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Enslavement in land of the free

South Asian women from migrant labour classes who work as domestic helps in countries as diverse as Saudi Arabia and the United States of America, often end up having similar scarred experiences. The latest case, which, presently, is hogging international headlines, concerns an Indian-American millionaire, Annie George, and her Keralite maid Valasmma Mathai, and exposes the pervasive discrimination that the women from the labour classes continue to face. According to the prosecutors, Mathai was being used as a help, cook and baby-sitter for almost 17 hours a day, all through the week, and wasn’t even paid all of her salary. A 12-member jury reached a verdict that George was guilty of ‘enslaving’ Mathai and ‘harboring an illegal alien’ for over five years.

Ironically, the law of the land refuses to acknowledge the human rights violation that has been happening in this case, as Mathai was systematically exploited as cheap labour. Being an undocumented immigrant, Mathai could not pursue legal or police help and seek redress. Despite Barack Obama’s forthcoming project to legalise illegal immigrants in the US, the prejudice against the refugees of globalisation is deep and entrenched. The food and hospitality industry is particularly culpable in this context, as it is run by the invisible labour of the innumerable underpaid, overworked helps from the working classes of South Asia, Eastern Europe and the Gulf. 
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