A sheet of tin that served as the gate to a makeshift colony of domestic workers, daily-wage labourers, and other workers, in Sector 78 in Noida, was bent and broken in half. The colony is adjacent to Mahagun Moderne, a sprawling residential complex spread over 25 acres, around 50 kilometers from the national capital. It is one among several such workers’ settlements in the area. The houses inside the colony were single-room constructions, made of similar tin sheets. On 13 July, when I visited the colony, it appeared deserted—most of the houses were bolted from the outside. I approached a group of young women and men who were standing at one end of the quarters, huddled around a man speaking on the phone.
Rizwaul Haq, a young man dressed in a pink shirt and grey trousers, stood at the centre of the group. Haq runs a small nearby shop that sells cosmetics, and is a resident of the workers’ colony. He looked tense and routinely paused his conversation to consult the group. “How many families can give Rs 500 today?” he asked the others. “Should we ask the lawyer to apply [for bail] for all 13 men?”
The Noida police had arrested the 13 men the previous night, allegedly for being part of a mob that stormed Mahagun Moderne earlier in the day. The mob had entered the complex after news spread that Zohra Bibi, a 26-year-old domestic worker employed with several households in Mahagun Moderne, was missing inside the complex. The Noida police had raided workers’ settlements within a two-kilometre radius of the complex in the intervening night of 12 and 13 July. Parshu Ram, the station house officer at the Sector 49 police station, said that a total of 78 men were detained.
Haq and his neighbor Anwarul were continuously fielding calls—from different trade unions that were beginning to get in touch with them; trying to locate where the police were holding the detained workers from the colonies; and trying to contact lawyers to apply for bail. They managed to bring down the lawyers' fee to Rs 500 per bail application, but even that was difficult for the workers. Most of the arrested workers were employed as sweepers and construction workers close to the apartment complexes where their wives and women relatives worked as domestic workers. Only seven families were able to contribute towards the lawyers’ fees—the group had Rs 3,500, about half the amount it needed.