MANISH KHATTAR’S INSTAGRAM account is ordinary, like most men of his age who do not know what to do with it beyond the occasional post. There are a few photos of him in formal attire, in office, and another perhaps taken during a family outing. There is a video of him at a beach in Goa. There is another where a few kids can be seen in green attire at a school event. This parade of sorts most likely includes his daughter—he is recording it like most parents, and some of them can be seen doing the same in a couple of rows in front of him as well.
But when on February 7, a team of police raided his house in old Gurugram’s New Colony, a story of unspeakable horror was revealed, shattering the image of the middle-class ordinariness of an Indian family. That day, a city-based activist, Deepika Narayan Bhardwaj, received a call from an acquaintance. The person had visited a friend in the colony, where he learnt about a girl who he was told desperately needed help. The friend said that the girl was most likely a domestic help and he had seen her cowering near a staircase of a house. She was bleeding from several places on her face and had been foraging scraps of food from a garbage bin when he last saw her. Bhardwaj immediately alerted a local Sakhi centre—these one-stop centres have been set up by the government to support women affected by violence in private and public spaces. The centre informed the local police station that dispatched a team to the house.
The team found the girl alone in the house, with bruises all over her body. Her face had several wounds and there was a major injury on her head as well. She had fainted with trauma. When she gained consciousness, she told them that she had not eaten for two days.
The girl—the doctors now believe she is 17—came to Delhi about eight months ago along with her sister from Jharkhand’s Simdega district. Their elder brother had met with an accident and could not walk as the treatment cost money. The two sisters came with a relative to be placed as domestic helps. While the other sister, older to the girl—let us call her S—by one year, was placed in a house in Delhi, S got placed in another corner in West Delhi where she was hired to take care of two toddlers. But after three months, one of them developed a boil on the face and she got the blame for it. So, she was fired. It was then that she was placed at the Gurugram house that belonged to Manish Khattar and Kamaljeet Kaur, a working couple (employed with reputed companies) who had a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter.
Initially, says S, there was also another young woman who worked part-time in the house as a cook. S was asked to learn cooking from her. Once she could make a few dishes, the cook was sacked by the Khattars. The entire work of the household then fell on S. She would wake up early, before sunrise, and start cleaning. Then she would prepare breakfast and finish other chores. By the time she finished, it would be midnight. The work was too much for one person, especially for someone so young. Even as she struggled with it, her real ordeal began a few days later.
One afternoon, Kamaljeet was taking out a tablet from a strip when it fell down. “She asked me to look for it. I looked on the bed and picked up the blanket and the pillows to find it. But I could not. Madam [Kamaljeet] said: ‘Have you found it?’ When I said, ‘No’, she slapped me,” said S.
The next day, S was asked to make chicken curry. “I could make aloo bhaji that I had learnt from the cook. But I had never cooked chicken before. When I told them this, they beat me up again,” she says.
In a matter of days, the beating increased, turning into torture and terrible abuse. She would be slapped several times throughout the day. Afterward, she would be asked to show her hands, with palms facing up, and these would be hit with sticks. She was hit so much that three floor wipers broke in the process. S says she was ordered to remove all her clothes, and once she was naked, she was forced to do sit-ups while holding her ears. These started from a hundred, and in a few days, she would be made to do up to 500. “The man [Manish] would ask me to kneel down and then kick me in the chest,” she says. She was also branded with hot tongs and pans. As a form of punishment, they would make her wear a rucksack filled with bricks and then make her run around naked in the house.
Initially, S says, their daughter would feel bad when they hit her; the kid would ask her parents not to hit her. “She would say: Didi ko matt maaro. But after a while, she started getting pleasure out of it, too. She would say: Didi ko aur maaro, mazaa aa raha hai.” The child’s behaviour with her also became obnoxious. S says when she tried to feed her, the kid would spit the food back at her.
As the beatings and abuse continued, S says, she would lose consciousness several times. At which point Kamaljeet would feed her a little sugar to resuscitate her. She was hardly given any food. “At times, I was just allowed to have a little ice from the refrigerator and a little salt,” she says.
Sometimes, S alleges, Manish would lock her in a room separately and hit her. He would then apply salt and pepper powder on her wounds. He also forced her to dance naked and, says S, took photos on his mobile phone. She was made to press their feet for long hours. She would also be burnt with matchsticks, and cuts were made over her body with sharp objects like razors and scissors. At the hospital, where she is being treated, one can see the number ‘14’ made on the spot below her throat, most likely with a razor.
By the second month or so, S says, she could go to sleep only by 3AM and then she would be woken up by 6AM. She would be allowed to take a quick shower and then her slavery would begin. “They had a washing machine, but made me wash clothes with hands,” says S. Sometimes, when guests came to the Khattar household, she would be allowed to wear a pair of salwar-kameez. If the guests stayed for long, she would be taken to the terrace where Kamaljeet, says S, would beat her up. During the day, they would keep a watch on her from their offices through CCTV cameras.
In custody, Khattar was trying his best to wash his hands off the torture that he had inflicted on the girl, saying it was done in anger. He said he would repent and raise S like his own child.
At present, S is still in hospital. The Jharkhand government has stepped in, saying the family would be taken care of. S spoke to her brother on the phone for the first time in eight months. As she cried, the atmosphere inside her tiny room in the hospital became so emotional that an activist who stays with her through the day had to rush out with tears in her eyes. After they learnt about her plight, a few city residents reached out to her with small tokens of food and other gifts. A woman gifted her a pink mobile phone.
But the real challenge begins now when the case will be heard in court. Conviction in such cases in the past has been poor. “I desperately hope that the police follow up this case diligently so that an example is set through this case,” says Bhardwaj.