Monday, January 30, 2017

Humanely Treating Our Domestic Helps

The other day, Sadiqa, our domestic help, came to work even though her daughter was terribly ill. That day, she did her work against continual requests from Shilpi to let it be and go back home. All the time struggling against a torrent of tears, she just said: "I would drop everything but finish your work, Didi!"
We can't put a value on the contribution of our housemaids in simplifying our day-to-day lives. And often, the sort of trust, love, honesty and sacrifice displayed by them is hard to explain. In our country, the overall terms of employment of these people is fundamentally unfair, as they are tuned to keep them in perpetual penury. It's a hidden form of bondage or slavery or serfdom where there are no visible ropes to bind them, no physical whips to crack. But there's a craftily designed social system which keeps them subjugated.
My heart bleeds to hear stories of atrocities meted out on domestic helps everyday. Of course, the newspapers are full of news of housemaids being raped and murdered (often the other way round too). Leaving alone such extreme cases, many people treat them like machines or beasts of burden. Here are some of the horror stories we have heard about how people treat the domestic helps, often right in our current neighbourhood:
  • Continuous haggling about salary. People driving SUVs to office and women splurging tens of thousands on online shopping just to stay on the top of fashion trends make a very ugly sight haggling with poor people for a mere few hundreds a month.
  • No leaves. Most people here has a five-day working week, and feel guiltlessly entitled to a cushy salary from that much productivity. However, they raise hell when the domestic help asks for a leave. Illness, personal emergency, rain and snow, festivals, national holidays -- nothing is a valid grounds for asking for a leave. Such false sense of entitlement; such double-standards!
  • Tasks beyond the terms of employment. Often, domestic helps are made to run to get grocery, chop vegetables, clean meat or fish, cook, massage the ladies, dusting and cleaning -- all things beyond what they are employed for, and without being compensated.
  • Mountain piles of vessels to clean. Shouldn't we be thinking a bit when adding one vessel over another about how it would be if we were to clean them? The tiny gesture of wetting the vessels would reduce the effort of cleaning them by an order. But, few people seem to have the sensitivity to do so.
  • Unsegregated waste. Waste segregation is mandatory in our complex. It's the residents' responsibility to segregate waste properly and put them in the current bins. However, there are people who drop all garbage on the floor in a wanton manner leaving it for the domestic help to collect them while cleaning the floor. The housemaid is forced to segregate them before tossing them into the bins. How much more sickening could someone get?!
We move about claiming to be well-educated people, God fearing people, socially aware people. But we treat our domestic helps, who are often more a family than employees, with such inhuman unfairness! Our hypocrisy is nauseating!


Bharti Kumari said...

I observe all the points mentioned above.. it's very sad. I feel their pain. How much hard work they do for their kids and family. I personally ask my maids to take leave whenever they need. For cook here it is fixed Sunday off. But for maids Very rare people are willing to give leave. I tell my maid to take a day weekly off whenever she needs it. I always pay them extra for any work I ask. Everyone should show some humanity to them. My maid is never scared to ask me for leave, as I give her. She would not tell other houses.i mostly offer them tea or food sometimes. I really want to have them weekly off once. They also have work at their homes.

Sambaran said...

Sujit, I hope the following info will make you feel better:

At my part of Bangalore, the maids are getting a very fair deal. The domestic help at my home gets one day off (sunday) at almost all the places she works.
One maid stays in West-Bengal and other in UP. They go home once a year on air-plane. They do not travel sleeper class when they travel by train. We generally book the tickets on irctc on their behalf and their directive is to go for ac-3tier only.

Sambaran said...

Further, traveling by air/AC-3tier is merely an indication of a successful aspirational climb up the financial ladder. Most of the domestic helpers are getting their close relatives/friends to Bangalore. I take this as a conclusive proof of their satisfaction.

If some residents trample their dignity (like giving left-overs as food), they quit that job. The demand for trusted cooks/maids is very high.

Actually, your blog came as a slight surprise because just the day before yesterday a few of my friends were cherishing the amazing financial freedom being enjoyed by maids/cooks in Bangalore. Your blog corrects the euphoria a bit.

Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti said...

That's quite amazing! Probably there's a difference w.r.t. the areas. Is it Whitefield area?

I think, getting their relatives here can be a proof of their relative satisfaction, but can't be considered a conclusive proof that they get a fair deal. They are mere poor immigrants choosing the lesser of the two evils given as a choice to them. And if they have to settle for a raw deal just because the other choice they have (that of staying back in their village home) invites even further hardships doesn't justify giving them a raw deal here.

Sambaran said...

Agree with you Sujit. Dignity does have a correlation with money. But dignity can still be trampled and that is unacceptable. So I agree with the observations you made in your blog. I just thought that this financial data will be of interest to you.

Yes, it is Whitefield/Brookefield area.