(Written in 2016, during a fellowship experience in Hyderabad)
Shanti aunty is a sweet person, whenever i see her she has a smile on her face and a ever willing spirit to serve. She comes to office at 8 o’clock and silently works through the day. The second floor of the office is taken care of by her. She cleans the floors, mops it, then fills our water bottles, refills the water tanker, rubs the window pane till they sparkle and redoes this till 6 p.m.
Her day though doesn’t end here, she goes home, traveling for an hour or two and then cooks for her family, attends other chores and sleeps pretty late at night, only to get up in the morning for another hectic day.
For the major part you could ignore her, I mean she is like the tree on the bus stand. You stand underneath it, take shelter under its shadow but really don’t bother to ask as to where it gets its water or if it’s as healthy as it should be.
Many such people are working around us. Their labels have changed over the years from ‘slaves’ to ‘help’ to the sophisticated ‘housekeeping staff’ but what may not have changed a lot is the reality of their experience. Of course things have been better, they are paid, they have a weekly off, people don’t look down upon them (as much) but at the core there are issues, serious ones that need to be acknowledged and worked at.
Shanti aunty and many like her work for more than 10 hours a day. They have one day off in a week and their average salary for a month ranges from
7000–8000. It mostly does not include paid sick leaves neither are they insured. Thus whatever they earn is directly consumed and there is no guarantee of a secure life during their old age, unless and until they themselves save from the pittance they are paid.
Now the reality is that there will be people who will work for other people. One would need laborers to construct homes, one would nurses to help doctors, one would need interns do the back end work and we would need housekeeping staff to help us around with the chores. And it is also good that these jobs are there, as they are a mode of income for many people who have limited skills/opportunities. But does that mean we over work them? We suck the blood out of them and keep our businesses going? An easy answer would be — “but nobody forced them to work, they could choose not do it!” But life doesn’t give them these choices, they have to feed themselves and their family, live a descent life and push their family to a better future, so have to work.
I am glad that a lot of NGOs are coming with petitions against this and some layer of this system is shaking in other countries and India as well. But we have to consciously stop. The days of the Raj have long gone by and we are no more ‘babus’, some sort of equality needs to be established to build a brighter future for the country.