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We Need To Stop Insulting House-Helps In Casual Conversations!

‘Chalu, lazy, these people are greedy.’ Last weekend at a birthday party, the ladies sat together and started talking about their house-helps.

‘Chalu, lazy, these people are greedy.’ Last weekend at a birthday party, the ladies sat together and started talking about their house-helps.

Last weekend I, along with my five year old, was invited to his friend’s birthday party. As the kids got busy in their play room, all the ladies sat together and started talking. Some of these were working women, some were housewives and some were work-from-home moms. They all were educated, wearing expensive branded clothes and flashing their expensive smart phones.

After a while the conversation drifted to their house-helps ( what are now called ‘maids’) who used to come to each one of their houses to do their household chores like cleaning, doing the dishes, chopping vegetables and cooking.

Remembering how my mother and aunts treated our house-helps with dignity…

Most of these women  were criticising the way they worked, demanded money etc. It felt like a competition of sorts where each one had to tell one story about how bad their helper is. Of course, there were a few kinder souls among them but their voices were soon submerged in the barrage of negativity.

Truly speaking, I had not encountered this kind of insensitivity before so I was not able to think coherently or give any sensible reply to them.

Growing up, I had always seen my mother, aunts, etc treat the helpers with utmost dignity. They used to have a conversation with my house-help and listen to her problems with complete patience. The women in my house always used to make hot tea and fresh breakfast for them. They never gave her left over food; but made sure she gets a part of what they were eating.

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Despite being thrifty otherwise, they made sure that on every Diwali, Holi etc she gets a new sari and new clothes and books for her children.

Whenever the helper took a holiday my mom or aunt would do all her chores. This is something I have not encountered these days. I see that these days (some) women keep all the utensils undone because ‘kal maid karegi.’ Like she is a machine who doesn’t get tired.

Giving a saree to your helper is not ‘spoiling their habits’

Let me tell you one small incident before we move further. Once I gave a new sari to my helper on Diwali. One of my male colleagues who got to know about it (and in whose house the same lady used to work), told me to not give anything extra except the stipulated salary to ‘these people’ as it will spoil their habits (‘unki aadat mat bigado’). 

Giving a sari twice or thrice a year to the woman because of whom you are able to do your job properly will spoil them? And what does ‘spoil’ even mean? Does it mean that they will start asking for it in future from other people also?

Firstly, most do not ask for anything unless it is an emergency. We may like to flatter ourselves by believing that we are morally superior, however, it is in the poor that morality is still alive. They have fierce self respect.

And secondly imagining that they ask for it, that surely will not cause a dent in your pocket or any reduction in your fortune! The same person who spends thousands of rupees without even a blink of an eye to buy stuff that they are never going to use ever, hesitates when it comes to helping someone less privileged!

I remember one day I asked my aunt, ‘why do you buy so many things for the house-help?’ She replied, ‘Dear I am not buying or doing anything for her. I just share with her what God gives me. Do you not learn in school, ‘sharing is caring?’’ she added with a smile.

That small conversation made a huge impact on me. For those who believe in a higher power it means that God is not only watching but is also taking note of each and every step that we do. He might one day ask us, ‘why did you behave so badly with one of my less fortunate children?’ We should make sure now, that we do not hang our heads in shame on being asked that.

My maid asks for a holiday on Sundays, she is so chalu’

Anyway, coming to that day’s conversation, one of the women said, ‘yaar my maid is so chalu.. she categorically told me that she will not come on Sundays. She doesn’t want to work but salary she wants full that too on time.’

Second lady said, ‘Their entire earning is based on our housing society, we are the reason they are even surviving and on top of that so much fuss.’

Third lady said, ‘They all want to work in unmarried men’s house because there no ‘memsab ki jhik jhik’ (tantrums of the female employer) happens, very less work and full money’

Fourth, ‘Yaar mine was asking me for the full salary of last month when she had worked only for 15 days. For the half month I was in my in-laws place. My house was locked, she did not do any work but paisa they want for the full month.’

Fifth, ‘Last month I gave Rs 1100 to a maid instead of the regular Rs 1000. Of course I have now removed her. See I don’t mind giving Rs 100 extra to her but the point is when the stipulated salary is one thousand why she charged me extra?!’

I buy cheap jam bottles to lure my maid into extra work

Sixth, (whose father-in-law had his own farm house and every Saturday he used to send lots of vegetables, eggs and fruits) said, ‘I get lots of extra vegetables from my father-in-law and was wondering if instead of money I could give that to my maid. It’s free of cost to me.’ (many of them told her that it was a great idea. The rest just gaped at her in disbelief!).’

Seventh, ‘See what I do, I regularly get coupons from the mall and since no ‘dhang ka item’ can be brought from these coupons I buy lots of cheap jam bottles. Then I use them to get my maid do extra work for me like cleaning, dusting etc.’

Eight, ‘That’s great otherwise they will not do a single extra work. Once I asked her to do the dusting of the drawing room and she gave me such a look like I had asked for her kidneys.’

Nine, ‘Last week I was having my lunch at office so the entire week my maid did not had to prepare the lunch neither she had to do the dishes. But she is so cunning that she used to come to the kitchen and leave without doing anything. Are bhai when I am giving you full money can’t you do something else like cleaning the gas-stove, dusting the kitchen racks etc in that time. But no, they won’t do any extra work!’

Ten, ‘Last year the rate was Rs 800 for one work, now they are charging Rs 1000! They have a group here and last month they all did a sort of ‘meeting’ where these rates were decided. We should not fall into their trap and should collectively deny them work if they charge more than the fixed rate of Rs 800 for a work.’ (for many of them this idea was both enticing and horrifying. Enticing because it saved them money and horrifying because they knew that they could not do away with their helpers even for a single day).

My replies to these insensitive remarks!

Listening to their rants I started wondering that my mother, my aunts, my grandmothers did not own designer saris or expensive mobiles, but their mind was so full of peace and their heart was so full of compassion.

Some of us said that we were grateful to them for all their help and not the other way round. However, since my arguments fell in deaf ears I wrote here what I wanted each one of them to hear.

Now this reply is for woman number one, ‘Do you like to work on Sundays? Or do you like to spend that with your family or in the parlour, coffee shop, eating out, watching movie etc. That lady who works in your house is not taking the Sunday off to do any of those thing.

She probably has to clean her own ‘house’, buy stuff for her kids who had been left at the mercy of God when she was doing your dishes, or may be she has to take her ailing husband to the government hospital where she might have to stand in the queue for hours.’‘

If you want extra work to be done, pay her extra money

To two, ‘Be grateful to them. Had your helper got the opportunities you got in life, she would probably have been a better person than you can ever hope to be.’ To three, ‘Shame on you.’ To four, ‘Your one thousand are not going to change her life, neither it will make you any poorer. However, your rant only shows your own wretched mentality.’

To five (who has a separate prayer room and does morning and evening prayers), ‘Doing the rituals and offering prayers is good only when you change from within and allow God’s grace to enter your hearts. Do you think you attained good karma by snatching the livelihood of the poor woman who was charging you hundred rupees extra?’

To six, ‘In an ideal world you should be supporting her financially. On the contrary, you want to give her the vegetables that you get for free instead of giving her the salary.’ To seven, ‘Your house help works 24*7 for the pittance that she gets from the likes of you. And you get her to do extra work by giving her the jam bottles that you get for free.’ 

To eight, ‘If you want extra work to be done, pay her extra money.  She is not ‘chalu’ she has been duped so many times by the likes of you who are rich, but miserable, that now she is aware of her rights.’ To nine, ‘Yes let her not take any holiday, let her not enjoy even a single day of her life! Exploit her for the one thousand that you give her!’ To ten, ‘You should be happy that finally she is demanding her right. But you will not give her 200 extra bucks. What if destiny makes sure that someday that sum actually becomes too high for you to pay?!’

A house-help who works all day and does not ask for money is “good”

One of them (who flatters herself on being very altruistic) said, ‘My house- help is so good, she looks after my toddler for the entire day and doesn’t even ask for extra money!’ I looked at her in disbelief and asked, ‘so she is good because she doesn’t ask for money?!’ She replied, ‘No I mean I keep on giving her things – old clothes, vegetables that I don’t use etc every now and then.’

So that exposed the real face of our society. The house-help who works all day and doesn’t ask for money is ‘good’. We give her old clothes and the left over vegetables and fruits (that we would not be using anyway) and feel like a benefactor.

That’s being dishonest to ourselves. We are fooling no one but us by believing that we are doing a service to the world by giving the left-overs.  Real service is giving something that is valuable to you, like giving fresh cooked food to someone (and not left overs), buying new clothes for the needy, new toys or books for the one who cannot afford them.

Don’t call her your ‘family member’ treat her like a professional! 

There are other type of people who say, ‘My maid is like a family member to me.’ Let me ask you is that true? If she falls ill shall we spend all our wealth to save her? Shall we bear the burden of her and her children’s daily needs? If not, then it’s a farce.

It’s better we stop treating her like a ‘family member’ (unless we mean it for real) and start treating her the way we want our boss to treat us. In a no-nonsense way. Pay her on time, give bonuses, give holidays and increase her salary and decrease her work.

This is not a commentary on any gender or any social class. I have seen women and men who are altruistic and treat everyone with respect and dignity. People donate their entire lives’ savings to help the needy. One of the ladies I know doesn’t let anyone, even the delivery boys, leave her house without first giving them tea and snacks.

The other one regularly tells house-helps to increase their salaries and tells them to not work without being paid (even in her own house). One other lady pays the monthly fees of the five children of one of her helper.

House-helps deserve our respect and empathy

Same is the case with men, there are misers and there are philanthropists. One of my brothers-in-law works in an IT firm and earns more than a lakh a month. Peeping out of his SUV, he can often be found negotiating with the street side vendors for a few hundred bucks!

While my other cousin spends money on the needy like a king (though he himself earns a modest amount). Every weekend he and his wife go to an orphanage and teach and distribute books to the kids. Thus, compassion and empathy are not dependent on one’s gender or bank balance. 

Your house help is a woman who probably doesn’t even have the basic necessities of life, who works day and night just to make the ends meet. Who comes to your house daily to clean up your jootha bartan (dirty dishes). Can we not treat her with dignity and respect her like a real person?

If not, then she may be poor but miserable certainly are we!

Image source: Still from Nil Battey Sannata

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About the Author

Swati Pandey

I am an avid reader, a writer and a yoga instructor. I like to write on social issues, especially women's issues. With my writings read more...

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