A Societal Practice Of Which I Am a Part Of : Labor Vs. Rights

“Where the hell is the house maid today? Consecutively four holidays! If it’s the festive season, her mouth and intentions are wide open for subsidies! But when it comes to being regular, Madame is off to wonderland! Let her come back, where will she go? I pay her more than the other house mistresses; she will witness the worst of my behavior! I will fire her off!”

These words and sentences have surely been spoken or shouted aloud at least one day in every ‘Indian’ household. The maid is worshipped, treated cautiously and well fed until the time she’s regular and not demanding, despite her over burdened life. One day, she’s late or does not arrive by nine in the morning; the situation of the house is more erratic than it would be in times of an earthquake or a tsunami.

We often participate and indulge ourselves in serious intellectual debates, that the poor and the down trodden should receive education because now we have the Right to Education (Act), and none of them should be subjected to humiliation and ill-treatment. How many of us have actually not bothered one fine morning, that the house maid is working for us or not, and taken her to a government office or school to make her get what she deserves?

There are people who have stood up and funded the education of their housemaid’s child and her own education, persuading more of her colleagues to do so and earn a respectable life, away from dirty dishes and stained clothes, the smell of the phenyl and aggression of the house holder.

My mother fired the former house maid (to whom she funded a good amount for her daughter’s education) for she had robbed all possible stuff she could in the past seven years while she had worked for us from the kitchen to the dressing table and the bathroom accessories. The new housemaid is younger than my age. “I don’t remember when I was born, all I know is that I’m sixteen”, she told us.

Beautiful, hygienic, sharp, bright, well spoken and well behaved, she carries a Nokia cell phone, which kept ringing now and then, dressed in the latest but disciplined fashion, with an innocent smile and nature similar to what a teenager would possess.

My door bell rings every morning, sharp at seven, when I’m usually enjoying my early morning siesta, lost in one of my most wanted dreams. The moment when she switches off the fan to broom my room, is the most awful one, when I feel the breeze all gone. I often get irritated while I sleep, when she drags the sweeping bucket on the marble and the unpleasant smell of the floor cleaner enters my nostrils, she bangs the door of the balcony, alternately keeps opening and closing it to fetch stuff, annoying me by the on and off flashes of sunlight. All this disgusts me.

I am a hosteller. I wash my own dishes, clothes, sheets, sweep my room once a week, when the maid takes a day off. I consider myself a disciplined and independent, ‘mature’ girl who lives all by herself. When I come home for holidays, I pour in all my unwashed clothes for the young lass to wash for me, excusing and pitying myself, that I live away from home and wash my own clothes, that too swelling with pride to be a student of the best university of the country. I’ve taken up journalism and seem very revolutionary in all aspects, striving to bring about a drastic change in the society by what I write and do. But somewhere in my early morning dreams at home, my heart palpitates each day, while she works, that such a girl deserves education, good education! All my revolutions just vanish in the air above the clouds of my noon-day dreams.

But again I have excuses, of not being financially independent as a student, or lost in my own worldly affairs, not having much time to take her to a school and make her learn what she deserves. My heart often sinks to see a girl lesser than my age working day and night to support her family where she is one of the two earning members. Her father is a rickshaw puller who drops children to school. How I wish that someday, she gets a ride on her father’s rickshaw and reaches school by seven in the morning before the school bell rings, rather than she ringing my door bell.

Shefali Saxena