I am not a woman, neither a daughter nor a mother. I am a maid, who is someone else’s property. I work to make others’ lives easier. But look at my life, how I have been caught in the net. No timely money, no job security, no health aid, no leaves and no respect,” said 35-year-old Babita, who is a domestic help for past 15 years. She is a divorcee and has an eight-year-old boy who wipes cars as his part-time job. She was trafficked from Jharkhand and has been through several tough phases of life. Lakhs of such others are taken to cities like Delhi on the false promise of good jobs and later live lives of endless compromise. Millennium Post tried to unearth the reason why most of the maids are forced to live an insecure life despite their industrious temperament.
ORPHANED PLACEMENT AGENCIES
The root cause of exploitation of tribal people (mostly women/children) and those hailing from rural areas who turn to domestic works is that there is no hold on the placement agencies running in the national capital. Delhi has emerged as a hub and a transit point for child and human trafficking through placement agencies. Around 2,500 placement agencies are operating in the city, out of which only countable agencies, about 370 are registered under the Delhi Shops and Establishment Act and remaining agencies are flourishing illegally.
Hence the remaining 2,100 agencies could strongly be doubted for being “trafficking agencies”.
In India, domestic work is not recognised as ‘labour’ and hence they have no rights such as fixed working hours, weekly offs, medical benefits or paid leaves. They are not included in any labour law or Bill that includes The Workman’s Compensation Act of 1923, The Weekly Holiday Act of 1942, The Maternity Benefit Act of 1961, The Personal Injury Act of 1963, and Gratuity Act of 1978, Minimum Wages Act, etc.
NEXUS WITH DELHI POLICE
It has been learnt that Delhi police is well aware of these agencies which are registered on Just Dial and other social networking sites which supply domestic workers with lucrative deals. In most of the cases it has found that many agencies do not have registered offices, they are being operated from a single room. Also, these agencies do not mention their address on the contact details option as they keep changing their places. The beat constables take bribe on a monthly basis and ensure them safety.
Places like Sangam Vihar and Ambedkar Nagar are the hub of these illegal agencies. So far no action has been taken against the cops involved in camouflaging them, and the agencies that are violating the laws.
A senior police officer said, “There is no law to regulate the maid placement agencies. So even if we are aware of them we cannot book them under any section of Law or Labour Act. A case against these agencies or a person is framed only when the maid complaints about it. In most cases, the maid does not seek the help of the police.”
TRAFFICKING VIA NGOs
Certain NGOs are running human trafficking industry in the capital. One reason for this conspiracy of silence is that the traffickers are linked with some powerful people-owned-NGOs that make noises in the metros ostensibly on behalf of the victims. It helps in covering up the sinister role of NGOs in this industry that bring people from remote villages in exchange for maids to Delhi.
The affiliated “agencies” in the metros collect placement fees up to Rs 50,000 per maid from the household that hires them. In between the point of “recruitment” and the point of placement there are intermediaries that “sell”, transfer, and move the young, vulnerable person through the supply chain. Money is exchanged at each stage.
Increasingly, these agencies have become a very significant factor in encouraging internal migration. In the arena of domestic work, organised trafficking takes place as villagers living in the cities are returning to their native places to bring more women, girls and children into this labour sector. In Delhi, hundreds of agencies which sell domestic workers exist. Once the girls arrive in the city, their wages are typically locked or they go unpaid in order to pay the traffickers a fee for securing placement.
If the girls decide to migrate on their own, they are still in danger of falling into the clutches of agents. In Delhi, scores of recruiting agents wait at the railway stations for the girls to arrive from villages. They either employ the girls directly or they hand them over to local agents for a commission. The girls are often locked in a dark room without ventilation until a job is found. These agents then take commissions from the girls and the employers. The girls find themselves in a situation of bonded labour. Some agents arrange with the employers that the girls’ salaries be paid to the agents. The money is then held for a year and deposited in the agents’ bank accounts, depriving the girl of her money and the opportunity to earn interest. They are forced to work under the recruiting agent, who does not follow up on the girls’ situations once jobs are secured.
URGE FOR 21st CENTUARY MAID
The nuclear family and the working wife are the major reasons why a family needs a domestic worker. With the average Delhiite travelling more and being exposed more, the requirements have changed.
These days, there is a high demand for well-trained domestic help. The customers are ready to pay extra for maids who understand English, care for hygiene, cook continental food and handle hi-tech home appliances, to mention a few. The average pay is between Rs 9,000-Rs 18,000 per month depending on skill sets, locations and working hours. Salaries for workers with better skill sets ranges between Rs 12,000-Rs 25,000.
“It is a very difficult task to select a maid, as in some way it influences children. A maid spends more time with the child as compared to the parents. They must take pride in their appearance as it helps maintain a pleasant atmosphere at home,” said Anuradha, an architect. She had recently hired a well trained 25-year-old domestic help after rejecting half a dozen of maids.
DEMAND AND SUPPLY GAP
There is a huge gap between demand and supply of domestic workers. Thus, this is where exploitation and corruption begins. According to a survey done by an NGO, more than 85,000 maids are required in Delhi-NCR. To fill the demand and supply gap few players are trafficking children, mainly females, from their native places by making false promises.
On the other hand, there are many more people associated to various NGOs in Delhi and other neighbouring states who work day and night to turn this largely unorganised home staff industry into professional work force. Ratan Singh, of perfectdomestic.com said, “Our mobilisation teams work in villages and slums. Trainers provide lessons in soft-skills, personal hygiene, etiquette, communication skills, and personal security to ensure they are ‘work-ready’. We test their aptitude and document their specific skill sets.”
“For experienced domestic workers we provide courses designed to help increase their skills such as housekeeping, childcare, cooking, cleaning, health and hygiene, etiquette, continental cooking, kitchen hygiene and safe food storage, events training, besides butler and party skills,” he added.
Cruelties on domestic workers always make news. Ironically, the atrocities against the domestic helps in most of these cases are committed by those enabled for social and upward mobility. With the rapid increase in the demand for full-time maids, the crime graph against these live-in domestic helps has also gone up. As per the recent data of Delhi police, in 2014 more than 63 cases of assault with domestic helps have been registered at various police stations.
According to official estimates provided by the NGO Shakti Vahini, there are nearly 13.2 million child workers, of whom 20 per cent are engaged in household chores. Poor families often sell their children to agents and placement agencies, which place them in households and charge a one-time fee as high as Rs 25,000, in addition to claiming their monthly payments over a certain period.
‘Domestic workers, especially the full-time maids, are often treated as “sub-human’’ beings. That is why their employers behave with them in an abnormal manner,’ said Pooja, a student of psychology.
On the contrary, in many cases, crimes are done by maids themselves. Several times, maids are caught in connection to burglary, robbery and murder cases. At times, the trafficked girls who want to free themselves from this racket often flee from the houses and take away some cash or other
valuables to either return to their native place or to start a new life.
It was shocking to learn that there are many illegal placement agencies who train their maids to make handsome commissions. In many cases, one single maid is transferred to many houses and is being advised to run away from each house after two months.
Whenever a customer, in search of a domestic help, approaches placement agencies, they are supposed to give commission to the agent along with an advance month salary. But if the maid leaves the house, the agent does not return the token money and the commission.
However, they provide another maid at a discounted price. As it is pre-planned the maid returns to
the agency and repeats the act elsewhere.