Maid in Hell!

Published first in Woman Today July issue

They are there everywhere, in large numbers… yet you rarely ever notice them.

At the mall, on the corniche, at restaurants, parks… their sheer state of desperation seems to render them invisible. Nobody seems to care. It is taken for granted, a given. That’s their lot to suffer in silence, since to complain would probably only worsen an already bad situation.

The compulsive need to be served, the desire for servitude, is beyond comprehension. Is it really infra dig to carry your own tiny bag of flimsy lingerie, to wipe the crumbs off your child’s dress, to carry your handbag from your desk to the car or to say please and thank you to those who serve us. We are not even talking about heavy lifting, merely basic courtesies.

The lack of dignity of labour in the region (as in most parts of Asia) is probably the root cause of the problems faced by those in jobs considered ‘menial’.

The worst of the lot is probably the housemaid. She survives on 4-5 hours of sleep a day, works without an off, performing duties ranging from housekeeping to babysitting, sometimes a punching bag for stress relief, and an outlet for unsuppressed lust.

Voiceless. Powerless.

Though in a marginally less humiliating situation, for those in the service industry — counter sales, waitressing, nannies — warding off harassment, both sexual and verbal, is all in a day’s work.

It is not uncommon to see children barely out of their knickerbockers use language on their ‘help’ that would put seamen to shame, and some don’t hesitate to assault the ‘help’ with their footwear or a ball or closest available object, to make a point, or simply get their attention.

If this sounds like an exaggeration, spend a day at a fast food joint, or roam the malls with the intent to observe not to spend, or just spend an evening at the park.

Or read Qatar’s NHRC report (see below).

Living in a place of plenty, where life is easy, can be as numbing an experience as living in place of strife. We learn to ignore what is uncomfortable.

What I always wonder about is this: Even if you don’t care about the well-being of your maid, wouldn’t you care about how your child(ren) would be treated in your absence?

Would they be motivated enough treat the wards well? How deep would the temptation be to take out the anger against the parents on the children? Shouldn’t that fear, if nothing else, inspire the mistress/master of the household to behave with a degree of humanity?

I am sure there are stories dime a dozen of kind employers, and even of ‘ungrateful’ employees. However, the disadvantage invariably lies with the underdog, the one without rights or the power to claim it.

What can we do about setting right the injustices we see around us?

Is the NHRC approachable, and then, effective enough?



It’s Official!
The extract below from NHRC’s Fifth Annual Report On Human Rights in Qatar 2007, tells the tale as it is.
“d. Housemaids
The NHRC has studied the conditions of this category and observed
 Conditions are still the same;
 Complaints received by the NHRC refer to continuous compulsion of
housemaids to work for long hours without having the weekly day off, and that they are ill-treated, exposed to sexual harassment and other violations.
The NHRC has also detected that the Ministry of Labour does not
receive complaints submitted by housemaids claiming that the Labour Act is not applicable to them. This category does not have a quick mechanism for 67 their complaints except the Judiciary; however, they are exposed to some violations as a result of long litigation procedures.
The NHRC thus recommends their inclusion in Labour Act, or passing
an ad-hoc legislation.
Moreover, the NHRC recommends adding a new competence to the
Labour Department to receive such complaints.
e. Human Trafficking
Human trafficking includes making use of weaknesses of people.
In this respect, the NHRC has detected many complaints of workers
and housemaids, most of which are about payment delays, withholding
passports of expatriates and exploiting them to work for long hours without payment (overtime).
The NHRC has recorded a case of an Indian housemaid accompanied
by her sponsor to Saudi Arabia where he left her in a desert region working for one of his relatives for more than 6 months. The NHRC phoned the sponsor and returned the maid home after she had been fully paid.”

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