In India, manual labour is cheap, and dignity of labour is cheaper. Thanks to this feudal mentality, we never develop any kind of connect with those who help us run our families like well-oiled machines while we are away attending to our busy lives. The consequences of such a skewed approach when it comes to dealing with domestic help can lead to disastrous consequences as last week’s murders in Delhi and its suburbs have shown: three members of a family were murdered by their 18-year-old domestic help, and in another incident, a woman was killed by her 21-year-old maid. The police have arrested both accused and they have confessed to their crime. Interestingly, the accused, who migrated to the capital from their villages in search of upward mobility, cited ill-treatment and humiliation as the reason for taking this extreme step.
While nothing justifies murder, these incidents raise the issue of the complete lack of respect with which Indians tend to treat those who work in their homes. From denying domestic help food to administering beatings, we treat them as non-people. Our domestics have no regular hours of work and are often shortchanged when it comes to payment. The majority of people who work in homes come from deprived backgrounds. They come to cities where they are misfits and where they suffer all manner of slights and insults. Their existence along this faultline of different cultures is not easy. They are not organised and very often have no one to turn to. They are the first suspects when anything goes missing from the house and an easy target for the police.
So far, the government has turned a blind eye towards the needs of this huge unorganised labour force. The reasons are not hard to seek: they are a shifting vote-bank and they don’t pay direct taxes while they allegedly use up urban resources. Remember Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit’s remark on migrant labour being a burden on the city? That is why it doesn’t think twice before breaking down slum clusters to beautify the city while it takes an apex court’s push for it to go against illegal buildings in posh localities. The government is trying to protect Indian women seeking employment abroad as housemaids from any kind of abuse. But what keeps it from extending State support to hapless domestics here?