Our campaign invited you to take a selfie with your househelp. And we offered to send across a small gift as a token of your appreciation. We even made a video; some may call it rosy hued, on how a relationship with your didi can be as meaningful as any other.
Of course none of the above is reflective of the underlying class divide we are hearing so much about of late. Rather it is about an attitude encouraging a gradual shift from the status quo. It is about recognizing domestic workers as deserving of the same respect, benefits and working conditions as other employees. It is also about an attitude that allows scope for emotional attachment with our help. We often form friendships with our subordinates at work, why is then the same with our help a sappy concept?
It is ironic that our campaign launched around the same time as the infamous incident making the news. The almost ‘battle of the classes’ that seemed to justify the underlying prejudice. But can one actually deny the second class status of domestic workers in our country? We may not be as discriminatory as pre-civil war America or colonial England but that is not saying much. While we may not discriminate on the basis of colour, our prejudices run much deeper. Be it casteism, ethnic stereotyping, perceived lack of hygiene or a weak moral fibre.
And it is not just the discrimination that is the concern. Indian domestic workforce faces among the poorest living & working conditions across the world. They earn much less than the minimum wage of other unskilled/semi-skilled workers. And they do not have the cushioning of trade unions or mandatory welfare measures. And no formal employment contract to afford them any bargaining power.
Do you recall the last time your domestic worker went on a strike? Do they have a monthly leave calendar? Chances are the answer to both the questions is ‘No’. We take our cushioned work environment for granted but what about the uncertainty in theirs? Let’s take a real life scenario, a domestic worker was asked to stop working with a week’s notice. And her response? Didi aapko agar bina matlab ke naukri se 7 din mein nikal denge to kya aap chup chaap chale jaoge? (Madam if you were fired without cause with 7 days warning, would you leave without protest). A stone cold reality check, if there was one.
Is it any surprise then that we refer to domestic workers as invisible? What else would you call someone who gets ignored on a regular basis, is denied a hospitable working environment or a dignified employer-employee relationship? Invisible seems pretty apt to us. So an emotional appeal to take notice of our domestic workers seems like a good starting point to us. An appeal to appreciate their valuable role as an employee. Yes appreciation alone is not going to change things. We need to extend the same respect and working environment to them as we would to any other employee. And we need to treat them on an equal footing, doing away with the many ways of discrimination we spoke of earlier.
So we will still say take that selfie with your didi, for no other reason than to make her smile. But don’t stop at that. Work towards resolving the many reasons adding to her unsatisfactory working experience. Much like you would expect your HR team to do for you at work.