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Published: Tue, 09/01/2009 - 12:17 Updated: Thu, 07/02/2015 - 09:01

The humble domestic worker in India is often treated like a modern-day slave

They are an essential part of every middle-class/rich Indian set-up. Without them, many urban homes would fall into complete disarray. It is their constant presence and hard work that give families the leisure to be together as families.

And yet, for all their contributions the humble domestic worker in India is often treated like a modern-day slave - underpaid, overworked, verbally and often physically abused, without any social security or fixed work hours, and no trade union rights.

Among the many things that educated, affluent Indians should be truly ashamed of is the fact that  their shining dreams are built upon the silent nightmare of the men, women, boys and girls who keep their homes running.

True, in a poor country like India, domestic workers are bound to have a ubiquitous presence. However, the fact that their dismal working conditions do not disturb the average middle-class person's conscience is testimony to how plain brutality has become such an integral part of the mainstream Indian psyche.

In New Delhi alone, there are around 7 to 8 lakh domestic workers slaving away for paltry sums of Rs 1,000-1,500 per month and living in semi-human conditions of bondage and semi-starvation, surrounded by much spending, money power and excessive consumption of the affluent society. Often, the kids in rich homes can squander in one day what these 'servants' earn in an entire month. Despite some efforts by voluntary groups and NGOs to organise them, by and large domestic workers are a voiceless lot with no official mechanism to address their grievances. None of them has provisions such as maternity benefit, pension, ESI, PF, gratuity, health or crèche facilities, even minimum wages.

According to activists, live-in domestic workers are most vulnerable to exploitation because they are isolated from their families and friends and are at the mercy of their employers. They are unable to refuse work and are punished when they make mistakes. They work on an average of 18 hours a day and are practically on call at all hours. In late August, an MNC executive in Delhi was arrested for raping his domestic servant repeatedly. She was from Jharkhand.

Delhi has been flooded with poor tribal girls from Jharkhand as domestic servants. In the case of Delhi, a bulk of full-time, live-in domestic workers are female and migrants from the poorer parts of north and eastern India, brought by dubious 'placement agencies' that live off their work while remote controlling their lives. Many part-time domestic workers in cities come from slum areas with all its poverty, squalor, broken homes and violence. While the work they do in urban households brings in much needed income, it does nothing for them in terms of their skills, savings or securing a better future for themselves or their children.

The humble domestic worker in India is often treated like a modern-day slave

They are an essential part of every middle-class/rich Indian set-up. Without them, many urban homes would fall into complete disarray. It is their constant presence and hard work that give families the leisure to be together as families.

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This story is from print issue of HardNews