Day 27: Maid in India

Apologies for the cheesy( and trite) title –I just could not resist it–but this is something I have been thinking about ever since the Devyani Khobragade incident shot into limelight. Do we in India treat our maids right?

Having domestic workers do our dishes and clean our homes is a comfort most of us here take pretty much for granted. So used are we to their services that the very idea of having to do without them makes us break out in a cold sweat. As someone who has to move often, I am frequently in the state of being ‘in-between’ maids, even if it is just for a few days–and those are stressful times for me. I am very grateful when a new maid arrives to deliver me from the misery.

I do my best to keep them happy, though I do always stick to prevailing market rates. Here in Mumbai, for instance, I pay Rs. 1000 for work that takes my maid a little more than an hour to do. Apart from doing dishes and cleaning at my place, she also cooks for a few families and makes on an average Rs. 2000 per household per month through cooking. She comes to work in our society at 7 in the morning, works till three and makes Rs. 12000 per month in all–not bad for someone who is illiterate and for work that requires no investment in the form of training. It compares favourably with what security guards at buildings/malls or assistant shopkeepers at provision stores make for working similar, if not longer, hours. That they may all be underpaid is a topic for another day. Underpayment is a curse that afflicts the entire blue-collar workforce in India.

Coming back to maids in Mumbai, I have noticed that attrition-rate is also high. In the one year that my maid has been with me, I have seen her drop several jobs and take up new ones immediately–she is actually spoilt for choice. If anyone tries to mess with her, I don’t imagine her putting up with it just because she has no other option.

But then again, I realize this is a metropolitan city–maids have it relatively easier here. My maid in Chandigarh, for instance, got Rs. 800 for the same work that fetches Rs. 1000 in Mumbai. She also did not appear to have the luxury of going job-hopping. I guess it is very possible for people in her position–people not having too many choices– to face exploitation.

The trouble is, most domestic workers in India are either women or children, and are therefore vulnerable to abuse just by their so being. That they are also largely illiterate and untrained means that they are more or less trapped in the profession–which again increases their vulnerability.

I have never employed an underage domestic worker ( I once had a maid who would sometimes send in her fourteen year old daughter to do the work–I would always send her right back. She stopped sending her over eventually, but I think she continued to send her to other homes.) It is their plight which saddens me most of all. They are mostly just children–and they do not have the wherewithal to deal with adults or enough knowledge of the world to even realize that they are being overworked or abused.

I once knew someone who had a live-in help– a boy aged around eleven–and it bothered me a lot. In her defense she said children were more trustworthy when it came to having live-in helps–but said nothing when asked why she needed to have a live-in help at all. I am glad we lost touch.

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3 Responses to Day 27: Maid in India

  1. No, that is not a trite title. I liked the clever pun.

    We pay Rs 1200 per month at Bangalore to our maid for doing the dishes and “Jhaadooing” and swabbing the floors everyday.. The clothes are washed in a washing machine and if she is around, when the machine beeps after it is done, we ask her to put them out to dry.
    She spends just over an hour a day at our house hold. She is busy from early morning to late afternoon at some other households and makes a decent sum

    Her main “perk” at our household that she gets to choose her time slot. Since we are always at home, we have given her this privilege. At other homes where the wives go out to work are particular about the time. We also give her some food everyday, (not leftovers, we actually cook a little more for her). She is forever in debt and we are her main interest free bankers! No forms to fill, no security! She is constantly borrowing from us and we have never refused her. She gets plenty of hand me downs from my wife and over the years half the furniture in her house has come from our house as free give aways. That was furniture which we wanted to get rid of after years of use and which we no longer needed, now that we were just the two of us. Both daughter and son are away abroad.

    The true value of a maidservant can be realised when you come here to USA. No middle class family can afford the services that all households simply take for granted in India.
    We pay 80 dollars per visit to a maid who comes in just twice a month and stays just two hours each time and vaccuums the entire house, cleans and disinfects all the bathrooms, and cleans the carpets with a powerful vacuum cleaner. She comes in her own car and brings her own equipment and cleaning consummables and an assistant to help her. That makes it 80 dollars for two persons for just two hours or, 20 dollars per hour per person.

    My wife and I share the daily cooking and dish-washing chores as my daughter and son in law are busy career persons. We have a dishwasher but that takes care of only the crockery and glass ware. The steel vessels with oil and masaala smeared all over the insides have to be scrubbed the traditional way. No dishwasher can handle all that.

    We also wash and dry all the clothes using the washing machine and a dryer. It keeps us occupied for at least two hours every day and this is over and above keeping a close watch on the little grandson, who is now 16 months old, feeding him, bathing him, changing his diapers, putting him to sleep, and generally seeing he stays out of mischief when he is awake and toddling about, and also taking him out in the stroller when the weather permits. From 7 am to 7 pm he is in our care and we eagerly hand over the little fellow to his parents after we are done for some well earned rest and relaxation.

    I am sure our services are worth at least 2000 US dollars per month to her!
    Makes me feel great! I would hate to be a guest here unless we stay for short periods. We spend 6 months each time we come here. The assurance that we are useful is good for our morale. Besides I can’t earn that much staying in Bangalore and doing nothing. I take comfort from the fact that at least I am able to save that much for my daughter. Besides, no nanny can ever match fond and doting grandparents. My son in laws parents are due here in March to take over from us when we return from Bangalore. This will continue till the little fellow is old enough to go to a day care centre. None of us are willing to trust day care centers at such an early age, though many couples do so as they have no other resort.

    I noticed that my wife smiles ever more sweetly at our maid servant each time we come back from USA to Bangalore!

    Regards
    GV

    • Oops ! Typo!
      Last but one para
      “My son in laws parents are due here in March to take over from us when we return TO Bangalore. ”

      I wish there was some way to edit one’s comment after clicking the send button.
      Even after reading the comment some errors somehow slip through.

      Regards
      GV

    • I have very frequently been an interest-free banker to my maids too. They also get loads of hand-me-downs and things we no longer need but may be of use to them. When we move they appear to be genuinely sorry to see me go šŸ™‚
      //I noticed that my wife smiles ever more sweetly at our maid servant each time we come back from USA to Bangalore!//
      I can totally imagine that šŸ™‚

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