We have a housemaid. She is less than 45 years of age. But she is already a grandmother. She would be barely reaching five feet at her highest and tipping the scale at maybe 50 kg. She lives in a single-room tenement on the fifth floor of one of the apartment complexes constructed by the previous governments with so much fanfare, but now sadly lacking in maintenance and is a source of worry for all the inhabitants as to when suddenly the whole structure might come down.
Lifts are unheard of in tenements, so she has to climb up and down the five flights of stairs at least three or four times a day.
She was married once. But her husband turned out to be a great devotee of liquor shops, where he blew the family income. She left him. Her daughter and her granddaughter stay with her. Her son-in-law followed in his father-in-law's footsteps and turned out to be another ardent devotee of liquor.
She rises at 4.30 in the morning so that she can supply milk sachets to about 30 households. This is an everyday chore whether it rains or shines or she feels sick. Excuses could mean her losing a client and income. She manages to earn about Rs 1,500 a month on this enterprise.
When she completes the delivery of milk, she will have some time to have her morning meal of rice soaked in water along with salt, chillies, onion and, maybe, coconut chutney. If she is lucky, she would have something a little more nutritious, depending on the generosity of the women in whose households she works.
She works in four households where she has to sweep and swab the floor, and wash dirty dishes and used clothes. In the mornings and quite often in the evenings too. It does not leave her with much time to eat in peace or rest. Or do any of her own chores. She manages to earn about Rs. 3,000 from these jobs as a maid. In the present day and age, a sum of Rs. 4,500 is not enough to make both ends meet. So irrespective of how tired she is, to supplement her income, she visits the wholesale market for flowers to supply households and make some extra cash.
She has no leave. No holidays. No medical benefits. No PF or gratuity. She ekes out a living as long as she has good health.
But this woman brings comfort to four households and makes a qualitative difference to them. They are spick and span. They escape the drudgery of menial chores. They have time to do their own work. To be neat and tidy, and to enjoy themselves. All because of one overworked, underfed and underpaid woman!
There are thousands and thousands of such persons bringing comfort and ease to millions of households.
In the evenings, I watch the IPL matches with my husband. It is a battle between the ball and the bat. The ball is a white, round leather object. And the bat is a piece of wood with a handle. The wielders of the bat and the ball are paid humungous amounts of money. For a pursuit, an exercise which in no way has any qualitative impact on the lives of me or the other millions of households. Apart from being a spectacle, it has no relevance to or impact on our day-to-day life.
My question is why a person like my maidservant, or an auto driver, a bus driver, conductor, and many others who bring comfort to us and make our lives so much easier get such meagre earnings. While a useless pursuit like throwing around a leather object or hitting the object with a wooden implement should be rewarded so exorbitantly. Mind you, if there is no IPL it would make no difference to our lives, But without the maid and the others I mentioned, life would be miserable.
Is this injustice god-made or man-made? If it is god-made, then god has a weird sense of justice. If man-made, then it is time something is done about it. Is it any wonder that radical philosophies have so many takers?