This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Abhishek Jha. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Leftovers For Food, No Min. Wage: How Delhi’s Domestic Workers Are Denied Their Rights

More from Abhishek Jha

By Abhishek Jha for Youth Ki Awaaz:

I met Moni, Bubbly, and Lata on a weekend after the International Domestic Workers’ Day on June 16. Around 100 women had gathered on the premises of a Gurudwara at Tigri Colony in Sangam Vihar for a programme for domestic workers. As the event was coming to a conclusion with performances by the children of the workers and slogans of ‘Ladenge, Jeetenge’, the women narrated their daily ordeals.

Like most domestic workers in Delhi- who clean and dust houses or offices, wash clothes or utensils, cook, babysit, etc- they live in a one or two room accommodation in a J. J. Colony or urban village and travel to nearby residential areas for work. Moni has once lived in the servants’ quarters provided by her employer. She was not given any wages there. Bubbly had no fixed hours of work at her previous job and would sometimes be served stale food from the night before if she asked for it out of hunger. At one place Moni works now, her utensils are kept under the wash-basin because her employers are vegetarian. At another household where she worked, she would be accused of stealing things the employers themselves had misplaced.

Still Not Recognised As Workers

“They (the Labour Department) are not accepting that the domestic workers are workers,” Kalai Selvi, who heads the Delhi unit of National Domestic Workers Movement (NDWM), told me later. The programme for which the domestic workers had gathered was organised by her NGO. Kalai told me that they have been trying to get their informal union registered, but the South District Labour Office rejected their application when they learnt that it was related to domestic workers.

Delhi’s case is important as an ILO report published in 2015 (Indispensable yet Unprotected: Working conditions of Indian domestic workers at home and abroad) identifies Jharkhand to Delhi as “one of the most frequented migration routes for female domestic workers”, apart from the emigration route from the state of Kerala to Arab countries.

Another study (Influx of Tribal Domestic Workers: A Study of Role of Placement Agencies in Delhi) commissioned by the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD), which was published by the Indian Social Institute, a research-oriented NGO, says the same. Explaining the influx, it says that the reason for high demand for domestic workers in Delhi is because of the high concentration of firms with highly paid, skilled, professional employees. It further adds that the “upkeep of these professionals working long hours is only possible because of the support of host of low paid workers”.

Despite Delhi being a major employer of domestic workers, far from being pro-active, the State government has been loath to give them any kind of recognition.

The Central Government, for instance, passed the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act in 2008, which at least recognised domestic work as work. (This too, however, was made possible only after a writ petition was filed by the National Domestic Workers Trust (which runs the NDWM) and others in this regard during the consultation process on the draft bill). The Act mandated the formation of a State Social Security Board to recommend, advise, and monitor social welfare schemes for unorganised workers (including domestic workers). The Act also provided for the formation of workers’ facilitation centres for registration of such workers. None of this has been implemented by the Delhi Government yet, meaning that domestic workers remain effectively unrecognised. Some other states like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir have, however, formed the State Social Security Board.

What Happens When Domestic Work Is Not Recognised

Delhi has also not amended its Schedule of Employment to include domestic workers, although the Labour and Employment Secretary recommended this with emphasis in a 2010 letter to all Chief Secretaries. This means that the average wage of domestic workers in the NCT is about Rs 5886, much lower than the Rs 9,568 that even unskilled workers included in the Schedule of Employment of the Government of Delhi are entitled to. This average wage was calculated in the aforementioned study on placement agencies.

Kalai Selvi of NDWM, however, says that their demand is that the Central government too ratify the ILO’s International Domestic Workers Convention. The Convention basically asks for a member country ratifying it to fix minimum wages for domestic workers, ensure their protection from any kind of abuse, allow them to associate for collective bargaining, etc. India has not ratified the convention yet.

The Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya told the Rajya Sabha last year that India can ratify the convention only when laws “are brought in conformity with the provisions of the Convention”. But the draft Domestic Workers Welfare and Social Security Act, prepared by the National Commission for Women in 2010, has not inspired any action. In fact, the Central Government has not even adopted the draft National Policy for Domestic Workers yet, although it was ready 5 years ago in 2011.

In the absence of any comprehensive legislation for domestic workers in Delhi, Anita Juneja of the Delhi Gharelu Kamgaar Sangathan- which Juneja claims registered itself as a union of domestic workers in 2011- argues, the health of domestic workers takes a toll.

No guaranteed holidays or sick leaves imply that they usually resort to taking homemade remedies instead of going to the hospital. The manual work leaves them incapable of working or being employed by the time the workers are in their 40s.

“Employers cannot look after you for life,” she says when asked whether employers sensitive to the issues of domestic workers can be of any help. Any employer, she adds, will only invest in a worker in proportion to the hours that they employ a worker.

Although the workers that I talked to aspired to continue to send their children to school so that they don’t end up like their parent, they said they were unable to look after them properly. Moreover, Kalai Selvi of NDWM says, as soon as a child is old enough, she either looks after the younger children or is taken as an apprentice with her mother. She argues that it becomes a hereditary occupation.

Private Placement Agencies

The absence of legislation has also had another effect- a thriving industry of illegal private placement agencies. According to the report commissioned by the Ministry of WCD, these agencies lure women from rural areas to cities “promising them lucrative salary, lifestyle and benefits”.

The report further identifies that these agencies flourish in areas that “are surrounded by affluent localities that require domestic helps”. Thus areas like Pitampura, Sukurpur, Kotla Mubarakapur, Zamrudpur, Chilla Gaon, Punjabi Bagh, Raghubir Nagar, and Karol Bagh have become what the report calls ‘Placement Clusters’. Availability of cheap rented rooms, the report says, helps them keep the “women hidden in the congested locality”.

In this regard, the Delhi government evolved a Delhi Private Placement Agencies (Regulation) Bill in 2012 to regulate the placement agencies. However, it took repeated reminders by the Delhi High Court for even an executive order for their regulation to be passed finally in 2014. This order mandated that the placement agencies seek registration with the Labour Department under the Delhi Shops and Establishment Act or the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act within 30 days of the publication of the Order in the Delhi Gazette.

However, the report says that not a single agency – among the 50 studied- had registered itself under the two Acts. It found that even among the registered ones there was no uniformity of registration, although all these were registered under the Society’s Registration Act. The Labour Department too was supposed to upload the details of these agencies according to the executive order, but it has not done so yet.

Where Does Delhi Stand Now

Finally, a committee to suggest welfare measures for domestic workers was constituted last year by the Delhi Government and it submitted its report to the Delhi Labour Minister in October. This committee, headed by AAP MLA Bandana Kumari, too had come to the conclusion by consensus that an exclusive legislation for domestic workers be drafted soon and that meanwhile rules under the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act could be framed exclusively for domestic workers.

Anita Juneja, who was a member of this Committee, tells me that since the submission of the committee’s report only a draft bill concerning domestic workers has been prepared. This bill too, she claims, mostly regulates the placement agencies, meaning social security schemes for domestic workers are not yet in the offing. “It is not as if they want to work for domestic workers,” she says.

Texts and emails sent to the Labour Minister and emails sent to the Labour Commissioner inquiring the progress made on the committee’s recommendations, including on legislation, did not elicit any answers. However, YKA has since accessed the draft bill and verified Juneja’s claims.

The only support system for domestic workers then seems to be the formal or informal unions, which, Juneja says, has had some benefits. Holding rallies, distributing pamphlets, and talking to the employers about the ILO Convention on Domestic Workers does help workers negotiate on issues of discrimination with their employers. The union also helps the workers get PDS and educates them on domestic violence, harassment, and other issues. Kalai Selvi at the National Domestic Workers Movement, which has not been able to register a union, also says the same of the benefits of their informal union.

When governments continue to fail these workers, it is their own local unity and solidarity that lets them bargain at times. When an employer repeatedly pressed Lata to take up domestic work at his house in place of an older worker, she refused to take up that job, although it would have added to her income. She questions why older workers are not hired. It’s not as if domestic workers get pension.

You must be to comment.

More from Abhishek Jha

Similar Posts

By Sheikh Hussain

By virasani baghel

By Laxmi

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

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.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

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.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below