Maid in Bangalore

Maid in Bangalore

Managing a household successfully in Bangalore is critically dependent on a reliable domestic help. So much so that the daily schedule of a household - in a working couple’s house or otherwise - centres on the working schedule of domestic helps.

With greater disposable income, the middle and upper middle classes have begun to hire multiple domestic helps. It is now common to find households employ a part-time and full-time maid, apart from drivers. The new-found convenience has brought its share of problems as well.

There are complaints from both sides on the quality of service as well as the salaries offered. Earlier, the only mode of hiring would be through word of mouth.  This used to work relatively well, as initially the maids would work under supervision and were later trusted enough to allow them to work on their own.

“I leave my keys with the maid servant as my husband and I leave for work by the time she arrives,” says Aditi, a HR professional. The maid has been working for Aditi for the past 11 years. But that is a luxury these days.

Sometimes, employers who hire helps without any idea of their antecedents become victims of crime. Theft is the most common complaint. “There is little we can do to establish whether a help is trustworthy or not. We have to take a chance as it is not possible to lock everything away,” says Suvarna, a homemaker who took three months to find a regular help when she moved to Bangalore three years ago.

In some cases, employers feel they are being held hostage. “I am actually a little scared of her. If I ask her to do something a little extra, she threatens to quit,” says Madhulika, who vows to rely on home appliances rather than domestic helps. Cashing in on the trust deficit, private companies have come up promising hired help, be it a nanny, a full-time servant or a driver for a fixed salary, who are trustworthy and are available in a jiffy.

The other side

While this is the facet of life that most people are familiar with, the underbelly that never gets exposed is the quality of life led by the helps themselves. Only a small per cent get decent wages, off days and paid medical expenses. There are very few houses that would even agree to give a day off in a week to a housemaid. While there have been complaints of demands for more salary, what employers fail to realise is that even the maids are victims of the same escalating cost of living as their employers.

As unorganised workers, domestic helps have no platform of their own to air their grievances. Says Sister Celia, Co-ordinator of Karnataka Domestic Workers' Union, “The wages are low and if the workers ask a weekly off, the employers question whether (maids) are government employees. There is absolutely no dignity of labour. They are hired for specific tasks, but the workload increases quickly without any commensurate hike in salary.”

Medical expenses

Expenses incurred on health cut a huge hole in the pockets of domestic helps. “A few broadminded people pay for their maids’ medical expenses, but such cases are very few,” Celia says. She suggests formation of a welfare board for the domestic workers to look into their problems.

In most cases, a month’s salary from one house goes for a single blood test. In many instances, the domestic helps are single, separated or divorced women who run the family on their incomes alone.

Shivamma, a maid in Vidyaranayapuram, used to work for four households. Living with her mother and two children, Shivamma barely managed to sustain when she contracted tuberculosis. Only one of her employers came forward to help her with her medical expenses, but personal loans were the only way she could take care of her household.

Back to work after eight months, Shivamma knows that she has to struggle for at least another three years to repay her loans. And ensuring education for her two children till then is certainly a daunting task. Caught in a vicious cycle, women like Shivamma work in multiple households, stretching themselves beyond limits, physical and mental - to make ends meet.

* The quality of life led by domestic helps is one of the grey areas of the issue.
* Employees say domestic helps often hold them hostage and there’s little they can do about it.
* Police say people should verify the antecedents of domestic helps before
hiring them.
* People don’t have to verify the antecedents of a domestic help themselves as professional agencies have come up for the purpose.
* Theft is the most common offence committed by domestic helps. Police say most servants steal money in small sums to avoid being caught.

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