One of the dictionary meanings of pride is “consciousness of one’s own dignity”. Of prejudice is “preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience”. Well, I am not thinking of reviewing Jane Austen’s famous book by the same name. Nor am I turning to English grammar lessons to fill in my blog posts. The reason why I thought this caption for my post is based on a very relevant experience which I want to share with you.
Recently, we had been to a very hip and hep flea market.The place was filled with people casually strutting in designer clothes, designer shoes, designer sunglasses and selling other forms of designer stuff! After roaming around for quite some time, we sat down in the dining tents. The table next to us had a group of young women close to my age, who, needless to say were one among the designer wear group( not that I have anything against this, but what I wanted to stress upon is the fact that these were definitely people who had basic education,access to social media, television, newspapers and books). One among these had a small child of say about four years, sitting in a pram. Also a part of the entourage were two young servant girls, one to push the pram and one to hold on to all the shopping bags.
The women ordered a large amount of food and started to eat. The mother of the child (rather rudely) called on to the hired help(somehow I find the word “servant”, extremely creepy) to feed her son. As any child of four, the boy was restless in his pram and fussy due to the heat. The girl tried in vain to feed him, but was largely unsuccessful. The mother then asked the girl to chuck all the uneaten food in the waste bin. I cringed, but kept looking. Both the girls looked longingly at the food but did as was instructed. Then the mother gave some money to the girl. I was a little pacified that she was feeding them, but then I realised that she had sent them to buy a bottle of cola. Till everyone finished, both the girls stood next to the table. No one offered them a seat. (There were plenty of chairs around). The girls also did not think of it as out of place.They kept standing till the very end, when the mother and her friends finished, got up and took the child. Then, both the girls sat down on the lawn, opened their small tiffins and ate from them.
I consider myself very just and therefore was suitably upset at this gross injustice. I was fuming when I mentioned this to my husband. He just told me that I was an equal party to the injustice. The least I could do was to get up, take a chair and offer it to the girls.This took me aback. And made me sad. And question my sense of ‘just’ness.
It seemed to me that he was right. We have such deeply ingrained notions of how our domestic help should behave, that even despite all our understanding and education, we subconsciously consider ourselves somehow superior to them. There are small things which almost all of us practice.. eg. Not allowing the domestic help to sit on the sofas, expecting them to wait for us to serve them food which they have cooked for us in the first place, feeding them leftovers which we do not eat ourselves, not giving them a room in the house ( most end up sleeping in halls and corridors or kitchens), and expecting them to wait on our every whim!
And worse, most of our help even believe that this is what they deserve!None of them rebel. Even though we know it is wrong, we allow such things to continue. We excuse ourselves saying that we continue on with this practice because we cannot afford to upset everyone in the extended family(labelled in laws, parents, grannies and the like) or that the maid does not mind or that we have never asked the maid not to sit on the sofa. (But we didn’t ask her to sit on it either!) In the process, we become party to an important human rights violation!
Recent International labour organiztion(ILO) estimates based on national surveys and census in 117 countries, place the number of domestic workers at around 53 million. But experts say that due to the fact that this kind of work is often hidden and unregistered, the total number of domestic workers could be as high as 100 million. The ILO also states that 83% of domestic workers are women and many are migrant workers.In India itself, there are approximately 4.2 million domestic workers.To put things in perspective, this is the population of the whole of Bangalore!
There are no laws to protect their rights, no minimum wages, no minimum or maximum age limit, no freedom to express anger, frustration or any other emotion and no actual definition of what their work does not include!
Even people whom we have chosen to represent our country internationally, have been offenders this way. Though there was a huge hue and cry when IFS officer and doctor Devyani Khobragade was strip searched by the US officials, not many went into the fact that she had in fact committed a fraud by taking a servant disguised as family, probably so she could pay a lesser wage (the excuse being that anything she earns here would be more than what she earned in India), and made her to work really abnormal hours without respite even during times when she was ill! But there were only few protests in Sangeeta Richards favor(that is the maid-I bet not many knew her name either). So getting an education really makes no difference.
This took me back to Arvind Adiga’s “The white tiger” which tells a rags to riches story of a small town boy who works as a hired help. He ends up becoming a goon and exploiting people whom he had served, in spite! In short,he got turned from an decent person into a sociopath!
There is a concept in psychology called “learned helplessness”, which says that when someone is made to face trouble constantly without the sight of an end, over a period of time, the person learns to accept that problem without rebelling or trying to find a solution to it. In short, he becomes a zombie!
Sometimes, I feel that we are responsible for turning our household help into either sociopaths or zombies, just because of our pride and prejudice. No law can help unless the change come from within our hearts to accept them as our equals(sometimes superiors- my help can make better dosa batter than I can ever expect to!)and to give them the dignity that they deserve.
This post was because in my sense of misplaced pride that I, could not interfere in someone else’s affairs, I did gross injustice. If I can reduce the prejudice any one mind, I think I can consider it my repentance!