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The last maid who worked at our house – her husband abandoned her, while she was pregnant with her first child. Then, when she stopped working at our place, we got a young woman with two children under 5; she was friendly but feisty – she bargained hard and laid down a strict list of tasks that she would do and not do. She worked with us for a month, after which she had to stop. Because, her husband didn’t like her working; it injured his prestige, you see. If you think you are the boss, you work and support the family, I’m not going to contribute anything, he whined. And that was that – she had to stop. In the interests of maintaining some peace at home.
Her replacement, a woman she brought along – is a 40-something widow. Seeing her calm and cheerful face, one would not guess at the tough life she must have led to bring up her two sons.
The stories of these women are not rare in any sense. Abandoned, threatened, intimidated, overworked, left widowed (in many cases, with the husband dying of alcoholism-induced-cirrhosis of the liver) – these are the common stories of the working class women of our country. I’d hate to come across as dismissive of any social class, but what is the reason that women, and women alone seem to carry the burden in so many poor families?
Women of the middle and upper classes still have the luxury of deciding whether or not to work, but for these women, it’s not a choice. Perhaps, given a choice, they’d love to put up their feet and sit, even if just for a day. Instead, they get up at unearthly hours, finish the domestic chores at their own homes (catch the men chipping in with these!) and then set out for a hard day’s work. Mostly, just so that their children can have a better life.
(Which is why, this whole ‘fatwa on Muslim women’s salaries’ controversy is so ridiculous. The women who desperately need the money – it doesn’t make any sense to them; and as for the women who ‘want to work’, well, I don’t see them listening to such outdated pronouncements, do you?)
Also, do go read Space Bar’s article on the middle class and how they could do more to support domestic workers.
Founder, Editor of Women's Web, Aparna believes in the power of ideas and conversations
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