BENGALURU : The viral #MeToo campaign, which has covered almost every industry, has missed one group of women - domestic workers. Sheela (name changed), who works in Indiranagar's 2nd stage, is a 34-year-old mother of two, who says she had faced harassment at her workplace frequently. “I was working for a family of three. One day, the wife and child were not home, and the husband would walk by the kitchen and touch me, pretending it was accident. I work in three other houses in the area. If I complain, no one would believe me and I will lose my job - my only income,” she says. Sheela does not wish to report the matter as it could affect her livelihood.
According to Geeta Menon, co-founder of Stree Jagruti Samiti, who has been in charge of the Domestic Workers Rights Union, the number of cases — unheard and heard — are alarmingly high. “Society does not consider them as part of the work force, and there are grey areas when it comes to the employer-employee relationship,” she says. “Instances when the employee says ‘bend and do the work’ or calls the maid to the room for a massage, are often seen in this sector, since this group is vulnerable,” Geeta says.
Geeta recalls an incident from eight years ago, where a 12-year-old girl was raped and had got pregnant. Although details are vague, Geeta says, “The wife would not take action so they sent the girl back to her village and dumped her there before we could even reach her,” and adds that abuse is both emotional and physical in this sector.
Young girls between the ages of 13 and 17 years are hesitant to speak out to their employer’s wives, Geeta says. Sheela shares an incident where she heard a mother taking her 17-year-old daughter to work with her, and over there, the teenager was forced to watch porn with the employer. “In these cases, the mother would have been working there for years for a family and they trust that the employer would treat their daughter well,” says Sheela.
Last year, an incident at a renowned apartment complex in Whitefield saw domestic workers being forced to walk through the basement to enter their employer’s apartment. They were subjected to eve-teasing by drivers in the basement. “We found out that a girl was raped and murdered by three men in one apartment, and the mother was paid a hefty sum for her silence, which was used to take the body back to their village,” says Geeta.