Kanta behen and Ramu kaka – the two famous characters of the entertainment industry have always shown the fun side and amiable nature of relationships with domestic workers. Yet, ironically, the stark reality is quite opposite. Domestic workers in real life, face a lot of hurdles and challenges at their workplace. Many compare domestic workers to modern day slavery.
A domestic worker is a person who is involved in work like cleaning, washing, cooking, taking care of children, etc. They play an important role in the well-being of the family. If we go by the statistics of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), there are at least 4.2 million domestic workers in India. Out of this population, women constitute about two-thirds of the workforce in this unorganised sector. This depicts the two faces of the coin brought in by decisions called liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation (LPG) in 1990. While LPG has empowered the Indian women by broadening her job arena, at the same time it has also led to a nearly 120% rise of domestic helpers, mostly women.
The nature of work of the domestic workers is not recognised as work by the state. Their work of cooking, cleaning, dishwashing, babysitting, etc doesn’t verify the definition of organised work. Apart from this, poor bargaining powers with no provision for weekly holidays, maternity leave and health benefits, sexual harassment, caste discrimination and much more has only filled the bucket of sorrow of the domestic workers.
Increasing cases of sexual harassment, overwork, acquisition of theft etc, has only jeopardized the workplace of domestic workers. The law should ensure the Right to life (Article 21), right to equality (article 14) and right to the freedom of domestic workers. India by far has only two laws for domestic workers: The Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act 2008(UWSSA) and the Sexual Harassment Of Women At Workplace Act 2013. But seeing the increasing number of issues and challenges of domestic workers, these two laws are meagre. India should ratify the ILO’s 189th convention known as the ‘convention of domestic workers’.
The state should amend the existing labour laws to ensure domestic workers enjoy all the labour rights other workers do. Policymakers should also deliberate on bringing proper legislation that aims to improve social and economic conditions of millions of people involved in this informal and unorganised work.
The society too needs to change their behavioural aspects and habitual negligence towards domestic workers. Sympathy and empathy should be there for this vulnerable section of society.
As Ai-Jen Poo, an American activist quoted, “One thing I have learned in the face of all kind of indignities, domestic workers takes so much pride in their work and love the children they care for.”
Let us show them the reciprocity of love and care that they show us through their work. Let us make all the Kanta behen and Ramu kakas of our life, feel the dignity of work they do for their living. If we cannot bring the change single-handedly, at least be the catalyst to change.