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!