The Indian middle class roughly constitutes 300–350 million of the population according to statistical evidence. History has it that this middle class is rooted in socio-cultural entitlement and post Covid-19 breakout, it has undoubtedly amped up to a greater extent as is evident through the case of domestic workers who predominantly work for these middle-class families.
While migrant workers, doctors and nurses have received much attention on national media, house workers have been typically absent. During the initial stages of the lockdown, some members of middle-class families were temporarily relieving domestic workers for their reluctance to pay money. There was also a certain understanding mass who provided them with paid leaves.
But as the lockdown has prolonged and the pandemic has taken on this monstrosity, more and more people have given up on their domestic workers on some excuse, leaving them jobless and paranoid in economic hardship. Either pay cuts or complete indifference has relegated these workers who stand to suffer the most.
The Indian Middle class’ attitude towards domestic workers has primarily been one of ignorance and steeped with caste-class hierarchies. House workers are not only losing their jobs but are seen as probable carriers of the disease. Although this has increased their visibility as a pertinent section of the population, it has only done so in a negative manner. The idea that these workers can be potential carriers of Covid-19 only strengthens the sense of social stature that the middle class enjoys and the concept of purity that these workers are subjected to in all its notorious depreciation.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that a lot of domestic workers were not given their salaries on time or were paid less. They are even evicted due to the inability to pay rent or on the assumption that they were probable carriers of the disease. Caste and class differences have made it difficult for domestic workers to resume work in middle-class homes successfully. Typically, workers worked in more than one house, which supposedly increased the risk of contracting and spreading the disease.
The segregation of domestic workers has also brought to light other aspects of politico-legal fissures in the country’s law-making decisions for them. The lack of social and financial security has made redressal almost impossible for domestic workers. At present, only two legal frameworks for workers are available, the Unorganised Workers Act 2008 and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2013. But there is no concrete law that mandates the workers’ financial and overall plight during such over-arching situations.
The pandemic has also made it evident to the middle and upper classes that domestic workers are indispensable. Everyday jobs have become tortuous for many. So it is only viable that workers are given their due. The first step to that is to consider their work as paid and effective labour. Although some states have implemented minimum wage plans, it largely varies across the country. It will be feasible if a proper legal framework and action plan are put in place regarding eviction and payment of workers. One way of doing it is to sign agreements that will ensure this and prevent workers from losing their jobs suddenly without notice.
The Indian middle and upper classes are also mostly ignorant about the health of domestic workers in their homes. A common assumption about domestic workers is that they fake ill-health to get leaves or relief from work. While it might be valid for a certain percentage of people, it is extremely disagreeable on the part of people to presume this.
The plight of women workers is even sadder. While there are ongoing struggles for day-offs during menstruation among working women circles, the same is discarded for a domestic worker who is supposed to be ever-present, failing which, other mitigations are arranged, like pay cuts. The gendered nature of working-class people is subjected to such scorns many a day.
Thus, the middle class expunges the workers and enforces itself on them based on their vulnerabilities. The ever-changing democratic fabric of the country should address such everyday issues from a directive and focal point of view to relieve itself of caste, class and gender biases to a more productive growing society.