Servant as Murderer
fact that Nepalis are by nature straightforward has been proved
the night of 13 January 1996, 48-year-old executive Satya Prakash
Sharma, his 42-year-old wife Shobhana, daughter Charu (20), son
Puneet (15) and their nine-year-old domestic help, Dinesh, were
bludgeoned to death in their flat in the upper middle class locality
of Vasant Kunj in South Delhi. Even by the gory standards of the
Indian capital, this one shocked the city.
months later, police arrested Tika Ram, the 20-year-old servant
of the Sharmas. The arrest of the young Nepali made page-one news
in all the Delhi newspapers, and pictures showed a dazed Tika
Ram in handcuffs being led to the courts. Police said he had confessed
to the murders.
Sharmas was just one household of scores where family members
were killed by domestic helpers in Delhi over the past year. Five
of 12 incidents in the first quarter of 1996 are said to have
involved Nepali servants, which led the New Delhi police to issue
a circular suggesting that Nepalis not be hired as servants because
of increasing criminality among them.
crimes served to erode the stereotype of the Nepali "bahadur",
whose qualities of loyalty and honesty have long been cherished
in India. It is an image which goes back to the conscription of
Nepali men in the Indian and British armies, and which has been
honed by the portrayal of the faithful bahadur in Nepali cap.
popular Hindi family magazine Manohar Kahaniyan, providing a detailed
account of the Tika Ram case, had this to say, with more than
a little exaggeration: 'The last two or three years has seen hundreds
(saikadon) of deaths at the hands of Nepali servants. The fact
that Nepalis are by nature straightforward has now been proven
then, has led to the increased criminality among the immigrant
Nepalis and, more particularly, those employed as domestic help?
Some Nepali observers feel that the New Delhi police and press
have exaggerated the issue, and that Nepali helpers are no more
or less prone to theft and violence than any other community which
serves as the underclass in middle class and rich metropolitan
households. Others believe that Nepali criminality easily made
the news because it is seen to dispel a myth.
it is true that criminality is on the rise among Nepali domestics,
the explanation probably lies in the fact that there has been
a change in the composition of the pool of Nepali labour in India.
day, an estimated 300 Nepali citizens are said to disembark from
the long-haul buses arriving in the Indian capital from towns
bordering western Nepal. More economic migrants, fleeing impoverishment
in Nepal's midhills, arrive by train, and thousands go to other
Indian cities. Most have no education, and many are mere children,
sons of subsistence farmers who cannot feed them from their meagre
increase in crime among Nepali workers is attributed by some to
changing demography. Whereas earlier they came as unknowing visitors
from the hills, today roads, highways, and video halls have penetrated
the Nepali hinterland and exposed the rural folk to life outside
the village. Many of the young who migrate are no longer the ignorant
hillbillies of yore, and they have grander visions of what they
want to achieve in the city than their fathers and grandfathers.
The only factor that remains unchanged is the hill poverty.
Nepali labour is also more mobile nowadays. Used to be a time
when joining the service of a sethji meant it was for the rest
of one's working life. With Nepali communities having sprung up
in many parts of India, it is easier for the migrant workers now
to job-hop. Tika Ram, for example, had repeatedly shifted through
seven Delhi households within the span of a mere two years, and
he had also worked at various times in Noida, Gurgaon, Panipat,
Patiala, Ludhiana and Mohali.
have, therefore, over the years become more savvy and knowledgeable
about plains living. However, the employers perception remains
clouded by their belief of Nepalis as genial, but uncouth, country
bumpkins. When the lack of respect becomes evident, the trouble
begins. The new stock of young Nepalis are sometimes not willing
to take things lying down.
to social scientist Ashis Nandy, it is in the nature of the city
that is largely responsible for the escalating crime and violence
by Nepali workers. Coming from a close-knit "moral"
universe where family and community ties are all-important, the
complete impersonality of a city like Delhi baffles and disorients
the migrants, he says. At the same time, the flamboyant lifestyles
and conspicuous consumption of their employers can appear vulgar.
second impression the young Nepali migrants gain, says Mr Nandy,
is of a dog-eat-dog universe where the law of the jungle prevails.
Slowly but surely, the servants begin to grudge their own lot.
Added to this are the agents of mass culture in the city in the
form of Hindi cinema and television, which serve to heighten the
contrast between the quality of life of the immigrant and the
trappings of a "normal" life.
Lama, a scholar at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi,
concurs. The sudden exposure to urban life, along with the soulless
glamour depicted in satellite television and cinema and the various
vices that are part of the big city culture, often leads the Nepalis
to nurture get-rich-quick dreams. This pushes some towards a life
of crime, says the academic.
that is only one aspect of the problem, says Mr Lama. The rising
crime graph among migrant domestics might also reflect a bid to
assert personal dignity. Often, the Nepalis are employed in homes
under harrowingly inhuman conditions. Their basic rights are blatantly
violated, salaries are abysmal, and the physical and social conditions
are appalling,î he says.
with limited avenues open to them, the Nepalis drifted naturallly
to work as domestics. Today, many Nepalis are also serving as
industrial labour, at office jobs, as tailors, and so on. Only
about 20 percent now seek domestic work, says Mr Lama. Over time,
these household workers become aware of the degree of exploitation
they face and their attitude changes in the face of continuing
abuse. When pushed to the wall and finding nowhere to turn to,
the basically submissive, honest, polite and hardworking Nepali
will show his other face. Being raw and rugged and not very familiar
with the language, they find it easier to hit out than to argue,î
says the academic.
dissimilar is Kathmandu-based economist Pitambar Sharma's observation:
While it could be that the so-called criminality of Nepali servants
is getting more publicity than it deserves, it is also likely
that many of these acts are conducted by servants responding to
maltreatment.î In his confession, Tika Ram reportedly told
the police that he had killed all the Sharma family members because
they abused him physically, and often blamed him for the misdemeanours
of the two teenage children.
General Secretary of the All India Nepali Unity Society, Bamdev
Chhetri, maintains that the enthusiasm with which the Indian newspapers
covered Tika Ram's case made it seem like part of a concerted
attempt to slander the Nepali character. Mr Chhetri believes that
Tika Ram's full story is not yet out, and that there must have
been some cause for drastic action by the young accused. ìAlternatively,
Tika Ram must have had some Indian accomplices,î says Mr
Degree of Violence
Pereira, the Additional Commissioner of Police for New Delhi's
Southern Range, is willing to accept the sociological explanations
of rising criminality only partly. According to him, the chief
motivating factor for crime among the Nepali immigrants is, quiet
simply, the lure of easy money.
crime has always been prevalent in the Nepali community because
of the stark contrast between the workers' economic status and
that of their employers, it is the degree of violence that is
new,î says Mr Pereira. He attributes this to the general
trend of increasing violence in the cities, a situation within
which the Nepalis too are by now enmeshed.
police chief says even in cases like that of Tika Ram, who fled
without taking anything from the house, greed seems to have played
an important role. If that was not the motivation, asks Mr Pereira,
why would Tika Ram have come back to work in a household that
he had quit two years ago after an altercation? He was about to
get married and needed money and lied to the Sharma family about
his interest in coming back,î he says. It is a different
matter that, later, the factor of ill treatment at the hands of
the family came into play.
Nepal-India border is open for the public but closed for police
investigation. This provides a protective shield for Nepali workers
bent on criminality, a shield that is not available for other
domestics in India, explains Mr Pereira. This seems to act as
an additional motivating factor. Once the accused crosses the
open border back into his country, it is virtually impossible
for Indian authorities to apprehend them to stand trial through
regular means. Only the Nepali authorities can prosecute a crime
committed outside Nepal when the suspect has returned home. Mr
Pereira says that in more than 20 years of police service he has
not seen or heard of a single case of a crime committed in India
being prosecuted in Nepal.
if a single man goes back safely with the loot, he provides inspiration
to many others,î says Mr Pereira, cautioning that criminality
among Nepalis may therefore be a rising trend.
years ago, a diplomatic fracas ensued when Indian policemen followed
Babloo Srivastava, an underworld figure, into Kathmandu. Now,
says Mr Pereira enigmatically, the Indian police force has its
own methods.î In the case of Tika Ram, a policeman whose
native village was near boy's village of Lahapi in the Dang Ghorai
region of west Nepal, went home, ostensibly on leave. Meanwhile,
friendly business people of the border region were asked to keep
an eye out for Tika Ram. How exactly the suspect was brought across
the border, Mr Pereira is unwilling to say, but he adds emphatically,
We want to blast the myth that they can find a save haven after
committing crimes in Delhi.
thing is clear: a new breed of alert young Nepali men is entering
the job market in India. If the Indian market does not adjust
to these higher expectations and allow the workers entry into
levels other than domestics, there is bound to be some form of
reaction. A continued and forced placement as servants without
hope for the future would mean that frustrations will be bottled-up,
to violently explode at regular intervals.
Nandy predicts that given the nature of New Delhi's society, crime
and violence can only increase till they attain the levels witnessed
in the cities of the United States. ìIn a discriminatory
society, crime constitutes a relatively egalitarian oasis.
Lama of Jawaharlal Nehru University is fearful that this, in turn,
could lead to an indiscriminate media-propelled reaction against
Nepalis irrespective of guilt or innocence. This would be disastrous
to the economy of the Nepali hills, particularly of the far-west,
overwhelmingly dependent as they are on the Indian job market.
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