Yesterday, a photo of a politician eating out in a restaurant with her family went viral. Why? Because it showed their domestic help standing next to them while the rest of the family members were seated and eating.
Dear Renuka ChowdaryIf you can't feed the little girl minding your child, please don't bring them to a restaurant! pic.twitter.com/N104ZYtVKN— Rishi Bagree (@rishibagree) May 31, 2016
While it's true that one photo does not tell the complete story (the nanny could have been temporarily standing when the photo was clicked), the reason it made quite an uproar on Twitter is not surprising. We Indians know this scene all too well. Most employers of domestic help have this set of unsaid rules that is a clear result of some twisted superiority complex.
"I am better than you, cleaner than you and since I pay you, I own you too." As despicable as this attitude is, the truth is, it exists.
Or else, how would you explain -
Urban Indians are getting richer. Mostly double income families, with hardly any time to take care of kids or handle domestic chores. This also extends to DINK (Double Income, No Kids) families. As a nation, we're almost at the top when it comes to being servant-dependent.
Everyday, more families are earning enough to be able to afford domestic help. Simple math suggests that this leads to higher number of people from low-income families from different parts of the country (or sometimes even from places like Nepal and Bangladesh) are now part of our lives. And with this number increasing, the class division is getting wider too. This is not just one writer's assumption, there are hard news reports to substantiate this too.
What is it about our domestic service staff that gives us this sense of ownership over them?
Could it be a feudal hangover, from a time when bonded labour and slavery was an regular thing? (bonded labour is still rampant in some parts of India but that's a whole other story) Is class the new caste in urban households? Or are we on the same kind of power trip that we're subjected to at work from our bosses? Whatever it is, it's fucked up.
Maybe, as a society, if we respected labour of any kind, we'd treat people better.
Doesn't matter if it's a driver, gardener, domestic help, maid, nanny - they're serving us in exchange of money. It's a simple economic thing that should ideally be just that. I'm not asking for people to be bosom buddies with the people who serve them (although there's nothing wrong with that), but at least treat them with the same decency you'd show another human being. So many of us call them part of our families. But how many of us actually follow through with it?
Just pause and think about it for a bit - they are the people who're working at making your life easier.
Your kid will grow to be a fully functioning adult one day because some nanny gave their precious time towards your child's upbringing. You get to work towards fulfilling your life's goals because someone else is cooking for you, washing your clothes and ensuring that your living space is neat and tidy. Sure, they need the money, but besides that the least we can do is empathize with their situation. They're making an honest living and that deserves your respect.
We cannot allow our society to turn into one that treats people who are so important to our lives like absolute shit.
If you want the world you live in to be an inclusive one, that accepts the marginalized 'other', you have to address and get rid off the evils of class division. Your Facebook and Instagram albums might be filled with progressive memes and liberal quotes, you might even be a regular at pride parades - but if you treat your service staff like shit, none of the other stuff counts.
Yes, there are a lot of good people out there who don't treat their domestic help with disrespect.
Remember when we covered a report about a fashion designer who got her domestic help to pose as a model?
And there are so many times you hear reports about people paying for their maid's (or their kids') education.
Sometimes the lines between 'help' and 'friend' even get blurred. In the recent film Angry Indian Goddesses, the relation between Sarah Jane Dias and Rajshri Deshpande's characters showed us what that looks like. Wouldn't it be amazing if more people could be like that? It's not that difficult, you know? Just don't be a dick to others.
Bringing about change is obviously not easy. After centuries of the outdated malik-naukar dynamic many people who work as service staff have somehow been conditioned to follow those aforementioned unsaid rules. It's up to you to change that. Let's try to remove words like naukar and kaamwali from our vocabulary. Respect works both ways - they show it to us, so we should show it to them.