By Priyanka Das:Â
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.
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.