BENGALURU : We are made to clean their toilets, but when we want to use it, even in emergency situations, they don't let us. Being treated like untouchables, we're offered food in separate plates and tumblers. Those who are 'maddi' (orthodox) don't even allow us to touch the clothes that we ourselves have washed," says Pushpa, a domestic worker from Jayanagar.
Chitrakala points out to the injustice she faced at her work place. The domestic worker says, "In order to get rid of me, my employers accused me of stealing their mobile phone. They did not want any explanation from me and even filed an FIR against me. Later, when they found the phone and understood that I had not stolen it, they just asked me to forget about it. They did not withdraw the complaint."
These anecdotes raise concerns regarding their rights. Because of the lack of social or legal security, most domestic workers are overworked, underpaid and abused. As Geeta Menon, secretary of Stree Jagriti Samiti, puts it, "We are still in a situation where domestic workers are not even recognised as workers."
'We demand respect'
In spite of their contribution to the country's GDP, domestic workers have been left out of India's legal framework, and like Chitrakala's anecdote, they are often treated and branded as criminals.
In 2011, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) recognised domestic workers, and passed the Convention C 189 that stated 'decent work is domestic work'. India is a signatory to the Convention, and even though the 26 other countries that were signatories have ratified the Convention, India is yet to do so.
In hope of a legislative move that would protect their rights, the Karnataka Domestic Workers Union in Bengaluru and Belgaum have raised their demands in the Congress and JD(S) offices. They demand that the Convention be ratified, and that the legislature provide a strong legal framework to protect their rights.
About the recent meeting with the party workers, Menon says, "The party leaders took it seriously and promised to arrange for a meeting with the CM and deputy CM, and will see to it that it is raised in this assembly session. The Congress is even ready to take the matter to Delhi, to Rahul Gandhi."
She adds, "Our hope, if taken seriously at the national-level, the pressure will build for a quick, national legislation. For the dignity, recognition and social security of domestic workers in India."