Domestic workers still treated as slaves?

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Charvee Puri, PRIA intern reflects after a field visit to Harijan Busti, Gurugram where Martha Farrell Foundation and PRIA have been working for the rights of domestic workers at their workplaces. 

There are more than 4 million domestic workers in India who are struggling to be recognized as workers and to raise their voice against the exploitation that they face on an everyday basis. They are unprotected, poorly paid, lack safety at the workplace and are not entitled to social security.

On a sunny afternoon when I sat down with the domestic workers in Harijan Basti in Gurugram, I was exposed to the realities of their lives, which we often fail to realize or simply turn a blind eye to.  The aim of the discussion was to make them feel comfortable and talk to them about the daily struggles they face at their employers house and at home. The discussions centered on mapping their journey to work and back. But they were happy to talk about their problems as well, as they usually don’t get a platform to talk about them.  

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All the domestic workers raised the issue of low wages. They are frequently made to overwork, are not paid minimum wages and lack job security. When they began to speak about their experiences, I realized how employers exploit and harass the domestic workers. The main reason they are not treated well is because they are unaware about their rights and entitlements. When employers discover worker who’s are not fluent in the local language, the level of exploitation doubles. Apart from low wages, they are given stale food, given extra work without any extra payment; they face physical abuse at the workplace and if they also stay with their employers, their mobility is controlled (employers often do not allow them to step out of the house). They face so many atrocities but they have nowhere to complain because nobody takes them seriously and their issues are not seen as significant.

They are not only subjected to harassment at the employer’s residence but also face constant harassment on the roads and in the communities that they live in. The workers shared with us instances of young girls being raped by their fathers and relatives, parents letting their daughters get raped for money and children being kidnapped. Women are subjected to sexual harassment; they are stalked, molested or teased. There are areas nearby where there are alcohol shops where women and children cannot go because the place is always filled with drunkards. A lot of girls have been kidnapped from there; people have even found knives and broken bottles with bloodstains.

The plight of domestic workers in India is even worse because there are no defined laws for them on their working conditions, working hours, minimum wages, thus making them vulnerable to exploitation. Even though slavery was abolished years and years ago, the domestic workers continue to be treated as slaves. It is high time that the domestic workers be given a space to raise their voices against the atrocities and be treated with respect.

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