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Blame-Game Always Begins With Us: Woes Of Domestic Workers In Noida’s Gated Societies

Blame-Game Always Begins With Us: Woes Of Domestic Workers In Noida’s Gated Societies

The ‘class’ of domestic workers has become an indispensable part of the urbanised society. Yet the increasing contempt they are often subjected to despite being the daily support to 'office-goers' is what we should perhaps ponder over.

Domestic helps often work under severe surveillance and scrutiny, and even then lack job security
Domestic helps often work under severe surveillance and scrutiny, and even then lack job security PTI file photo

Arati, a mother of four children, recently lost her job at four households over her son’s health. 

Arati, 32, is a domestic worker from Noida’s Hoshiyarpur village. Her son has been suffering from liver dysfunction for a month now. Having to run from pillar to post to get the right diagnosis, she was unable to be regular with her work and she had requested a couple of leaves with the hope of empathy.

However, the reality is different in the residential societies of Noida. In a month, Arati was fired from four households across different residential complexes in Noida’s Sectors 55 and 70.

“Even though they fired me without any prior notice, I had requested some extra pay because of my situation. Kuch nahi mila, didi (I got nothing, sister). I begged and cried but they asked me to leave within two-three days,” said a visibly worried Arati. 

Now Arati, who works for four households in Noida Sector 50, struggles to manage with the meagre income of her and her husband, who works as a gardener in another residential complex in Sector 28.

The situation has once more been a deja vu for Arati and many like her —of Covid-19 times— when scores of migrant workers lost jobs. Two years after the initial Covid-19 lockdown, certain realities in the high-rise, gated societies of Delhi-National Capital Region keep domestic helps in constant fear of losing their jobs yet again.

“Ek din bina boley chutti to naukri se bahar (One day I dare to take an off without prior information, I am fired),” said 28-year-old Renuka, an inhabitant of Gijhore in Noida.

The mother of three children, Renuka, works for eight households and makes about Rs 24,000 per month in Noida’s Sector 62. However, with an ailing husband at home and an ailing sister to look after back in her village in Dimha in Bihar’s Bhagalpur, Renuka often fears that a day’s mistake might cost her livelihood and along with that, put the lives of those dependent on her at stake.

“We, too, have our own set of emergencies arising. We work seven days a week, even during the festive season. However, we can never point that out like others because that is how it has been always with us. Is there anyone to speak for our miseries?” said Renuka.

Renuka, who has to send about Rs 6,000 at home, can manage only one week off every five to six months to visit her village. “And even that comes at a cost. I have to work extra before going on leave and the same follows after I return. Those two weeks before and after make me tired beyond what my body can probably take,” added Renuka.

The voices echo in the backdrop of a series of horrific incidents, the most recent being of a suspended Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, Seema Patra, who was arrested for forcibly keeping her tribal domestic help  at her home and exploiting her. Patra had allegedly kept Sunita, her help, captive in her residence in Ranchi's posh Ashok Nagar area for several years. Patra was suspended by BJP after a video  Sunita, narrating her ordeal, went viral on social media with demands for Patra's arrest.

At the hospital, 29-year-old Sunita said that she was beaten up whenever she made a mistake while working. 

This one incident is probably a scratch on the surface of the uneven employer-domestic help dynamics in India. They are a showcase of how the upward-moving middle classes, with nuclear families, are heavily dependent on a sect of people that is struggling to secure their families financially and medically. And such a growing dependence seems to be slowly blinding the residents, where they seemingly forget that their demands often become threatening for the domestic workers who feel their services have been reduced to “slavery”.

In another instance, Kamla, who works as a cook at a residential complex in Noida Sector 50, recalled how security guards would check the purses of the domestic workers entering the society following a complaint of theft inside a flat. 

“It was outright harassment and severe breach of our privacy. Instructions were given by the residential committee to show what we were carrying before we entered the complex and show what we were ‘taking’ while we leave the premises,” said Kamala, a resident of Hoshiyarpur.

Renuka, too, recalled an incident from 2019, where she was subjected to allegations of theft. 

“One Sunday morning, when an entire family of five people were at home, they were openly discussing in front of me how closets must be locked because certain people cannot be trusted inside the home,” said Renuka.

She added that the statement followed after the grandmother in the house “was apparently” not finding her diamond earring and “the easy blame always comes on the domestic help”.

Itni aukat nahi ki kisi ka heera utha lungi. Mehant aur imandari ke kamaye hotey hain, chori se nahi (I don’t have the audacity to steal a diamond! My earning comes from hard work and respect, not by stealing),” said Renuka, who was staying in a servant quarter in the society then.

The concept of ‘servants quarter’ has been quite a common one across posh residential complexes. And this clearly exhibits how the ‘class’ of domestic workers has become an indispensable part of the urbanised society. Yet the increasing disrespect it’s often subjected to despite being the daily support of the ‘office-going’ classes is what we should perhaps ponder over.

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