By Lubna Abdool-Rahman
Edited by Nidhi Singh, Junior Editor, The Indian Economist
Small, daily occurrences of injustice may often pass under our radar and become normalized in our society over time. Every so often, a devastating incident will occur that will shock the world, and we will all wonder where it came from. What we often don’t realize is that it was just a result of a culture of tolerance towards the every day evils.
If you have ever kept a maid, or been a guest at the house of someone who has a maid in India or the subcontinent, you might know what I am talking about. The mistreatment of maids and other hired domestic help is something that happens everyday but somehow manages to stay invisible. Almost every day a maid is yelled at, called names, punished, ridiculed or made to work long hours, and although these may not seem as serious as some of the cases that have made the news recently, it is important that we stop seeing small evils as insignificant to the bigger picture.Why does the maid who is an employee and is making an honest living, just as almost all of us are, whether that is as a teacher, doctor or business man, not deserve fair and just treatment in a safe working environment?
Let’s look at it from a different perspective. Most of us who have jobs in offices and work under a boss or manager, understand the relationship we have with that employer. We know our rights and understand the job we must do. In a case where the boss mistreats the employer; calls him or her names, yells, or uses violence, we are often able to file a report of employer abuse. We do not tolerate such behaviour in offices and so for the most part it does not escalate into torture or murder. As an employee also, the maid should be given the dignity and respect we all enjoy no matter where we work or how much we earn.
Very recently, in January of this year the case of a young 11 year old maid who was routinely beaten and tortured with chillies being rubbed on her genitals as punishment, made headlines. The repulsive nature of this crime causes us to overlook the part we may have played in this situation. The truth is that this incident is an extreme case of the everyday behaviour and attitude towards maids that has been building up throughout the years of turning a blind eye.
The idea that a maid is less deserving of employee and human rights than anyone of us stems from a culture where the status quo is so rigid that it has affected our human judgement of what is right or wrong; the house owners feel entitled to treat their maids any way they want and the maid does not speak out when she is wronged.
We fight for the rights of women and are outraged when they are mistreated in our country and yet we turn a blind eye to those living in and cleaning our homes. What is the solution to this built culture where we accept injustice when it is happening in our homes or the homes of our friends?We must change the way we view sections of society, not by denying their existence but by understanding that no matter how much we earn we are all humans at the end of the day. We must all make a living and we deserve respect for doing it honestly.
There are many aspects to this issue that we can discuss; creating a minimum wage for maids, creating centre where their complaints are taken seriously or ensuring that the laws protect all citizens based on the fact that they are human and not how much they earn. However this piece touches only on a small aspect of change that can be the start of a much bigger change, which can be played out in some of our daily lives.
I am not suggesting that the hired help should not do the job they were meant to do or that you cannot penalise them in a fair way for mistakes or that you should become best friends with your maids. I am simply suggesting that we “do unto others as we would have others do unto ourselves”, that we maintain a fair relationship with those working in our homes as we expect for ourselves while working in any other environment and. Lastly, that we stop considering little mistreatments as completely unlinked to the cases that make headlines.After all, a situation that is not as bad does not mean it is good.
Lubna is a recent graduate in Environmental Politics and is very passionate about making a difference in the world through her writing and example. She strongly believe that in order to create change in society there is a need to appeal to the general public and influence the minds and hearts of people and one of the best ways to do this is through media. Favourite quote: “Never doubt that a group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead.