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Updated: May 13, 2012 09:33 IST

The other half : Aamir, listen in

Kalpana Sharma
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Business as usual... Photo: N. Sridharan
The Hindu
Business as usual... Photo: N. Sridharan

Here's a subject you can consider for your show.

Everyone is talking about Aamir Khan's Satyamev Jayate programme. The criticism is muted and much of it predictable. Most viewers have been impressed by it. The first episode was suitably engaging and shocking. It focussed on sex-selective abortion (a more precise and correct term rather than the more commonly-used ‘female foeticide') and the consequences of the declining sex ratio. Even the cynics must agree that every attempt to make a dent in the entrenched mindset in this country, where educated people think nothing of making women go through multiple abortions simply because they believe they must have a son, is welcome.

The actor has probably got all his episodes in place. But here is a subject that he should consider, one that requires the same kind of puncturing of middle-class attitudes that he did quite effectively in his maiden episode. Predictably, people interviewed said only the poor, illiterate and rural people resort to practices like sex-selection. Khan established with effective and simple graphics that the exact opposite was the case. I also liked the simple and clear way he stated that it is the male that determines the sex of the foetus. It's frightening how many people refuse to accept this as a fact.

Helping hands

The subject I suggest is a programme on domestic help. All of us have people “working” for us. Yet, we do not grant them the rights of workers. They are invisible, part of the furniture, taken for granted. With increasing urbanisation, and women stepping out of the home for jobs, the middle class is ever more dependent on such help. Yet greater demand has not led to better conditions for these workers.

Despite articles in the media, some campaigns, and notable documentary films like “Laxmi and Me” by Nishtha Jain, we do not see a shift in attitudes towards domestics. Instead, we read stories of violence and abuse. So, Aamir Khan, how about something on the way we treat our domestic help?

The good news is that finally, after years of campaigning for some regulation governing domestic workers, the union cabinet has prepared a note based on a draft national policy on domestic work that was prepared by the Ministry of Labour in 2009. If the policy is accepted, domestic help will come under existing laws that govern all workers such as the Minimum Wages Act, the Trade Union Act, the Payment of Wages Act, Workmen's Compensation Act, Maternity Benefit Act, Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act and the Equal Remuneration Act.

Last year, Indian delegates at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) voted for employment standards for domestic workers. The government has extended the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY), the central health insurance scheme, to cover domestic workers and three members of their families.

In the policy, a domestic help is described as “a person who is employed for remuneration whether in cash or kind, in any household through any agency or directly, either on a temporary or permanent, part-time or full-time basis… but does not include any member of the family of an employer.”

What this means is that you cannot get away with paying your domestic help the pittance that most people do. As the National Floor Level for Minimum Wage is currently Rs.115 per day, a full-time domestic should be paid at least Rs.3,450 a month. She would be entitled to maternity leave, annual leave, sick leave and paid for overtime. The sexual harassment law has finally included domestic workers in its ambit. So she would be protected against sexual abuse and violence.

Syndrome of sorts

A policy like this comes not a day too soon. We shed tears about women who are forced to abort female foetuses or other victims of violence. But are we aware of the daily exploitation under our very noses? We refuse to accept that paying a woman less than the minimum wage, for work that is back-breaking and certainly something we don't want to do, is exploitative. Yet in this day and age, there is simply no justification for the “servant” syndrome to continue.

Of course, in India, rules and laws alone rarely bring about real change. It is the attitude of the people, those who employ domestics, that needs to undergo a revolutionary change. Just as in the case of sex selection, simply having a law, even with strong implementation, is not enough to make people think differently. One hopes that media interventions, like Aamir Khan's show, will begin to make a difference. At least, the issue will be discussed. It will be in the open. And those who continue with the old view will be exposed.

Similarly, domestic work needs to be talked about, the reality constantly exposed, the law implemented. The rules governing domestic work are particularly difficult to implement because contracts are individually negotiated, the exploitation takes place behind closed doors, inside people's homes. How can any government agency monitor this or insist on compliance? A change is only possible if the “employers”, people like you and me, accept that these invisible hands that make our lives so comfortable need respect, acknowledgement and above all a fair wage.

sharma.kalpana@yahoo.com

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The Other Half: All work, no playApril 14, 2012

If the author can get me a domestic help for 3,500 Rs/Month,part time - 2 hours a day, I will be indebted to him for life. He can even play agent as quite a few in our neighborhood are willing to hire.

from:  Prasanth
Posted on: Jun 8, 2012 at 16:08 IST

The life of a domestic worker is definitely not easy. But for many, it is a source of livelihood. More than anything else, I think the same thing which Aamir suggested was his "jadoo ki chaddi" for female foeticide will work in this case: not any law, but us.

We need to ensure the we pay proper wage to the domestic worker so they are able live atleast as per decent standards with all basic amenities available. Also, they must not be mistreated or exploited because of their vulnerability.
In our place, my mother trusts our domestic help completely and we even loan her money when she wants to buy new house, medicines etc.
We have even helped her setup and manage a bank account.
I think the responsibility is on each of us to make sure that we create a supportive environment where it is needed.

from:  Suyash
Posted on: May 17, 2012 at 21:20 IST

I doubt very much that by law we can make any dramatic change in the miserable life of the domestic worker.It's not only Indians in that case any human being will always try to exploit if there is a chance for that.In the western countires they have been behaving simply as we do now few decades back, but as the environment changes their attitude and behaviour has been modified. All that the govt. has to do is to make sure that all the girls get good education so that there is no need for them to work as domestic help.In western countries where I am living for 11 years I can't even imagine about employing domestic help, the same situation should come in India also soon which I eagerly waiting for.

from:  sunita
Posted on: May 17, 2012 at 16:05 IST

Yes..Kalpana Sharma - you do the same work as Amir Khan does..only that the medium is different..keep up the good work..

from:  Ramachandran Rajagopalan
Posted on: May 16, 2012 at 12:16 IST

@sunil kumar cheruvu:Please read the article properly.It talks about
paying Rs 3450 per month for a full time domestic help not for working 1
hour a day.

from:  Raj
Posted on: May 15, 2012 at 11:12 IST

With all respect,if a domestic worker works for 1 hr and paid 115 rupees a day it meant 30 days would mean 3450 rs. If a person earing 10k and works 8 hrs a day employees a domestic worker who cleans utensils for 1hour and take 1/3 his salary, what would he eat?

from:  sunil kumar cheruvu
Posted on: May 14, 2012 at 12:22 IST

the highway dhabas in India are thronged by such kids........even if I myself have felt sick to the gutt seeing the kind of atrocities they are subjected to....all i could return with is an answer of deep despair- Why dont you go to school? " My father has passed away, i have two younger sisters and a brother, my mother just gets 700-1000 rs. by working in construction sites at times and brick kilns. I get 300 per month, which might be extremely less, but without which survival is impossible...so i don't mind getting beaten up...abused or cursed, didi you go away otherwise my master would beat me if he sees me talking to you".............what would I have done in such a case??? i got my answer that no satyameva jayate would ever be able to resolve this...........

from:  sayani
Posted on: May 14, 2012 at 11:40 IST

Very apt topic for Amir's show. Hope he has it in his mind. Just wanted to highlight one point. "I also liked the simple and clear way he stated that it is the male that determines the sex of the foetus. It's frightening how many people refuse to accept this as a fact." If you have carefully followed the show, many cases the culprits are husband and the mother-in-law. It's not only the 'male' but unfortunately these already-mothers who do this crime.

from:  Nirvan
Posted on: May 14, 2012 at 01:00 IST

Come to bangalore sir, You might end up being very nice to the domestic help, but they looting you and working as if they are doing a favour!

from:  Nikhil
Posted on: May 14, 2012 at 00:05 IST

I do not know who these 'all of us' you claim to be. Obviously it is not those who are working in homes. I know many who do not have a servant. Even we did not have one for most of the years we have our household. Adopting western mode of hypocrisy is inborn in our elite. A person working in the house is inhuman but one working in the factory working to manufacture a dishwasher or prepare food in a restaurant is ok. To get food one has to set up a factory put all kinds of industrial chemicals in it and manufacture it and employ only 30-40 people to make millions of meals everyday. That is the modern mantra. Those people will still be making peanuts or minimum wage like it is in western countries only they have to be on the roads if they ever lose their job. In heavy population countries this will be a disaster. I insisted on my maid taking one day off every week and taking at least one hour off for post lunch every week and paid her 3 months salary when I moved out to another city.

from:  Pervez
Posted on: May 13, 2012 at 23:19 IST

I doubt very much that by law we can make any dramatic change in the miserable life of the domestic worker.It's not only Indians in that case any human being will always try to exploit if there is a chance for that.In the western countires they have been behaving simply as we do now few decades back, but as the environment changes their attitude and behaviour has been modified. All that the govt. has to do is to make sure that all the girls get good education so that there is no need for them to work as domestic help.In western countries where I a living for 11 years I can't even imagine about employing domestic help, the same situation should come in India also soon which I eagerly waiting for.

from:  R.Manivarmane
Posted on: May 13, 2012 at 22:42 IST

Way back during '70s, I visited some African countries and was told that they had a minimum wage fixed for domestic help. Similarly I have seen strict laws in Singapore. All kinds of low wage earners as well as domestic help in India could do with wage protection, skills training, and health cover. Deepa Menon can directly contribute her ideas and support the show at their website.

from:  R Sachi
Posted on: May 13, 2012 at 21:33 IST

May there is a episode on this topic also but it is certainly a worthy cause. I hope there is one on showing how senseless people can be when it comes to damaging public property for political causes. There should be an episode on the business of paying a small amount of money + liquor to people to participate in rallies and violence afterwards.

from:  Rakesh
Posted on: May 13, 2012 at 20:37 IST

I have to admit that during my childhood, I have taken the domestic help for granted and those days when they are absent makes me furious (yes, because I have to do her job during those days!). But now as I grew up, I could understand the hardships they experience in their lives. Especially when those little children of domestic help are also forced to work with their moms. My heart feels heavy when I see them doing jobs along with their moms. By highlighting the plight of these domestic helps through such popular Amir Khan's programs might bring in a change in attitude among people.

from:  Vidhya Sriram
Posted on: May 13, 2012 at 17:45 IST

great article...we all should change our attitude towards maids..stop violating human rights.

from:  mohit
Posted on: May 13, 2012 at 17:36 IST

It is high time, India needs to protect these peoples work as domestic help all over India,all the 365 days without a break and paid a very small sum as wages.Though India have minimum wages act for a long time, it was not enforced vigorously and never in the domestic sector.Children are used as domestic help and child abuse is quite common even with educated people.As mentioned in the article,peoples attitude should change first even the law is introduced in the near future. Hope the government brings these regulations quickly and enforce them strictly.

from:  Ravi
Posted on: May 13, 2012 at 16:31 IST

You have been our Aamir and more for so long, Kalpana! Thank you and hope you continue to be so! :)

from:  Aditya Changavalli
Posted on: May 13, 2012 at 15:14 IST

Good idea to air this topic on tv and raise the consciousness of the middle and upper classes to the hard life, if not downright exploitation of the domestic worker. of late, inflation has hit them hard, probably harder that their employers, as they have no discretionary income, or margin to fall upon.
I would go farther than Kalpana Sharma in calling for upward revisions of the minimum wages according to the inflation surges, just as the pay commission does for the government employees. Also, while she has cited the national average minimum wage, the urban and especially the metro level is far higher. In Bangalore, it has been Rs. 194/- for quite some time and actually needs to be raised.
padmini

from:  padmini
Posted on: May 13, 2012 at 14:06 IST

I would like to say that this article is a sign of great hope for
Indians... in times to come.
Thank you

from:  Tony
Posted on: May 13, 2012 at 12:51 IST

Totally agree with this...I have been living in the US for the past 12 years -It is amazing to see the shift in my own attitude towards any kind of handyman/ help. When I was growing up in India though I felt that the domestic help was not getting the right treatment, I could do little - every other domestic help was treated the same way . Now when I go back I cannot tolerate unfair treatments and voice my opinion more - but again of no use because I come back to US after vacations.
It is important that children do not grow up thinking something so unjustified is totally normal just because they have not seen rest of the world.

from:  Subha
Posted on: May 13, 2012 at 01:28 IST

Indian people use to having servants dont even get up and get water for themselves.

from:  satyam
Posted on: May 12, 2012 at 23:42 IST
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