying before the caretaker asked her to leave. She walked to Chungking Mansions and telephoned a friend from her village in India, who was working in the New Territories and with whom she stayed.

Soon after, she found the Asian Migrant Centre and has been staying there ever since, trying to raise $4,000 to cover her air fare home.


Mrs Braganza-Passanha said there were 40 cases last year of Indian domestic helpers who had been assaulted by their employers.

''These are not uneducated people we are talking about,'' she said. ''The people who hire these women are affluent. They are in trading, shipping or the diamond trade. Many of them bring these women in illegally and don't give them contracts. They also underpay them because they compare what they should be getting here [the contract salary for a domestic helper is $3,200 a month] to what they would be earning in India and know they can get away with giving them just a few hundred dollars every month.

''In fact, what you will often hear on the cocktail party circuit is people boasting about how little they pay their maids.'' A spokeswoman for the Commission of India in Hongkong, agreed most of the territory's Indian domestics would be underpaid.

''We have had a few isolated complaints in the past few months, but these women know they wouldn't earn that much in India. It is very difficult, but this is between the maid and the employer.'' Ms Jadhav has been told by the Labour Department that she has overstayed her visa and must leave Hongkong this week or she will be charged and deported.

The Indian Commission intervened by trying to contact her former employers and the police went to their flat to look for the ticket but could not find it. The employer accused Ms Jadhav of ''bringing shame upon the family''.

Mrs Braganza-Passanha said: ''In the course of our investigations, we discovered the employers had done exactly the same thing to their previous maid, and there were pictures taken of her after she had been beaten black and blue. But there has been no prosecution and these people are allowed to keep doing this.''