A crowd gathered outside the Mahagun Moderne society in Noida's Sector 78 early on Wednesday, demanding to know the whereabouts of a 26-year-old house help who had not returned home at night. The crowd, armed with sticks, clashed with the private security guards posted outside the building and police had to be called in after relatives and neighbours of Zohra Sattar claimed she was being held hostage by her employers.
The angry mob reportedly pelted stones and police were told that Zohra was beaten unconscious.
Zohra's husband Abdul, 32, a migrant worker from Bengal, said that she had not returned home after work on Tuesday evening. However, there are different versions of the incident reported by the police, Zohra herself, and her husband.
"Why Did They Do This To Me?"
Zohra, who was brought back home by the police this afternoon, told HuffPost India that her employer accused her of stealing Rs 17,000 from the house. She said they would always complain about her to the other house help, but on Tuesday evening, when she turned up for work things took a turn for the worse.
"Madam started screaming at me and saying I stole money from her. I also told her that if you have complaints about me tell me, tell the guards why are you telling the other house help that I have stolen," Zohra said.
She said that her employer had said she would 'settle her due amount' when she came in the evening.
"When I went in the evening she was started blaming me again, to which I said I am not going to work for you anymore. And I asked for my salary. That is when she started hitting me, after which I don't remember anything else," she said.
Zohra said she could not even remember where she was found in the morning.
Speaking over the phone she said that she was exhausted from the ordeal, but she repeatedly said, "Why did they do this to me? If I stole money, why did she not take me to the police? Why did she have to beat me up?"
Zohra said the male occupant of the house — the husband of the woman who allegedly beat her up — did nothing to stop the abuse.
What Zohra's Husband Said
"At 8 pm my mother told me she has not come back home. Zohra usually goes out at 7 am, comes back home for lunch, and then goes back to work in the same housing society at 2 pm," Abdul told HuffPost India.
Domestic helps in the apartment are made to check-in and out on a register every time they enter or leave the apartment. Abdul said when he went to look for her at the apartment, one of the guards told her that she had not checked out.
"That is when another guard told me that Zohra had been accused of stealing money. I went with the guard inside the apartment but couldn't find her," Abdul said.
He said he went to the police at around 11 pm in the night, but they refused to take action. "We are poor people, no body is ready to listen to us," he said.
When he realised nothing could be done about the situation, he gathered his family and neighbours and marched to the apartment at 4:30 am on Wednesday. "We all went to the apartment complex, all the house helps, who are our neighbours, refused to go to work at the apartment. When the situation began going out of hand, and people became angry, a guard came and told me that Zohra was inside."
However, while there are different reports saying she was held captive inside the employer's home and another one saying she was locked inside the boot of a car, Abdul said he did not know what happened.
"The police took Zohra to the hospital, and brought her back home in the afternoon. They did not inform me about anything," Abdul said and added that in the morning he registered a complaint at the Gautam Budh Nagar Police Station.
Was She Locked Up?
Most reports on the incident say that Zohra was locked up in a room by her employers. However, another journalist who was at the spot reported that Zohra as saying she was locked up inside a room all day.
In a series of tweets from the spot, Nilanjana Bhowmick said that the police had also fired at the group of people who had gathered to look for Zohra.
She had tweeted that Zohra had been locked in the boot of her employer's car, but after speaking to her, said that wasn't the case.
She Wasn't Locked Up, Says Police
Noida police, however, said that there was no mention of Zohra being held hostage in the FIR filed by her husband.
The police said that Zohra took shelter inside the home of another employer saying she wasn't feeling well.
Superintendent of Police, Noida, AK Singh, told HuffPost India, "There is CCTV footage that she is walking out of the house of another house where she works. There is no mention of her being held hostage."
"Zohra works in a couple of more houses in the apartment, so she told one of her other employers that she was unwell, and hence the woman let her stay at her home. Zohra says she was unwell all night."
However, he confirmed that Zohra has alleged that she was beaten up when she had asked her employer for her salary.