Domestic workers in Indian households play a very crucial role, especially in contemporary times; where every member of the household is working, leaving behind the children and the senior citizens. While their role is important, there is a lot of maltreatment that domestic workers face. They are sexually harassed, not treated with dignity, in some cases even paid unjust wages. Even though there are standard wages set by the government, very few people follow it.
I am a working woman and I find it difficult to manage my household and work simultaneously. So I had to hire someone to serve my meals and keep my house neat. For a young woman in a new city, braving all odds, it is difficult to manage sometimes. I was blessed with someone who literally became my family member. She knew my routine, went out of her way to adapt to my erratic schedule and nurture me in the most fascinating way. But it is never a one way thing. If you need respect, you need to shower it too.
Maya, with a warm smile on her face, agreed to cook and do the household chores for a reasonable wage and I readily agreed. I never thought I would eventually be so close to her. I have had domestic workers all my life and I always befriend them; sometimes to just help them ease out and sometimes for my own selfish interests of being their favourite so that there is no point of conflict. I am a journalist with very hectic work schedules and sometimes I do not have the energy to even decide what to make and how to do it.
Maya made my kitchen her very own place of tranquility. She would come at a time that suited my schedule and never made a fuss about it. She made good food everyday from the top of her head, and was always optimistic. Slowly she got accustomed to my routine and sometimes she would wait for me to share a banter. For a new woman in a new city, finding someone who shares her mother tongue was the next best thing. So we would sit for hours sometimes talking about each other’s lives. There is an unparalleled comfort in sharing your stories with perfect strangers. We would talk about everything, from her family, kids, husband to my office stories, my family, my interests.
One day I was asleep and woke up to her evening bell. She came and did her regular work, but she seemed a little off. She always has a smile on her face, no matter what. Even though I was a little too fatigued to leave the bed that day, I kept thinking why was she so quiet! While she was leaving I stopped her to have a conversation. Then she turned towards me and I spotted an ugly wound on her neck.
I was shocked because I thought it happened while she was working and she didn’t tell me and it had become ugly. I also felt bad that she still came to work. So I asked her what happened and why did she come to work! She smiled and didn’t answer. This time it irritated me and I asked her again. After a lot of hesitation she finally told me the truth. “My husband hit me because he was irritated with the children nagging.”
It took me a while to comprehend the situation because I would have never guessed the violence she bears everyday, from her eternal smiling face. She then went to narrate the incident and I was aghast. I asked her if it was a regular thing and she again smiled and confirmed, adding the fact that he does not do any work and drinks all day. He has a rickshaw of his own, but he is too lazy to take it out to make some money. He washes some cars and whatever he earns from that is exhausted in heavy alcoholism.
I was angry, furious and asked her why doesn’t she give it back to him in his own way? Maya, with a complacent smile said, “In a household like ours, we cannot afford to do such a thing. We will be disregarded in the society and my kids will have to bear the brunt.”
I could not say much to her but I told her to warn him, saying that I was keeping a check. I could never discard this incident and I would make it a point to take updates everyday. We became more tight and I wanted to do my bit to keep her smile intact. I cannot change her life, even though I desperately wish to. I could not help but wonder, do all domestic workers go through this violence? Why can’t they raise their voice? Who is stopping them and why? Why is nobody coming forward to stop this? On the flip side, I think, in a country like ours, where we have struggled for decades to frame strict rape laws, how can this heinous counterpart take prominence?
Every ignition is doused after a little bit of furore. It all depends on the general mood and trend. Nobody, nobody cares enough to take time out of their own problems and turn to actual issues. Our life is a series of complicated events, that keeps us away from making real changes in the society. And I have nobody to blame here, because the crisis is similar for most of us, except some can bask in a little bit of luxury while trying to deal with it and some others just move on, like nothing ever happened.
So let us as individuals do our bit. Let us share our sorrows by helping each other and treating each other with dignity. If you demand your rights and honour as women, do not bad mouth other women or your domestic help or your relatives. If you want your respect as a man, don’t be selfish, don’t always think and believe that only men are good friends with men and that the opposite gender can’t indulge in a healthy friendship. Discourage your other male friends who make fun of their wives, or in-laws.
You can’t expect the government to make all the changes. The prerogative of modifying the society is on you. We all need to stop being selfish, raise our slogans for all the things that matter, because everything matters, maybe not to us, but someone, somewhere is being affected every minute.