My ebook: Journeys with the caterpillar

My ebook
Journeys with the caterpillar: Travelling through the islands of Flores
and Sumba, Indonesia
" is available at
this link

Monday, May 25, 2009

On the question of employing a maid

Among several of my quirks is an obstinate refusal to employ maids or domestic help. Why? This is because of my discomfort in employing someone to clean the dirt or filth arising out of my living. Many including my relatives and friends have objected to this logic. The all too familiar and singular though characteristically middle-class argument being that this is beneficial to the maid as she can make a living out of it. On the face of it, that seems like a fair enough logic. Just that I refuse to partake in this magnanimous bourgeois enterprise to make the world a better place.

For why then did we ban manual scavenging? Why then does a man working on a hand-pulled rickshaw strike a chord in many of us as being inhuman? What then is wrong with child labour? And why did the conservative souls then spit at prostitution anyway? Of course, in all the above instances, the service being rendered in return for payment is much worse than simple domestic help in the scale of dignity. But even though the maids don’t get as much scorn from the rest of the society for doing their service as say a prostitute or a manual scavenger would do, the truth is that they are indeed at the receiving end of having to live a subordinate and less significant existence to that of their employer. Even in most mild-mannered employer households, the maid eats after the employing family has eaten. It is perfectly acceptable for the maid to sleep in a makeshift bed in one corner of the house. She is rarely allowed to sit in the sofa which she herself cleans every day. No one would sacrifice his favorite show on television because of another show that the maid likes. Her wishes, her happiness and her comfort are always secondary to that of his employer. And I am not even mentioning the instances of abuse which they have to encounter.

But why, in such a seemingly usual employer-employee transaction relationship, does such master-slave relationship creep in? According to me, it’s because she has to make her living by virtue of cleaning the employer’s filth, the dirt from his clothes, the grub from his plates, and his nose-shit from the floor. Such a relationship where one person has been decimated to clean off the filth of another person automatically results in a contemptuous relationship, no matter how high the monetary compensation in return.

So then what do we do with the maids if some people like me refuse to employ them on such grounds? For someone like me, he can just refuse to employ them and carry on with life as usual; for in the end the sun will engulf the earth and wipe out everything in 4 billion years. Or the more charitable ones with a belief in inevitable determinism of human history may decide to rather get involved in the erosion of the causes that leads to a person picking up the role in the first place; investing in education, training and social support for the maids or would-be maids is a good start for them. For the rest, a little more compassion and respect for such heroic individuals, torn away from their roots, their family, and their self-respect; would not take much.

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