Housekeeping is a dreaded task in Indian homes as it involves elaborate cooking, cleaning with less dependency on packaged food, machines and more on women who are often socially obligated to fulfill all the household chores. The many factors like mental stigma of men not participating in the domestic chores, class consciousness, unequal distribution of wealth, hectic working schedules and a blissful huge poor population have led to the rise of the powerful, dreaded loathed but the indispensable Kanthabais.
I recently celebrated the second anniversary, Yes my domestic help had completed 2 years in my house and this was my longest record but alas even before my celebration ended she was high jacked and promoted to a cook in the neighborhood leaving me in destitution for a few extra hundreds without any notice period.
This is one job which is highest in demand but lowest on the remuneration and recognition front. It is also the most unprofessional stream of work where both employer and employee do not abide by any binding regulations or any moral code of conduct. It is purely run on a certain mutual comfort level, a little bit of trust and a lot of luck, tolerance and pampering.
There are 3 kinds of employers the first type are the cool-headed moderates who don’t bother much about that extra penny paid and overlook the shoddy work done second is the sulky brooder who shut their mouths before the maid but go tom-tom in the whole community abusing their maids from morning till night thirdly it is the harassed types of employers the clean freaks who are impulsive and keep throwing tempers and maids out who are often at the mercy of the maid servant waiting for some salvation.
There are many kinds of employers here but there is only one kind of maid servant the one who is always unsatisfied and demanding for more money and less work.
I oscillate between the harassed type and a fourth category of weird aloof people who cannot tolerate any helpers’ presence around for a long time curtailing my space. The harassed type often go into the do it yourself mode as that fired maid fumes venom and works like a mafia agent against you poisoning the whole servant community destroying your harmony leaving you snapping at the whole world.
Although we loathe them so much surely there is one aspect that we should all learn from them their undeterred unity the kind of unity that can bring back the British and throw them out all over again. Strangely I see this unity only among maids rickshaw drivers and cooks who call it quits and come down to streets revolting against the smallest injustice meted to a peer. I wish the middle class imbibed this quality to fight against fascism thrown at us in the name of indirect democracy.
Although we Indians draw a lot of influence from the west, dependency on the servants is one aspect that we will never shun. Even with the advent of many latest technologies where markets are flooded with machines that work at the touch of a button we still cannot relinquish our Kanthabai s and Shantabai s, down South it is usually Gowrammas or Lakshmammas. Currently mine is a Snake amma meaning Nag amma whom I regard as an Ichhadhaari nag as she turns up as per her whims and fancies and works as per her terms and conditions.
We often do not rely on machines as the Kanthabais are much cheaper, more efficient and importantly don’t wear out, become obsolete or give a technical snag. Until yesterday they were usually thought about and treated like this but not any more slowly things are changing domestic workers are beginning to make their importance felt. They are no-nonsense maids meaning they will give back what they get. They keep our heads spinning on their fingertips.
There are many NGO s and rights activists fighting for their cause I appreciate that but I cannot help but think that they must be having a naïve and trouble-free maid servant which is why they are involved in such causes. Oh how I wish we the harassed mistresses also had an NGO’s shoulder to cry upon.
So beware when she skips work next time she might be attending some anti-mistress meeting in a workers’ union or complaining against you with an NGO.
In India 70% of the population is believed to be into agriculture but off late due to the rapid urbanization and poor earnings from agriculture farmers are quitting their family tradition and fast adopting the cosmopolitan culture of the cities with innumerable lucrative job offers more and more people illiterate and the semi literates are turning to cities and taking up jobs as domestic helps, cooks, drivers, security guards and cleaners at various malls, factories, retail outlets and urban homes. Today’s Kanthabais and Ramu Kakas are very clear that they do not want their children to tread on their paths and clearly understand the importance of education. There are many second generation helpers who have put their children in English medium private schools and trying hard to make ends meet.
Recently the legislation of the Minimum Wages Act for the domestic helpers adopted by a few states is a welcome measure but of little respite for them because it is the middlemen trafficking workers who is benefitting from it and making quick money as majority of workers are not even aware of this law. The ones directly hired as part-time helpers are better off than the full-time live in helpers who are often underpaid and treated like bonded slaves.
This law is flawed and crippled as there is no centralized legislation and monitoring every household is impossible. Even fixing a definite law is hard as each house is different in size with varying number of people and varying chores.
For the betterment of workers in unorganized sectors and for their social security the center has come up with pension scheme known as Swayalamban pension scheme that is sponsored by the center. Two states Haryana and Karnataka have announced a co-contributory scheme that would contribute an additional Rs.1200/pa along with the center’s contribution of Rs.1000/pa to the registered pension accounts of the unorganized workers under this scheme http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx?relid=69986
But unfortunately not many are aware of this and do not avail any benefit from it. So all thee moderate employers get your helper registered under this pension scheme.
It is certainly heartening to know that some legislation is brought about in this un-thanked job but not all apples are bad there are many employers who are silently supporting and aiding their domestic helps in their hour of need so any regulation brought about should lead to a win-win situation where workers’ demand of minimum wage, bonus, leaves are met with the employers’ demand of authenticity, accountability, notice period and professionalism like in any private sector where most of us work but get no protection against indolence and inefficiency.
Kanthabais are a monopolistic brand by themselves if you want some calm and peace in your life then
Bolo Kanthabai ki jai.