Domestic workers are a part of every Indian household, yet they remain unnoticed even in the eyes of law. They are ill treated and exploited within the four walls. Laws are made but are hardly communicated and rarely implemented. Its unbelievable that the Indian society is taking the services of around 8 crore people for granted. How long will the slaves remain silent?
It needs a famous actor to rape his maid for a society to awaken to the plight of thousands of men, women and children being mal-treated in the dark homes of the rich and to acknowledge their helplessness to save themselves due to lack of laws in their support.
Our lives would be in shackles had it not been for the domestic help. They become an integral part of the household by making their presence inevitable through the daily chores. Yet we don’t think twice before squeezing out an extra hour form their already burdened day or feeding them on stale meals or blatantly ignoring (if) the constant abuse they might be subjected to.
According to Domestic Workers (Registration Social Security Welfare) Act, 2008 :
“Domestic Worker” means, a person who is employed for remuneration
Whether in cash or kind, in any house hold through any agency or directly,
Either on a temporary basis or permanent, part time or full time to do the
Household work or allied work”
A large part of Indian population is comprised of domestic workers contributing to the normal working of the Indian homes. According to the National Domestic Workers Movement (NDWM) , there are 8 crore domestic workers in India.
Domestic workers enter households because they are bound to work due to their own financial trouble, they are placed through the placement agencies, or they are just used as tools to pay off the debts some ancestor of theirs must have taken. They form a considerable fraction and it becomes imperative that they are protected.
CONDITION OF DOMESTIC WORKER
Needless to say the domestic workers do not enjoy the best that life can offer, but apart from that they are not even entitled to the little pleasures. Despite their sincerity and dedication towards their work, they remain the prime targets of suspicion (most of the times) in case of any wrong done in the house. This Classicist mentality of the Indian society can further be reflected in the recent notice issued by Delhi police for ‘Servant Verification’.
The highlighted section in big, bold letter states that-
“Unverified servants can be threat to you, your family and your property”.
It also includes keeping an eye on the servant’s visitors and filling detailed forms regarding the particulars of the worker while hardly any information is given about the employer. Not only does this emphasize the inferiority of the domestic worker but also the easy shirking away of responsibility on the employer’s part.
Many of the women in the capital are trafficked from Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and other parts of eastern India with a placement centre acting as the middle man. Sometimes, placement agencies make the women sign a contract that binds them to a family for a minimum of 11 months. If the women don’t keep to their part of the deal, they have to forego three months salary.
There are myriad cases of physical, mental and sexual abuse of domestic workers which are not sensationalized to the effect as in the case of those related to their involvement in theft or murder.
A domestic worker serves as a punch bag or an ‘item’ over which frustrations can be vented out in the form of physical and mental abuse. The situation is worse in case the domestic worker happens to be a woman who is at the receiving end of sexual assaults.
CASES AND INCIDENTS
Not many cases are brought to light relating to the injustices meted out to the domestic worker. This could be due to unawareness regarding the laws, lack of finances to endure a legal proceeding or plain indifference to report such incidents.
The Delhi High Court in 2008 came across a case where a minor girl placed as a domestic worker by a placement agency was raped and her child was put up for adoption by the employers.
In yet another case, a PIL was filed in 1994 by Delhi Domestic Working Ladies Forum to bring forth the plight of four domestic servants who were subjected to indecent sexual assault.
The following testimonies give us an insight into the pain felt by the workers and the injustice they go through.
Sunita, 20, worked as a maid in a Delhi home – until she was raped by one of the young men in the house. The family prevented her from going to the police; and when Sunita discovered she was pregnant, they gave her Rs.50,000 as ‘compensation’ and asked her to go back to her village.
Raji, 10, another domestic worker in a Delhi household, is beaten with a broom every time she makes a small mistake. Rashida’s employer hit her so hard with a spoon that her front teeth broke.
Rabia, 15, was sexually abused, both by her employer and his driver. The women and children recounted how they were given stale food to eat and torn clothes to wear even in rich homes.
RELEVANT PROVISIONS FOR PROTECTION OF WORKERS
In most cases the drawback is not about unavailability of laws but their non-implementation. In the present situation the biggest problem faced by domestic workers is not only that, but also the fact that in spite of their toil they have no recognition as workers. They are not included under labour laws nor entitled to benefits like compensation, weekly holidays and minimum wages.
The constitution of our country provides in Article 39(e):
“The state shall in particular direct its policy towards securing-
(e) that the health and strength of workers , men and women and the tender age of children are not abused and that they are not forced by economic necessity to enter vocations unsuited to their age and strength.”
Article 43 of the constitution states that:
“The state shall endeavor to secure by suitable legislation or economic organization or any other way, to all workers agricultural, industrial or otherwise, work, a living wage, condition of work, a decent standard of life and full enjoyment leisure, social and cultural opportunities.”
Clearly both these articles, occurring in the ‘law of the land’ are binding on all but are seldom abided by.
Recently, the Domestic Workers (Regulation Social Security and Welfare) Act, 2008 was passed with an objective to end the exploitation faced by domestic workers and also the trafficking of women and children in particular. The Act emphasizes on registration of workers with the placement agencies in order to ensure their well-being. It provides for a Domestic Welfare Fund to defray the expenditure related to the workers and also promises to ensure 10 hours rest to domestic workers living in the place of work , annual leave of 15 days and so on .
Domestic workers in Karnataka are eligible for the benefits under Minimum Wages Act. . The state has come up with a notification which entitles a domestic worker to Rs.1600 to Rs.1800 for 8 hours.
In the wake of present situation, with a number of skeletons being let out of the closet as far as brutality towards domestic workers is concerned, it has become necessary to find a solution to all of it.
The recent Domestic Workers Act, 2008 has been a welcome respite with its liberal provisions. However the fact remains that India is a hugely populous country with most of them looking for employment, whatsoever. To encompass all of them within the ambit of this Act would, certainly, be difficult. Yet another uphill task would be to reach out to the masses and make them aware of these provisions waiting for them, to be used for their welfare.
Administering laws from the centre to regulate activities of homes in metropolitans, small towns and shanty cities is improbable. An alternative to this could be the formation of local associations, probably initiated by the societies where the workers work or the association could also be governed by the respective ward offices of the locality. This could bring about more credibility to the idea of the presence of an organization formed by the workers themselves for their own welfare.
What The British did to Indians half a century ago is being repeated by the Indians themselves with their own fellow men. Domestic workers are paid to work, true, but at the end of it all, they remain human. Society needs to do its own little bit towards their upliftment lest there is a revolution which could jeopardize their now smooth functioning lives completely.
As Edwin Markham says in his poem “The Man with the Hoe”-
“Bowed by the weight of the centuries he leans
Upon his hoe and gazes on the ground,
The emptiness of ages in his face,
And on his back the burden of this world
O master, lords and rulers in all lands,
How will the future reckon with this man
How answer his brute question in that hour
When the whirlwinds of rebellion shake this world?
How will it be with kingdoms and kings-
With those who shaped him to thing he is
When this dumb terror shall reply to God,
After the silence of centuries?”