Your Domestic Helper Is Just An Ordinary Woman Like You. Can You Empathize?

Posted: February 24, 2016
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Can an employer and an employee ever empathize with each other? This story of a domestic helper in India will touch you. 

Dictionary meaning of Maid– ‘a woman who works as a servant in a hotel or in someone’s home’.

Yesterday I spoke to P, the lady who cooks in my in-laws’ house. She cooks well. Simple satisfying meals. The four months she has been with us however, have not been very pleasant.

She is slow, takes almost 1.5 hours to make six rotis and one subji. She volunteers to do the vessels, sweeping and swabbing, if needed. To me she comes across as a sincere person. Yes, sometimes she puts extra salt, does not follow cooking instructions exactly, but these are human errors. Her biggest issue is that she does not inform in case she isn’t coming. We have to wait till lunchtime only to realize that she has decided to not come.

Her horrendous life

But what she shared with me yesterday changed everything that I feel about and for her.

P stays in a slum settlement with her husband, two children, father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law (husband’s sister) and her sister-in-law’s teenage son. So this makes it a total of nine members in the family. Phew. Look at us, we cannot manage a nuclear family of three.

She has to cook for all of them, wash everyone’s clothes, clean the house, take care of her children and also work in other households for money. None of them help her in any way with the household chores. Needless to say, she is over-burdened with work.

Her MIL refuses to take care of the kids when P is away at work so much so that she doesn’t even clean them if they have urinated or passed motions. They are left to wait for P to come back from work and take care of them. Their house is the adda for local basti gossip with the MIL expecting P to serve almost 15-20 cups of tea every afternoon to each one of the women who drop in for their daily dose of gossip. And in our house if there are more than 3-4 members for tea, my proportions go for a toss.

Her SIL (who lost her husband and hence is staying with them) is employed but does not contribute to the family, neither with the household work nor financially.

P’s husband though employed does not love, care and support her or their children. He and MIL are a team and together they harass P over small things. When asked for Rs 2 (yes, Rs 2 just to buy toffee for her child) he goes and complains to his mother about P asking for money.

He drinks and creates a scene often and the worst being that his mother provides him money for drinking. If P raises her voice or expresses dissent he threatens to leave her. Her MIL immediately calls on P’s mother and complains about her.

When they are unwell neither P nor her children are allowed to visit a doctor. The husband feels it is an unnecessary expense. When her son was seriously ill and running a high fever for almost seven days, they refused to take him to a doctor or do anything to improve his condition. Finally P argued and took the child to the doctor. Thankfully the doctor did the diagnostic tests there itself and did not charge them.

Despite all this P has been asked to go and work in houses to contribute to the family’s income. She earns around Rs. 4000 per month which is handed over to her MIL for household expenses (after which P does not have any share in the money she earned).

As if all this was not enough…

P mentioned that both her deliveries have been very complicated, she has almost 20 stitches from each and her medications are still on. Her MIL ridicules her saying, “we have also borne children, you are unnecessarily making a big deal out of this”. P later learnt that the gynecologist had advised them on not planning for a second child unless really required. P was oblivious to this warning.

When she was seven months pregnant her MIL used to force her to do heavy work like cleaning the cobwebs and clearing the attic. For her first delivery she was overdue and no one bothered to take her to the doctor. Finally when she was rushed to the hospital, the doctor said that had they delayed further the mother and the child would have been lost.

Currently P works in our house and in another house. Whenever she reaches home slightly later than her usual time, the MIL and SIL question whether she has taken up additional work in other households without telling them, for some extra money.

P’s mother and brother live in the village. Her mother is an asthma patient so P does not share anything for the fear that her health would be affected.

And what we were doing…

While she was narrating this, many incidents crossed in my mind.

All the times we were upset with her for coming late, the times we thought she was negligent only because she wanted to finish work and rush home, the times when she did not turn up for more than two to three days in a row without informing. How we would torment her with calls on her husband’s phone which again she was not allowed to use, or the times when after these unexplained days of leave she would land up at work and we would expect her to cook extra to make up for the absenteeism.

While she was sharing this with me yesterday her eyes were moist. Her parting words were, “I can take all of this, resigning it to be my destiny but I cannot see this happen to my kids, whenever something happens to them or they are deprived of something, I get angry”.

Despite all this she was here, cooking in our house. Having observed a fast for two days the previous day being Sankasthi and this day being Tuesday (Mangalwaar upvaas), despite her rush to reach home to cook dinner and end her fast, she asked “tai garam garam chappati banau, tumhi khaun ghya, office varun thakun aalyavar bhook lagat asel na” (Should I make hot rotis for you to eat, you would be tired coming from work).

Now my eyes were moist. All my seemingly insurmountable problems just faded from my memory. If she could rise above all this and still offer to cook and feed me, the least I could do, was to be more kind to her and offer help in whichever way possible.

Image source: house maid by Shutterstock.

Life happens, everyday. Of everyday life stories.

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4 Comments


  1. Thabk you Lakshmi for the learning. Your story was indeed an eye opener.

  2. thanks for such a wonderful post..what can we do to help?can I send her some pocket money?soemthing like rs.50 or so to your account..which she does not have to give her in laws..

    • Lakshmi Padmanabhan
      Lakshmi Padmanabhan -

      Thank you so much for your helpful gesture. She has moved to her native village with her entire family. But I am sure your good wishes will reach her.

  3. Pingback: Women Are Not Safe In Their Own Homes. When Will All This Change? | SRUTHI VIJAYAKRISHNAN

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