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Millions Of Indian Housemaids Work In Disrespectful Conditions. Here’s What You Need To Know About It

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By Priyanka Das: 

India is home to a large unorganized workforce sector. This sector is looked down upon, even though millions belong to this category. Nannies and maids of ages 8 to 80+ constitute a big chunk, they are found in double income homes, the nouveau middle and upper middle classes. On the 20th of February 2014, the ILO (International Labour Organization) stated: “Millions of maids working in middle class Indian homes are part of an informal and “invisible” workforce where they are abused and exploited due to a lack of legislation to protect them”. Most of these women migrate from villages towards the urban space in search of a life of dignity, they rarely find it. Instead they are beaten up, starved and treated like slaves. A lot of the maids belong to various tribal communities; they are often lured by individuals who claim to be “saviours”. According to the National Sample Survey of 2004-05, there are around 47.50 lakh domestic workers in the country. Out of these, 30 lakh are women working in urban areas. An ILO report suggests that the number of maids has surged by close to 70 percent from 2001 to 2010 in India. They number in at least 10 million.

domestic-help

This profession is not opted for, at least voluntarily most of the times. The dismal employment opportunities and economic circumstances force women of poor families and those deserted by their husbands to take care of “other” families. A cyclical pattern of daughters becoming maids to the same families has been observed especially in the rural areas. The employers have been heard complaining about how the maid takes leave without notifying, how badly she maintains the house, how expensive she is amongst many other such statements. When an expensive earring or some cash “goes missing” the maid is the number 1 suspect. She is humiliated and the search routine is carried out, more often than not she is not the culprit, but she cannot leave because she needs to fend for her family and herself.

News items about the deplorable condition of maids across homes, which can afford them, can be seen and heard daily. Most of these occur in affluent and educated households; last October an air hostess was arrested for employing a minor as a maid; whereas in November a parliamentarian and his wife were arrested when their maid was found dead with several injuries in their residence in the capital city. A trend that has been observed due to the prevalence of the caste system is that maids are treated as “untouchables” and not allowed to enter the house except work areas. The slavery mindset continues to exist even today even though the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act of 1976 prohibits such attitudes.

In an ideal world a worker’s work hours is suppose to be proportional to the nutritional requirements one receives. However, it is not the case if one is a maid or a nanny because the rule of minimum wages is not maintained most of the time, even though the rules stipulate otherwise and as law abiding citizens we ought to follow it. The laws of the country are not favourable towards them; they do not have bargaining rights as they do not come under any trade union like organizations. They are often victims of human trafficking due to the various middle men who are involved, in a family getting a maid.

In 2009 the government had drafted a National Policy on Domestic Workers, the main points included were minimum wages, working hours and conditions, social security protection and the right to form trade unions and develop their skills. The policy however has not been approved by the cabinet yet. “Once it gets passed, the invisible workforce will become visible. They will have an identity as workers and that means 10 million workers will move into the formal sector”, said Tine Staermose, the ILO’s director for South Asia. Other laws which are applicable to domestic workers are the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, the Employees Compensation Act, 1923, the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 and Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, 1976, they are often denied the benefits because they are generally illiterate and do not hold mutually agreed contracts, unlike say those working in factories.

She is the homemaker of thousands of households, even though she can never be the perfect one for her “own home” she continues to strive for it. Respect and gratefulness is obligatory, she deserves it. The domestic helpers are your family, even when you do not realize it. They care for you, even when they do not need to. So just respect, shower some praise on the man and woman who make your house a “home”, even when your own kin fail to do so and avoid abuse in any form physical and psychological.

You must be to comment.
  1. jacob sarkar

    I am writing a dissertation paper on the maidservants of India, would love to get in touch and discuss further on this topic!

  2. Raj Dutt

    Hi priyanka…
    My name is raj i have read your article and i just want to know is there any department that deal with all this
    Specially i got some of the victims as i know and sure to my belief… I want to do something for the issue..
    So please help me if u have knowledge about any website or govt dept who deals with this kind of issue..

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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