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Maid In India by Tripti Lahiri shines a bright light on the murky world of the live in maid, and the abuse by employers that is common.
Maids are as great a boon as much the bane for most of us. A good neat and clean maid who does all chores as directed is a dream and those of us who are lucky enough to find such gems usually try to keep them happy. But a day off and all comes undone with piles of utensils at kitchen sink and dust on the floor.
I have always had maids who finish work in few hours in morning and return for the second round at evening. I prefer not to have a maid all the time at home so that my privacy is not compromised. And at the risk of being labelled a snob, I would still say that my home has been much better organised and cleaner even when I was on a 9 to 5 job with a part time maid, than those with an in-house maid. But then I have handled a few chores myself. Also a maid who is separated from her family and stays all time with the employer seems to me a huge responsibility.
I have friends in Delhi who hire maids from the agency on a yearly contract at a pay packet which seems a little too much to me. These maids cook, clean, wash, dust and take care of the kids while the husband and wife are away on their jobs.
Maid in India is a book which looks into these in-house maids who travel to the promised land of Delhi in hope to make enough to send it back home. Written by Tripti Lahiri, Asia editor of Quartz and winner of Society of Professional Journalist award for reporting on Bangladesh’s dangerous factories and Ramnath Goenka award for civic journalism, the book is well researched on the life of domestic helps.
As I read on, I was appalled at the stories that emerged of the ill treatment meted out to the domestic helps. I wouldn’t say that I have never scolded my maids, of course I have, I have even cut their pay if they have been absent for more than a week without informing me – but physical abuse? This was news to me as I turned pages of the various accounts.
The various subdivisions of the book give an insight into the difficult circumstances which force the women and young girls from far flung places to head towards the capital city in search of work, sometimes on false promises. The book brings to light how some families cheat these women of their rightful pay or prevent them from meeting their family members or threaten them. Some of these poor women vanish from the face of earth with no possibility of being traced or rescued.
The author having researched extensively laments that though certain clauses exist regarding pay, working hours and short breaks in the contract while hiring the maids, most are disregarded even in posh localities where employers can afford to pay, but choose to squeeze out as much work.
The situation is not all grim with a few employers being very considerate of the welfare of their domestic helps and going out of way to involve them in family. But some of these maids have learnt to take care of their interests and move on to work with expatriates where they earn more for lesser working hours. Eventually it is the aim of every person to better their life and some domestic helps have managed to improve their lifestyle.
The book brings out the harsh reality that exists in every urban household. There have been instances of maids duping the employers, stealing, and even falsely incriminating the employer for sexual abuse but there are fewer such cases.
The need of the day is that the employer behave humanely…after all it is the right thing to do as humans. No one has the right to physically, mentally or sexually abuse another human being even if we pay them for services.
This book is a must read for an eye opening revelation and improve our relationships with our house helps.
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