“It was only when I woke up with my left arm suddenly in flames that I decided to leave him. My husband and his sister had left home with the gas stove on and I do not know how my arm caught fire. That was the moment I decided to flee with my one-year-old son and my three-year-old daughter.”
She showed me her left forearm with burn marks. I was speechless. She continued, “He used to return home drunk and beat me up every day. He wanted to see my pain threshold. Soon his sister also started to torture me. I left him one day after his own uncle said, “He will kill you one day. Leave him and look after yourself,” he said.
“When was this?”
“17 years ago.”
“Where is your husband now?” I asked her, wishing the scruff of his neck was in my grip.
“He left Mysore soon after I left him. I do not know. Some say he is dead.”
“When did you get married?”
“I attained puberty when I was 11, and I was married off when I was12.
“Was that not against the law even then?”
“I was so naive and ignorant that I did not even know what was happening. My parents told me later on that they Yielded to pressure from their relatives. I have 3 sisters and one brother. All my sisters were married by the time they were 13”.
“Are you happy now?” I asked Geetha.
“Yes,” she said, folding a turkey towel on our dining table. She was in the last leg of our home’s daily chores.
After a moment of silence, she said, shaking her head with self-pity;
“But when married women ask me patronizingly about my marriage or my past, I give vague answers and curse God. If I ever come across God, I will beat him to a pulp.”
This, in brief, is the story of cleaning professional Geetha. She keeps homes clean by doing the dishes, swabbing floors, folding laundry, and most importantly, grapevine-ing with Mamatha, my wife.
Today at 37, Geetha works for three families and earns 16000 monthly. I would call her a cleaning pro. She is breezy and efficient in what she does. She has a two-wheeler, and her only hope and reason for happiness is her son, 18-year-old school dropout Chetan. Now she is single-handedly running her family of three since even her daughter lives with her year-old child after separating.
Did you know that there is a day dedicated to Domestic workers? I didn’t.
June 16 is observed as the International Day of Domestic Workers?
Unless there is an important story worth the coverage, domestic workers are seldom discussed in our country. Yet, it is estimated that there are over twenty million domestic workers in India. The work includes tasks such as cleaning the house, cooking, washing, ironing clothes, taking care of the children or elderly or sick members of the family, gardening and guarding the house.
Much of the employing households in India treat their domestic workers like they are created by lesser Gods. They deny them employment dignity, fair wages, social integration, or even the designation of calling what they do as ‘work.’ It is not even thought of as wrong since traditionally it has been that way for generations, unexamined and unquestioned.
Domestic work is one of the biggest employers in India’s large informal economy, especially in urban areas. It is also one of the largest employers for women. Yet, not enough focus has been placed on working women in our discussions.
Fortunately, thanks to Covid, the majority of the homes have realized the value of these helpers. Their services should be regarded as professional cleaning and housekeeping. They should be treated with respect and paid decently.
In a capitalistic but law disrespecting and law un-abiding country like ours, forming statutes will not be effective. There has to be a change of hearts and minds of the employers.
Let us all wake up and do what we can to make their lives better.
-Generate public awareness on the value of domestic cleaning work done by domestic workers. Public perception of domestic work is often that it is low-status work undertaken by illiterate women.
-Medication and Education. As employers, let us help our home keepers by supporting their children’s educational needs and medical expenses.
-If they are working for during mealtime, their meals must be our responsibility
-If something goes missing, let us not suspect them without evidence… read my earlier blog…https://mohansinnerjourney.com/2019/02/23/watch-your-verdict/
-Let them freely use the food items in our refrigerators.
Domestic workers deserve respect, dignity, and economic security. Let us all vow to give our best to them.