A Teen Housemaid's Nightmare

#SheToo – A Teen Housemaid's Nightmare

Four years on, she still gets nightmares:   In 2014, I first stepped out of my native village to travel all the way to Kochi City. An acquaintance had found me work as a domestic help in the city; the money would help my household. I was awe-struck by the big city, the clean apartment, where I would be working, and my English-speaking employers. It took me a few days to adjust to the work.

I saw ‘Saab’ and ‘Madam’ weren’t in a happy marriage. They had violent arguments and would bang the door on each other. There was a part-time maid in the house who would handle duties like giving food or packing lunch for the doctor husband. The part-time maid left in a few months and I took over all the chores.

ALSO IN #SheToo SERIES: Silent Victims Of Harassment
Verbal Abuse Of Construction Workers
‘Clients Often Treat Spa Therapists As Prostitutes’
‘Low-Cost Spas Threat Therapists As Prostitutes’
Putting Up With Nosy Parkers And Peeping Toms
‘People Consider A Young Widow Easy Meat’
‘Beauty Salon Is Not A Pickup Point’

I sensed that Saab often brushed past me or felt me up whenever I laid the dinner table for him. I liked Madam more and we often talked in idle time. Yet, I could not gather the courage to share my doubts about Saab with her. Once the wife mentioned to me that her husband took drugs and this was one of the reasons of their rocky marriage.

She wouldn’t have thought of her husband stooping to the level of harassing a maid. I kept quiet as I didn’t want to add to her woes. One evening, Madam announced that she would be leaving for a 10-day workshop to Andhra Pradesh. On an impulse, probably, she said she wouldn’t want to leave me at the house and take me along with her.

The husband insisted that the maid was needed at home to take care of cleaning and cooking. Once again, they had heated arguments and ultimately the wife relented to leave me home. On the very day madam left, Saab called me in his room and said that he had a backache. He took out an ointment tube and asked me to rub all over his lower back. While I was rubbing his back, he suddenly turned over, forcibly took my hand and placed it on his genitals.

I was stunned and tried to run away from the room in disgust. But he had expected this reaction and pulled me down on the bed violently and forced himself on me. I cried in pain the whole night and kept making plans to run away from the house. But I didn’t know the surrounding area; I had hardly stepped out of their house since my arrival there. Over the next ten days, I was raped several times even as I cried and pleaded him to leave me alone. When the wife came back from her training, she found me in a state of shock. I had not eaten or slept properly for the past ten days.

She hugged me, held my head in her arms and asked what had happened. I broke down and started howling for the next several minutes. “Please save me, Didi,” I kept repeating. Later, I narrated the whole incident to her. As I felt safe in her company, I thought about my parents. The humiliation our family would experience when they came to know of my situation.

What will happen to the monthly income the couple was sending them home? Will my acquaintance also come to know about it now? Madam looked shocked and heartbroken. She still couldn’t come to terms that her husband was a child rapist. She told me she would register a complaint with the police and took me to the station. I underwent a medical examination which confirmed rape. However, in the meantime, her in-laws and other relatives reached the police station. I don’t know what happened exactly, but no police action happened afterwards.

Madam told me that she had given up under duress but would file for a divorce. She also assured me of all medical, financial and emotional support needed to come out of the trauma. At that time, I felt she was talking sense. My mind was occupied with thoughts about my family, my village and the rape stigma. The doctor wife arranged my journey back home. She told my family that she held herself guilty but we had to move on.

I gathered that her divorce case stretched on till August 2018 as there was no mention of the husband being a child rapist among the grounds for separation. With help from several quarters, I am now employed as a housemaid in a Gulf country and the earning is good. Yet, there are nights when I wake in cold sweats and stay awake thereafter.

A Spa Therapist Isn’t A Prostitute

#SheToo – ‘A Spa Therapist Isn’t A Prostitute’

Meenu (name changed), a 32-year-old massage therapist, has seen both the best and the worst in spa business in the last six years. Here is an insider’s account of her experience at a low-cost spa where clients came merely to seek sexual favours from the therapists and the business owners chose to look the other way.

Seven years back, when I moved to Delhi from Manipur, I was happy to be selected for training as a therapist by an international wellness chain. The group had branches in south Delhi, west Delhi, and NCR. I was posted in their Noida unit and was happy with the HR policies of the spa management.

Although we had an eight-hour shift, we were allowed to decline more than five hours of therapy sessions. If the number of sessions exceeded five hours, we would get incentives.

Yes, there would be odd clients who asked for various favours, like ‘happy ending’ (a term used for masturbation performed at the end of a massage therapy), but we had management support in walking out on such clients. Yet, most of the therapists obliged ‘decent’ clients for a ‘generous tip’.

Things changed when I switched job to another local spa for want of better pay. This is when I realized the dark practices in those low-cost massage parlours that were mushrooming all over the city and offered services at half the cost, sometimes even lower, than the more organized establishments.

ALSO IN #SheToo SERIES: ‘Saab Raped Me When Madam Was Out Of Town’
‘My Employer Spiked My Drink And Raped Me’

The high cost for a therapy session in my previous group discouraged or filtered the ill-intentioned clients. But in the new unit, I would meet patrons who made lewd passes, enjoyed talking dirty, flashed their genitals (often refused to wear the disposable underwear) and offered money for fellatio and ‘home-services’.

At times, some of them will take advantage of Valentine’s Day offers, come with a female partner and used the premises as ‘love nest’. When I complained about a certain regular client about his unruly behavior to the manager, the response was shocking. The manager asked me insensitively if he had raped me. ‘Keep quiet and don’t ruin the business. The competition is tough,’ he said.

I soon learnt that most of my fellow therapists had little training about a human body or muscle relaxation. They were there only to give the ‘services in demand’. I also learned their operational terminology: ‘B2B’ meant body-to-body massage, which meant lying over a client with minimal clothing; Topless meant the client will touch or fondle your naked breasts and; ‘Full Service’ meant sleeping with the client.

Massage was never the call a client came for. As soon as the door was locked (in my previous spa centre, the door was closed but never locked) the deal would begin between the ‘therapists’ and the patron. It was nothing short of organized prostitution.

The clients looked at you as if they were examining a commodity before purchase. I felt cheap. I took leave and started negotiating with my previous employer for a return. They asked me to wait as they were facing low clientele due to tough completion.

Then one day, my former manager called up to tell me that two of their therapists had left and there was a vacancy. My first reaction was to call those who had left the job and ask them if they were joining some low-cost ‘massage parlour’; I wanted to tell them the risks involved. But, I let it be. We all learn about the perils of easy money our own hard way.

(The names of the therapist and her employers have been withheld at her request)

My Employer Spiked My Drink

#She Too – ‘My Employer Spiked My Drink’

dhobi by profession. The family income was just enough to support my younger brothers’ education and my beautician course. As I was growing up, I was aware of the male gaze that would pierce through my clothes, making me squirm. My mother told me to dismiss the attention and live with it. I had my family, my father – my life support. Then one day, he came back home coughing uncontrollably. He had been unwell for a very long time. Doctors diagnosed him with tuberculosis. Within the next few months, his body became very frail and he passed away. My support system was gone.

ALSO IN #SheToo SERIES: Silent Victims Of Harassment
Verbal Abuse Of Construction Workers
‘Saab Raped Me When Madam Was Out Of Town’
‘Low-Cost Spas Threat Therapists As Prostitutes’
Putting Up With Nosy Parkers And Peeping Toms
People Consider A Young Widow Easy Meat
‘Beauty Salon Is Not A Pickup Point’

To run the household, my unlettered mother started working as a domestic help. My beautician’s course had almost come to an end, so I started looking for a job to assist my mother. What I didn’t realise then was that my father’s death had made us vulnerable to the vultures waiting to prey on our desperate condition. A distant relative approached my mother and offered to get me a job with a friend who was looking for a saleswoman. ‘Your daughter is good-looking. She will get a job easily,’ he said. This man turned out to be a pimp. He referred me to his friend, who ran a travel agency, and part of his business was to sell holiday packages. I was trained for barely a week after which he said I had mastered the art of persuasion. My employer then asked me to accompany him to what he called ‘client meetings’. I trusted him and eager to help his business prospects, went with him during office hours. After a few months, he called me late in the evening one day to accompany him to a ‘big client’. This was the first time I ventured out this late with him. But since I had been working with him for a while, my mother too did not find anything odd in the timing of the meeting. He took me to a shady hotel. I followed him into a room reeking of alcohol and smoke. Two men were sitting inside drinking and laughing. A sudden silence ensued as I entered the room. I sensed they were scanning me from head to toe. Something was not right. I sat on the edge of a chair, looking for an opportune moment to take leave of the room. They offered me a drink. I refused. The men then insisted I took a soft drink instead. More to ease my dry throat, like a fool, I gulped it down. Then it got dark, a blackout. When I woke up, I was alone in the room. There were bruises all over my body and my clothes were strewn across the room. I felt a sharp pain in my private parts. What happened that night became clear to me. Those three men had taken turns to rape me, violate my body and crush my soul. It was still dark outside, maybe three or four in the morning. I rushed home; my mother was waiting for me, worried sick. When I narrated the incident to my mother, she went numb. This vegetative state continued for a couple of days and then we decided to contact the relative but all in vain. Meanwhile, my ‘boss’ kept calling me incessantly, but I kept rejecting his calls. A few days later, we gathered the courage to approach the police. As we reached the police station, the word about our decision to file an FIR reached my employer. Several of my relatives suddenly reached the station and asked us to review our decision. One of them made an offer: accept ₹50,000 and keep our mouths shut and honour intact, he said. Meanwhile, my erstwhile employer used all kinds of pressure tactics from threats to my life to kidnapping my brothers. My mother, an illiterate woman who was intimidated by foul-mouth policemen, gave in. She was still coping with the passing away of my father, so I was not surprised that she buckled under the pressure. My mother and I cried ourselves to sleep every single night thereafter for a week. For the next few months, I could not muster the courage to go out of my house. My sudden ‘house arrest’ made my neighbours suspicious. They started questioning my mother. So, I finally decided to venture out and look for a fresh job. For the past couple of years, I have been working with a beauty parlour as a sales executive. But my past still haunts me and the scars left on my soul will never fade away for the rest of my life. I find myself unable to deal with menfolk and avoid taking up home assignments. Meanwhile, life goes on.

Silent Victims of Harassment

#SheToo – Silent Victims of Harassment

She herself was accosted by a widowed employer who offered money for her ‘cooperation’. She was repulsed, yet could never gather courage to leave the city. Benu opens up:   Life of a housemaid holds valuable lessons in survival. You know there are men, there are ‘friendly’ men and there are beasts posing as men. I once cooked for an elderly couple in a gated community in Mayur Vihar (East Delhi) when the lady of the house succumbed to Cancer.

Within two months of her death, I saw a changed man in the ‘Uncle’ (that’s what I called him). He would chat me up, open the door but will not leave the passage, used the water-dispenser when I was washing dishes and nudged me at every pretence … the signs were perceptible. I gave him the benefit of the doubt till one day he simply blocked my way and forcibly held my hand. “I need someone to take care of me,” he began. “I will pay money. If I find you good, I can even marry you.” I felt repulsed by this slobbering old dog. But let me start from my arrival in Delhi the megacity.

I belong to (North) 24 Pargana zilla in (West) Bengal and came to Delhi in search for money after my husband, a farm labourer, died of TB in 2009. A Christian group had helped some of the village women in training as housemaids and finding work for them. These women sent good money home and I was also tempted when one of them wanted a long leave and asked me to replace him for a month.

ALSO IN #SheToo SERIES: Verbal Abuse Of Construction Workers
‘Saab Raped Me When Madam Was Out Of Town’
‘Clients Often Treat Spa Therapists As Prostitutes’
Putting Up With Nosy Parkers And Peeping Toms
‘People Consider A Young Widow Easy Meat
‘My Employer Spiked My Drink And Raped Me’
‘Beauty Salon Is Not A Pickup Point’

Delhi is a cham-chamata shahar (glittering mega city) where even nights are illuminated. I was awestruck. I used to take part in community ceremony for food preparation in my village and was considered a good cook. This was the reason my co-villager offered me the temporary job. Before handing me over the charge, she gave me a sagely advice, “Now that you are here, Benu, you will never be able to leave this city.

But remember: avoid two types of men when you seek work – single men and old men.” How prophetic she turned out to be years later, I wonder! After the first month of work as a substitute, I was able to save Rs500 and send back home to my son (20), who did odd jobs in and around the village. I wanted him to fix our roof with the money, but lured by the earnings, he used the money to reach me here, saying that he too wanted to work in Delhi.

Such was the lure of Rs 500 back in our village. I rented a room in Chilla village of east Delhi. This rural-urban settlement supplies housemaids and cheap labour to rich (actually, a middle-class) housing colonies nearby. Two households hired me for cooking and dish-washing. The first family belonged to a working young couple, who were always in rush while the other was a retired couple whose children had settled abroad.

It all looked good till I found the dark underbelly of city life. The idle sons of Gujjar landlords at Chilla village targeted good-looking (read fair-complexioned) women in the tenant community. They would often get the man of the house drunk and then had their way. It was common knowledge that if these lads set eyes on a woman, it would be impossible to live in the vicinity and stay unharmed.

The sexual exploitation did not end there. All maids are bound to make an identity card, duly signed by local police, to be submitted to the gated community they work for. This meant lewd looks and remarks while applying for the ‘card’ which often turned into brutal physical violations, first from the police and later routinely from the society guards. Then there were other male employees in the society up for grabs.

One of my friends, a new recruit who did not know how to operate a lift, was accosted and molested by the society gardener in the lift, leaving her shocked and teary-eyed. I was thankful to be a woman of short height and dark complexion. But the contentment was short-lived. The woman in the retired household was diagnosed with cancer and hospitalised. I was 40 when I lost my husband, so I could empathise with the old man who would soon be widowed.

Cancer ‘matlab maut’ (means death), and it happened. I pitied the lonely life of Uncle. However, in less than two months, as visitors inflow died, I saw a changed man in the ‘Uncle’. He would chat me up, open the door but will not leave the passage, used the water-dispenser when I was washing dishes and nudged me at every pretence … the signs were perceptible.

Then, one day he simply blocked my way and forcibly held my hand. “I need someone to take care of me,” he began. “I will pay money. If I find you good, I can even marry you.” I wanted to run. Then, I thought the money I would lose if I quit. The dilemma ended as the old man moved another step. On an impulse, I just shook his hand and ran away.

That night in bed at home, a rainbow of thought did not let me sleep. Could this happen to a woman in her late forties? What if I return to work? Was he serious when he offered to marry a woman 20 years younger? And then I remembered the advice of my old friend. Trust not a single man and an old man. This man was both. I approached that friend again. She had the remedy. “Go to Nancy didi,” she told me and I did. Nancy didi, a young widower living in the same housing society, heard me out and gave me several options: take him to police or report the matter to society office, with her backing.

I am illiterate but having lived in Delhi for nearly a decade I know that these actions will force me out of livelihood. I was worried what will I tell my son about it. I asked Didi to merely safeguard me from that lecher in future, as I would come to work there every day. Didi took my phone and said she had put her number on speed dial, whatever that meant, and asked me ring her if the old man ever stalked me again.

“Or just rush to my house,” she said. Thankfully, I never required to do either in the last two years but I am thankful to Nancy Didi for instilling this confidence in me. But I often think if a 65-year old can give me such sleepless nights, think of the trauma that goes into the mind of housewives raped routinely by randy boys in our colony or women troubled daily by society employees and lustful house owners. (The identity of certain persons and locations were changed on request. The original conversation in Hindi was transcribed by LokMarg desk)

Construction Workers Harassed Verbally

#SheToo – ‘Construction Workers Harassed Verbally'

My husband, 32, moved to Delhi for better wages, but I work in Deoghar, which is near our native place. Although it is easy to find work – you only need to reach early at the town square and wait to be selected by contractors – the eight-hour work schedule can be back breaking. But we need the extra income if we want our two children to get good education.

There are separate wages for a ‘mistri’ (skilled) and ‘beldar’ (unskilled) labour. Women, always unskilled, are paid lesser than men, but we have no grouse there. This is a conventional division. Santhal (read tribal) women get picked first as they are stronger. Women who accompany their husbands are picked next. Single women are the last to be hired, sometimes at a price lower than the ruling daily wage.

ALSO IN #SheToo SERIES: Silent Victims Of Harassment
‘Saab Raped Me When Madam Was Out Of Town’
‘Clients Often Treat Spa Therapists As Prostitutes’
Putting Up With Nosy Parkers And Peeping Toms
People Consider A Young Widow Easy Meat
‘My Employer Spiked My Drink And Raped Me’
‘Beauty Salon Is Not A Pickup Point’

Our ordeal begins after that. The contractors and their sidekicks keep mouthing insults at women workers for slowing down the pace of work. Their choicest abuse is: ‘Tera mahina chal raha hai kya’ (Are you having your period)? This is followed by chuckles and snide remarks from all around. At times, you feel like throwing the mortar at their faces, but then you will get blacklisted and never get work.

Three years ago when my second child was very small, I would bring him to the site and breastfeed him during work. Many an eye would follow me while I took him for feeding. Each time the child cried, it will draw remarks, either lewd or insulting. Rarely would someone intervene and scold the lechers. I have myself never encountered a sexual proposition but yes, these are common at our kind of work.

Tribal women, for instance, are considered easy game by these wolves. It also depends on the contractor. Many of them have a reputation. Usually at the end of the workday when wages are distributed, they target their victims who are coerced by them. Everyone knows it but nobody speaks about it. The golden rule is to keep to yourself, ignore catcalls and physical overtures like squeezing your hand.

I also never tell people that my husband is away in Delhi. The toughest days at work are when I have my period. We do not have access to expensive sanitary napkins; we wash and reuse old clothes. But the eight-hour work plus nearly two hours of travel time can be very stressful. Even when you get some time to change or clean, there are no places where one can do it.

Almost always, we have no access to a washroom. Because of heavy construction activity, there is no empty space to relieve ourselves. There are so many people, vehicles and raw materials lying around which can make changing our soiled clothes, let alone relieving ourselves, a nightmare. The situation is worse when you are working near marketplaces or at a renovation project.

Public washrooms are meant only for men; women have to find corners and squat sometimes in full public view. The men ogle while women passersby turn up their noses at us in disgust. Nobody asks us how we feel. I suppose farm labourers have a better life. Even though they get three-fourths of our wages, they get food twice.

The wives of farm owners are very considerate and give them access to their washrooms on tough days. But farm work is difficult to get and is seasonal. Besides, the farms are shrinking by the day; even big farmers say the yield is no longer worth the labour. It is my children and husband, who calls up daily, who keep me going.

My husband trusts me, he has no issues that I work with other men. He is a kind soul, unlike many of the drunken husbands in the village who beat their wives. He has promised to shift us soon to Delhi, where my children can get English education. I have met some NGO women who come to visit our village and teach us about menstrual hygiene and personal healthcare. I want my daughter to also take up such a role when she grows up and fight for the rights of female construction workers.

Diminishing Returns III

Diminishing Returns III – ‘Creaking Wheel'

diyas (lamps), toys, decorative items, idols of gods etc, I was taught to make everything. Our family had been creating them for several generations. The potter’s wheel is our God — our source of livelihood. But in the past 10 to 15 years, things have drastically changed. I am regretting my decision to carry on with the family business. Cheap, imported goods from China have flooded the markets – decorative items, toys, diyas, religious idols everything that I used to create with great labour and patience – China makes it all, and in hordes. Works of indigenous artisans like me are neither appreciated nor encouraged. The cost of molding clay has been skyrocketing. Last year it used to cost Rs 1,500 per trolley but this year it has risen to Rs 2,500 apiece. There was a time when we looked forward to the festive season, and laboured to create an inventory. But in the past few years, we have hardly been able to sell our products, often returning home almost empty handed. Navratri has already begun. It will be followed by Dussehra and Diwali, but I am still over-stocked and have no hope of any kind of bumper sale. I have four children – two boys and two girls. I am happy that all of them are going to school. But I am afraid, how long I will be able to sustain this. I often run out of money for paying their school fees. After several reminders (and even threats of throwing them out of the school), I manage to deposit their fee on a quarterly basis and that too with a fine. To make ends meet, I along with other community members, work as daily wagers during the lean periods of the year. Despite my dire financial situation, I am proud of my art. My children too love to help me out and hone their own skills. Along with their mother, the children pat the clay, clean the wheel, and mould pots, etc. It is a matter of pride for them. They want to carry forward the family’s tradition and pass on the skill to their children eventually. But I am happy they are going to school, a strong educational background will give them an edge.

Also In The Series: The Baggage Of A Coolie
Brass Band Is Losing Rhythm


Diminishing Returns II

Diminishing Returns II – A Coolie's Baggage

Bachchan and Govinda had played the character with aplomb. Besides, he would make good money at one of the busiest railway platforms in the country. But times have changed. Modern-age bags with wheels and newly-installed escalators have eaten into his earnings. Dayal opens up to LokMarg:   I started work as a coolie at the Gorakhpur Railway station in 1983.

This was long before the likes of Amitabh Bachchan and Govinda glamourised our profession. Till about six years ago, I did not find any time to sit or relax during my eight-hour shift, that sometimes stretched up to 10 hours. I managed to earn somewhere between Rs 200 to Rs 500 per day. In peak seasons like summer or winter holidays or the wedding season, my earnings touched even Rs 1000 a day. But six years ago, things started changing.

Modern technology reached Gorakhpur station and we, the coolies had to bear the brunt. Passengers can now use the escalators and conveniently carry their luggage with them. Besides this, almost everyone is using trolley bags these days. Be it young passengers, women, elderly or even children, everyone is capable enough to pull at least one bag each. And we are left with no option but to watch patiently and wait for a passenger, who might actually need our help.

The Gorakhpur railway station has the world’s longest railway platform (1.3 km). Naturally, coolies played a rather important role here. Earlier, several new boys joined us every month. But now, take a walk along the platform, and you will barely find a young coolie here. New people are refraining from joining this profession. Even my younger son, who started work as a coolie 10 years ago on my insistence, now questions my decision.

The scarcity of work has also diluted the norms of the union (regarding the work hours) and now you can work at will. Earlier, we used to have an eight-hour shift to ensure that all the registered coolies get work. But due to scarcity of work and reducing number of coolies, we are now free to work at will. However, this does not fetch us much money. Almost every day, I go back home empty-handed. Sometimes, I stay back in the night hoping for some generous passenger, but it is all in vain.

On some lucky days, we earn Rs 200 to Rs 300 but that only happens during the wedding or the festive seasons. New technology has made life convenient for others but has eaten into our livelihoods. I am 63 years old, and at this age changing my profession is not an option. Neither do I have the luxury to retire. I don’t have anything against new technology.

But I would like to question our political leaders who talk about introduction of new technology and job creation in the same breath. Have they cared to spare a thought about people like us, who suddenly discover that the job that fetched them their daily bread for years, has now become redundant. What plans do they have for us? Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, are you listening?

Also In The Series: Brass Band Losing Rhythm
This Potter’s Wheel Spins Little Money

Diminishing Returns I – 'Off-Key Brass Band'

The sounds of tuning the musical instruments – drums, trumpets, clarinets, cymbals – filled the air. Sometimes, the band would break into an impromptu performance. Their happiest moments were when they had mastered a new tune. In the evenings, I would lead the band troupe (this could range from 12-20 players) and walk like the captain of a battalion with my head held high.

There would be another part of the team of about 15-20 daily-wagers who carried rows of chandeliers to keep the path illuminated. The wedding processions would look royal because of us. Our patrons were quick to recognise the talent of the band members. They were showered with cash rewards and praises when they played music on demand.

The musicians were hired on the basis of an annual contract as it was difficult to find musicians during the wedding season. Although they were not paid much, they remained loyal to the brand they worked for. This was probably the best platform for them to showcase their talent. Our schedule used to be jam-packed during the wedding season – with hardly any ‘lean day’.

But this was 12 years ago. Now almost all our days are lean. The wedding season is just around the corner but we hardly have any bookings. We still have a dedicated trained staff who have mastered the drums, trumpets, clarinets and cymbals but they are left with no other option to look for other jobs. Indian weddings have changed. New and cheaper ‘DJ bands’ have eaten into our business. Now, anyone, who has a bit of money can jump into the business with a small one-time investment.

It doesn’t matter whether you have the ear for music or not. You hardly need to know the technicalities. All you need is a trolley that can carry huge speakers, a good music system that can play songs and a collection of music on a laptop.

The DJ just needs some basic knowledge about running a music system. Nowadays, they can even play music through their smart phone and connect it to speakers! My brass band team is now jobless and they do not fit anywhere with this new avatar of celebrations. Once, I thought of including this new trend into my band but the mere thought was horrible. It would have left my talented bunch of musicians without any work, walking like dressed-up puppets along the DJ bands.

Also In The Series: The Baggage Of A Coolie
This Potter’s Wheel Spins Little Money

Cyber Crime I

Cyber Crime I – 'Busting An e-Ticket Racket'

I knew that change was near, and that nature of crime was going to be transformed with changing technology. Without any official backing, I started to read about cyber crimes. I then pursued professional courses on the subject and today I am a PhD holder. I was also conferred with the Cyber Cop of the Year (2012) award by Data Security Council of India (DSCI) NASSCOM.

Over the past few years, my interest in cyber crime and financial fraud has brought me many digital crime assignments from central agencies and other government bodies. Recently, I busted a gang of software sellers, who helped railway touts book train tickets within a fraction of seconds. Booking train tickets on the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) website generally takes several minutes, even with high-speed Internet connections.

Tracking this multi-crore, pan-India racket was a tough job. The software they used bypassed all the security norms put in place by the Central government website. The agents would merely fill in the details of the passengers and the required train, along with the mode of payment and voila… the tickets were booked. An in-depth analysis of the software showed that it provided proxy IP addresses; bypassed IRCTC captcha and bank OTP; allowed forms autofill; and logins with multiple IDs.

The servers were usually based outside India, allowing the users to fraudulently gain unauthorised access to a computer network in contravention of rules and regulations. These software makers were based out of major metro cities and were connected with agents through different WhatsApp groups. It was thus important for us to penetrate their network.

My team also went undercover and one of our team members posed as a customer to see how an agent booked the ticket. And then we followed the electronic trail. Following the crackdown, IRCTC has introduced multiple security features to their website to keep a check on such bookings. But you can never be sure of a foolproof system.

The nature and magnitude of cyber crimes are changing every day. Last month, I arrested four hackers, who booked tickets online from the website of the UP’s State Road Transport Corporation (UPSRTC) without paying up. We managed to figure their modus operandi before they could cause a bigger damage. We found that they were exploiting the vulnerabilities of the online payment system of the UPSRTC website to book counterfeit e-tickets through a software called ‘Burp Suite’. After procuring these free tickets, they would then sell them on WhatsApp and Facebook groups.

Robbers no longer need to enter a bank with guns to steal money, it can happen with just a click of a button. Here, the robber doesn’t have a face, or any record, all we have is a digital footprint. He or She can operate from any part of the world. Most cyber criminals are young and energetic and eager to learn. They know a bit of scripting.

And with a few sessions of hacking tutorials available on the internet, they are ready for the kill. They are learning something new each day, so cops working on cyber crime, need to hone their skills every day. The digital world comes with its own set of banes. While technology has made our lives hassle-free, it has also opened new avenues for thefts and frauds. From withdrawing money through cloned cards to trading vital information on the web, all this is happening in India. Unfortunately, not many in our law enforcement agencies are skilled enough to tackle such crimes.