When videos of a woman abusing a security guard in her residential society in Uttar Pradesh's Noida went viral last month, an uncomfortable truth came to the fore — those guarding the affluent in their high-rise apartment blocks are themselves often without any safeguards.
The abusive woman in Noida was later identified as Bhavya Roy, a lawyer in a leading law firm. A person nearby had the presence of mind to make the video of the incident on mobile. If not for this person, this incident too would have gone unnoticed. After all, people like Roy —or others whose videos have since gone viral abusing guards— are not an exception. They are more of the norm.
"The mistreatment of security guards in residential societies is very routine. It is rarely reported and incidents only become public when videos go viral, which is very rare," says Satish Kumar Goyal, President of the Delhi State Security Guard Union (DSSGU).
Roy was arrested by Gautam Budha Nagar Police. The court sent her to 14-day judicial custody. She was released on bail later after her lawyer flagged a procedural lapse in her arrest.
Goyal flagged certain issues that push security guards into a corner, chief among them being lack of organisation and regulations.
"Security guards are very unorganised. Once we formed the union in 2017, we found it very hard to enrol the guards and make them attend its meetings. They do long shifts and barely get holidays — not even on festivals, so it is hard for them to mobilise. Moreover, most of the contractors providing security guards are unlicensed, so that is another reason why complaints are not filed, because this fact would also be known if a complaint is filed and investigated," says Kumar.
Even when there are institutional safeguards, there is no enforcement.
"Delhi government enhances minimum wages every six months but does nothing to enforce these provisions. There is no system of Delhi government for routine checking of Private Security Agencies (Regulation) Act, 2005 —PASARA— licences of security service contractors, ensure minimum wages, ESI and PF," says Goyal, adding that salary hikes are a distant dream when they barely get full and timely salary.
He adds, "Initially, they are paid Rs 2-3,000 per month in place of promised Rs 7-8,000 per month by their contractors with one excuse or the other for some months till the dues rise to 25-30,000 which is never paid. This way, these guards are forced to work as bonded labour."
With little disposable money, guards barely have a chance at getting justice.
Despite Goyal’s efforts to unionise security guards, there is little that has changed. Goyal credits it to the discouragement that guards get every turn.
He says, "DSSGU filed many complaints with the Home Department of Government of Delhi but there was no investigation or action."
Even if the police charge the accused and pursue the case, it does not change the everyday reality for security guards. Most of them work without life or health insurance and other benefits that formal sector workers have. Moreover, law does not appear to be on the side of guards.
Even though guards are abused within the premises of residential societies, the societies are not liable to support their cause in case they are abused, says Mumbai-based advocate Aditya Pratap.
"Vicarious liability in this case does not extend to criminal matters, which means that if the guard is abused or assaulted, the societies where they are working are not bound to represent them," says Pratap.
Vicarious liability refers to one person or party being held responsible for the actions of another.
Since most of the mistreatment of guards is verbal and minor scuffles short of a major confrontation, these alleged offences fall in the category of non-cognisable offences in which the aggrieved person is required to approach the court themselves.
"Even though the work of security guards puts them in the line of harm as they might have to deal with burglars or armed invaders, they are not legally required to be provided term or health insurance by their contractors," says Pratap, adding that even if these guards are living within the premises of the society as many societies build servant quarters, they don’t qualify as residents and are therefore beyond the coverage of residents welfare associations (RWAs).
"Only home owners in the society qualify to be covered by RWA, and since guards are not home owners even if they reside within the society in servant quarters, they are out of RWA’s ambit. However, individual societies may include such provisions in their bylaws," says Pratap.
But societies are unlikely to do so. A Delhi-based activist tells Outlook that he tried to pursue his residential society a few years back to increase the wages of the guards, shorten their shift to humane working hours, and give them weekly offs. Nothing materialised.
"I was told they are already earning enough — even though the wages were below the mandated minimum wages. I even asked them to increase their wages to near the mandated amount —if not equate or exceed it— but they did not agree to that as well. Even though all of them were well-off and could have easily afforded that hike," says the activist, requesting anonymity.
Viral videos of guards being accused inspire outrage, not because of a major offence is being committed —it is not, it’s just mostly verbal abuse— but because it shows how inequality reduces a person to a creature that can be abused or slapped at will with little to no consequences. The law might consider slapping someone a minor offence but is it minor for a person’s honour? Can you measure disrespect or hurt to a person’s self-respect or confidence caused by a slap or abuse? Is it quantifiable?
Moreover, for every Roy being filed abusing their guards, there are several more doing it quietly everyday whose videos are not going viral.