The Journey Starts Here… Lives of Migrant Domestic Workers

Posted on March 26, 2010 in Society

Sampa Kundu:

This article is an attempt to explore one, rather gloomy, side of most of the metro-cities of India. It is a story of those girls and women who have been coming to these cities from various villages and small towns to work as domestic workers. Each and every day the mega-cities witness a large influx of non-literate, semi-literate and unskilled women in the city. Some of them have been trafficked and are forced to come here without knowing their future. Some of them arrive here in search of a better life as they are attracted by the facilities and advantages offered by a mega-city like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad etc. In short, we can divide this influx of women into two categories; ‘by choice’ migrants and forced migrants. Whether by choice or by force, this migration of unskilled female domestic workers has been a common phenomenon for urban India.

Probably in the decades of 1970s and even in the 1980s this was not a regular event in the country. The transformation of society from a joint family structure to the nuclear one, more and more involvement of women in professional activities and substantial increase in income level; have all acted as major demand factors for domestic workers. These domestic workers, particularly the female domestic workers are playing the roles of a cook, a cleaner, a care-taker, a baby-sitter, a gardener, so on and so forth, in urban India.

A huge chunk of domestic workers involves a large number of children, particularly girls. The child domestic workers remain unseen behind the doors of their employers’ houses. They have left-overs to eat, old clothes to cover themselves and the floor of the kitchen to sleep. Unlike their adult counterparts, the child domestic workers mostly work as full —time domestic workers as they are not ‘expensive’. Also, the employers want them as they can not demand their rights and can be dominated easily. They are deprived of education, freedom of expression and movement and have nobody to share their loneliness as well. In most of the cases they are forced to work as maids in order to free their families from loans or to feed themselves and possibly their large families as well.

There are several number of small agencies across the country engaged in supplying domestic workers in all metros. They act as brokers between two parties- the first party is the family of the girl who think that their girls would get a better life in the home of the ‘babu’ or ‘saheb’ or ‘sir’. The second party may be a big agency or the employer of the girl. In both cases the girls have to make a payment to the broker, sometimes it can be her first month salary. This is a comparatively better case. Sometimes the girls are trafficked and handed over to others more than once. Nobody knows what happens to these missing girls.

Today there are many networks and organizations who are working for the rights of the domestic workers. Also, the government of India, along with International Labor Organization has launched a skill formation programme for the female domestic workers in Delhi so that they can bargain for a higher compensation and can lead a more decent life compared to their lives today.

Despite, all these efforts, female domestic workers are still at risk. The social disgrace associated with this occupation often makes them vulnerable to various types of hazards and threats. The child and adolescent domestic workers are even more insecure and unsafe.

Now the time has come when the common people, like us, should raise our vice against such agencies and in particular against child domestic work. This journey towards humanism should start from here.

The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.