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Dignity Of Labour — House-Helpers Are The Essential Pillar Of Society

Dai was originally intended to denote a midwife, someone who used to assist women in childbirth with the experience and expertise of previous generations. Similarly, an Aya was originally supposed to be a nanny who can assist the new mother with child-rearing.

When I was in Kindergarten, there was a helping lady who we were supposed to call Aya and who used to clean the soiled pants of kindergarteners, dry them out along with doing other menial work that peons and other workers considered too undignified to perform.

A similar term, Dai was used in my house and neighbourhood to denote the lady who used to dust our houses and cleaned up the used kitchen utensils. As I grew up, I came to know that the term Dai is etymologically very different from the connotation given to it nowadays.

It is a slang derivative from Dhai Maa, which was popularized from the historical folk tale of Panna Dhai who kept her duty towards the child she was taking care, and sacrificed her biological son to save the infant pince.

Dai was originally intended to denote a midwife, someone who used to assist women in childbirth with the experience and expertise of previous generations. Similarly, an Aya was originally supposed to be a nanny who can assist the new mother with child-rearing.

Perhaps, it indeed takes a village to raise a child deludes to these women who have made it their profession to help the new mothers alongside their family members; and outsourcing their services was the norm.

Aya and Dhais have always been an essential part of child-rearing

These women were respected and welcomed as an essential part of the household, as one young woman or the other was with the baby in the joint family system. The task of massaging the newborn basking in the sun was often deputed to the Ayas or the Dhais while the new mother had time to rest and recoup.

With the rise in awareness about prenatal, antenatal, and post-partum health and hygiene, these midwives and nannies were dismissed as quacks and as a threat to the health system.

The increased demand for experts in the field and awareness about pregnancy hygiene drove these ladies out of business, and they then had to resort to performing other menial domestic or public work to secure a livelihood.

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Gradually, the terms that had once been synonymous with professional expertise became derogatory and synonymous with feminized poverty, drudgery, and unskilled labour.

A generation grew up on misinterpreted terminology

An entire generation, soon after, grew up under the misconception that outsourcing post-partum care services are a way to break ties with and hurt one’s parents by not providing them with the opportunity to experience the happiness of raising their grandkids.

This not only deprived the new mothers of the benefits of proper post-partum care, but further soured their relationship with ageing in-laws, who started feeling exhausted and overwhelmed by the handful task of raising a newborn.

Soon there was a steady rise of post-partum anxiety

There were increased cases of post-partum anxiety amongst new mothers who were suffering from helplessness in lack of proper time to rest, recoup and feed themselves.

When the ageing parents or parents-in-law were doing the job of a nanny, in-return they expected to be taken care of by the new mother, whose child they were raising.

This on the other hand was taking away from new mothers the bonding opportunities with their baby, adding to her post-partum struggle and further raising conflicts within the family system.

The new target of improper behaviour and jokes

Soon, another term emerged from the households of ‘civil society’ to give some respect to these professionals: ‘maidservants.’

Etymologically speaking, the maid was the shortened form of the word maiden, which meant a young and virgin woman.

This meaning, when followed by the word servant, started developing another connotation and the maids became the targets of sexually explicit jokes and behaviours. Thereby degrading the dignity of their labour, and the term maid became a shortened term for the house help and not for the virgin women any more.

With the transfer of connotations, the maids were again viewed as someone from the inferior social strata who were not permitted to be socially mobile (the irony and paradox intended).

Post-partum caregivers are again being sought

Rise in the nuclear family system and dispersion of both men and women away from their hometowns for their professional commitments, the demand for post-partum care providers is again picking momentum.

The elderly, now, are more committed to spending their retirement in the peace of the houses they have built after almost three decades of toiling day and night, while the young are now struggling to build a name and a home for themselves.

The young men who are culturally discouraged to participate in kitchen duties, now, when away from their home, found a saviour in the skills of these house-helps.

Young women, in an attempt to give a neck-to-neck fight in breaking the glass ceiling to create a breathable space for everyone, found a comrade in them.

Work culture is reshaping how we treat our house-helps

Even when none of the partners are domestically challenged, the work culture is such that the essential rejuvenation at the end of the day cannot be achieved if one indulges in the drudgery of household responsibilities.

These house-helps are now working full-time as home care professionals, combining the duties of a nanny and a cook in multiple urban households.

They are being properly remunerated in salaries that were unimaginable for the previous generations, for they are now an essential pillar of the urban family system. By helping in keeping together the physical and mental health of all, even in a joint family system where ageing and young parents share the living space with kids.

House helpers are peacekeepers of the domestic life

They not only ensure a clean household but also maintain domestic peace by giving both the working partners some time for personal care and rejuvenation in a nuclear family, thereby helping in increasing the quality and quantity of time that young parents are spending with their kids and with each other.

With this change in the societal system, they have not only secured the much-needed respect for the dignity of their labour, but have also earned the long unacknowledged name of the house-help or domestic-help rightfully.

Image Source: Still from trailer of the film Sir, edited on Canva Pro

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About the Author

Dr. Nishtha Mishra

Dr. Nishtha Mishra is an internationally published author. She is a Doctorate in English Literature from one of the reputed Central Universities. She has been an all round topper and has 5 gold medals to read more...

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