Thursday, May 19, 2011

Minimum wage for the housemaids, a long awaited Bill

Despite all said and done, in India-middle class household will be completely paralyzed without helping hands from the housemaids. Such is the acute pain of dependence once my sister told me, she is not worried for her poor health but if her kajer masi ( housemaid) could not report due to illness, all hell will break lose!! It is difficult to think of a middle class Indian doing all the domestic chores
by himself which is otherwise the most common scenario for any citizen in the advanced countries.

Over the time, following the rules of free market, their wages have soared in the metros. In the affluent cities like Delhi or Bangalore, housemaids charge between 4000/ to 6000/ a month.In less advanced areas like Kolkata or Bhubeneshwar, wages can be close to a thousand. In the village towns, it can be even as less as 300/ to 500/ per month. While I have seen this whole spectrum, one crude reality remains the most notorious apprehension against the maids everywhere. Most of their masters think that they are irresponsible, unpunctual and lesser of a human being just because they could not make to the work occasionally. I am not sure, whether their masters ever asked them whether she has been forced to put sleeping pills to her son's breakfast so that she can come to work!

But that is another side of being Indians! Even if class consciousness exists in all the societies of the world, in India, it is exploded out of proportion. In Bengal, where the leftist ideals of equality and emancipation of the poor is held in high esteem among the intellectual mass, I have seen this division between the maids and the masters prevail exactly with the same propensity like any other state. While leftist Babu may preach for a classless society, he also can not think of a living without a housemaid cooking for him or cleaning his dishes. Leftist ideals in Bengal are more for romanticism, politics and poetry. It is not for a self evolution to act in a classless consciousness where he or she would be able to do all of his domestic works starting from cooking to cleaning. In that respect, I found monks in R K Mission are more leftist as they do all of their works without housemaids irrespective of their ranks.

However, this housemaid industry, if I am allowed to say so-is perhaps the largest industry in India. Where workers have no right, no vacation and no minimum wage.

Thankfully for the first time in Indian history, Sonia Gandhi is trying to bring a bill to enforce a minimum wage and vacation rule for these unorganized workers. I don't know how far it is possible to implement such labor law in India where even the organized labors do not get their PF and gratuity but the move and the gesture is welcome. Ironically, a strict imposition of the law can kill the housemaid market as minimum supporting wage may act as deterrent to the growth of this market. But question is-do we want the growth of this market when this kind of feudalism is a trait of less advanced country. Therefore even it is more likely that such a bill will lead to a symbolic protection of the poorest of the poor Indians, it would be a reminder to transit to a new social structure without maids. The reason here in USA, we respect all the professions has to do with the fact that every
American is learned to do all kinds of domestic work from cleaning to fixing of the roof from the very childhood.

A productive classless society in India will be born with that consciousness of respecting and learning all the manual works and not with the slogans of Leninism or Marxism. People of West Bengal already routed them out in favor of a very pragmatic political alliance. If the lefts in India can not have a better and pragmatic idea of how to organize the poorest of the poor labors, they may do better by joining the bandwagon of Sonia Gandhi to implement such labor reform which is long due in India!

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