With the lack of awareness, the domestic helpers face a great ordeal of injustice. “The domestic workers of India remain to be a part of an informal and unregulated sector, obscured in private homes, not recognised as workers but rather as ‘informal help’.”
It is estimated that there are over four million domestic workers in India. They are expected to work longer hours than other workers and do not enjoy the same rights to weekly rest as by other workers. Their wages are, on average, only a third of those in other sectors, they have very limited social protections, and commonly suffer poor working conditions, exploitation, abuse and slavery.
Many domestic workers are migrants from poorer states and are among the most marginalised and socially discriminated populations in India. Most of them are Dalits or come from other disadvantaged castes and tribal minorities, many are landless, illiterate and innumerate, which in-creases their vulnerability and disempowerment.
Sushma (real name hidden) says, “why me?… I always tried to do my job well whenever the circumstances… why couldn’t I be treated with respect. I have come here to work to support my family, not to sell myself or my labour at any cost. Why did they not treat me like they would anyone else’s daughter kept in their care. I’m a human too. Is this because I’m poor?”.
Domestic workers have no job security. Since supply outstrips demand, they are liable to be hired or fired at the whims of the employers. As women or even young girls, resident within the employers household, the full time workers are also unsure with regard to their personal safety. They are constantly vulnerable to verbal, physical and sometimes even sexual harassment or abuse from the members of the household. They have nowhere to go to if they face abuse in their employer’s homes.
The part time workers on the other hand, due to the nature of their housing in slums or on the pavement, are vulnerable to continuous harassment from official and unofficial agencies, are constantly in fear of eviction or demolition. The women workers who work to support their families (often with unemployed or laid-off husbands), almost invariably face the daily trauma of violence and abuse at the hands of alcoholic husbands.
A social worker, Gharelu Kamgar said, “regarding a minor domestic workers, we suspected rape and murder in Gurgaon few days back.” According to her, the victim wasn’t in contact with her mother that often but few days before the incident, she told her mother she didn’t want to work anymore. She wanted to go back home. Soon after that, her mother was called by her employer to the house urgently and was informed that she had committed suicide by hanging herself to the ceiling. Later it was reported that a suicide wasn’t possible as her feet touched the ground and there were scratch marks on her face and neck.
There is a clear evidence to prove in both the cases, that the employee falsified the whole scenario in the case of suspected rape and murder and a violation of human rights and equality in the Sushma case. Therefore, the complaints and accusations are substantial.
Domestic workers are nameless and voiceless. Legally they are not even accepted as workers and are conveniently called ‘servants’, ‘maids’, ‘bais’ or ‘aayas’. Neither are they addressed by their names. Their work is normally considered as non-work and their jobs are stigmatised as low, dirty and menial. They are treated as non-persons with no identity and needs of their own. Unquestioning subservience and obedience are demanded by their employers. They are often denied participation in a normal social and cultural life; contact with outsiders by phone or directly in the case of full timers is more often than not restricted. This all sums up that domestic workers are denied their very dignity as humans and workers.
The absence of any legal contracts results in suffering various forms of exploitation in terms of hours of work which could exceed even eighteen hours in a day or receive no day off. Wages so low that won’t even be sufficient for half a month’s expense.
The law in India needs to acknowledge these issues and put the Migrant Worker’s Rights in place. They need to provide the Domestic workers the same rights, justice and equality to enjoy as any other workers in the country under the rights to equality.
The awareness through publications, seminars and other media could help those who lack the knowledge of reading and writing. Advocacy and Lobby could ensure the better working and living conditions for the migrants and protect them through recruitment agencies and honour contract provisions. There is a need to improve their living conditions which are usually inhuman and have access to better medical benefits. The stricter regulations and contract implementation would insure ban of underage domestic work and them falling in the hands of abuse and exploitation. The isolation and loneliness which characterise the very nature of their employment situation make it impossible for many workers to approach anyone for help or assistance. Besides the shame associated with abuse and/or harassment makes them suffer through it rather than complain. The law needs to implement stricter laws for domestic workers more than ever so that it gives them the opportunity to raise their voices against injustice and they enjoy the same equality and justice as everyone else in the society.