Sunday, July 20, 2008

Maid in Mumbai

We remain a nation of dignified slaves!!

In my recent visit to Hong Kong, as we were touring the city, we came across a point where there were hundreds of women sitting and chatting together. Our guide informed us that these women offer domestic help services and Sunday being an off day for them; they all have come out to spend time with their friends and relatives. He also informed us that most of these women hail from countries like Indonesia and Philippines and that they come to Hong Kong in search of jobs, as back there in their own home economies, not many opportunities exist.

It appeared very analogous, for in our country too, thousands of people migrate from relatively poorer regions to towns and cities in search of better livelihood and end up as domestic servants. In fact, the sheer economic pressure of modern city life has evidently enforced disintegration of erstwhile conventional family association and has also created an environment, wherein double family income has almost become an economic imperative. In this given scenario, engagement of domestic help has become an increasing compulsion for most of these nuclear households. This has resulted in an unprecedented demand for domestic helps that has also resulted in mushrooming of unregulated placement agencies, which more often than not have been found to be unscrupulous and exploitative in nature. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, for the organisation of domestic service in India stands completely unorganised. And that as well explains as to why a domestic worker enjoying a weekly off is completely unheard of in India!! Also, there isn’t much doubt in this that on account of the very same reason, both the employer and the help have been at the receiving end. Though in most cases, it is observed that it is the domestic help who stands to lose more, wherein they are not just subjugated upon payment terms and conditions, but also in matters concerning those of working hours and conditions, social security and physical safety.

In other words, a domestic help in India is totally at the mercy of his/her employer [read master] and in truth is no different from a slave, albeit in modern and mild version.

No wonder, this sort of continual exploitation from all ends had led to a concomitant rise in crime rates committed by the domestic helps, all over India. And as typical of Indian Administration, this incidence has invariably led to some customary knee-jerk reactions, like mandatory verification of domestic help etc, without curing the root cause of the problem! It is needless to state that the problem does not rest with the domestic workers per se, but definitely in the manner they are organised. The only solution lies in creation of a more robust legal system, aimed at protecting their rights and an enabling environment which encompasses the sub-systems like legal awareness, facilitation and other associated services. It would only then that we can appreciate the dignity of labour and help them earn and gain respectability, for their apparently menial but actually meaningful tasks that they routinely perform. Till this happens, we would simply remain a nation of dignified slaves [which includes all those 400 million employees in the unorganised sector]!!


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