Indian police have arrested a trader for allegedly torturing a 11-year-old maid who was forced to eat chillies which were also rubbed on her body, an official said Monday, in the latest abuse of domestic servants.
Sarjil Ansari, a 38-year-old napkin seller, was arrested at the weekend and his wife Farhat was being questioned, said an investigating police officer in Thane district neighbouring Mumbai.
The couple bought the girl in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh for 15,000 rupees ($240) from her parents about a year ago on the pretext that she would be well looked after and given a better education, the officer said, declining to be named.
"They used to regularly torture and beat up the girl. The girl complained that she was forced to eat chillies, which were also applied on her body," he said. This would happen when she urinated out of stress or fear, he added.
"Often the family would turn up the volume on their home music system to muffle her cries for help."
Local media reported that the couple rubbed chillies on the girl's genitals as punishment, but the officer said he was not aware of the claim.
He said police were alerted when neighbours notified them about possible mistreatment of the girl, whose tasks included cleaning and looking after the couple's baby, despite her own young age.
The girl is now in the care of a local non-governmental organisation, and a case will be registered against the couple once the investigations are completed, the officer said.
The case is the latest of alleged abuse of domestic servants in in India, where thousands of workers, often children trafficked from remote and poverty-stricken states, toil for long hours in homes with almost no legal protection.
In October last year, a teenage girl working as a maid in New Delhi was hospitalised after being rescued from a home where campaigners said she was slashed with knives and mauled by dogs.
In 2006 India passed legislation banning employment of children under 14 in households, roadside eateries and hotels, but the law is widely flouted in the country of 1.2 billion people.