They may have been elevated, in terms of politically correct vocabulary, from ‘servants’ to ‘maids’, and now as ‘domestic workers’. However, despite high-sounding intentions and some hesitant calls for progress, much remains to be done to improve the lot of this neglected and vulnerable workforce. Accurate numbers, an acceptable legal definition, protection by state enforcement agencies, and other such key ingredients for effective policy making remain elusive for this workforce, which has been chronically afflicted by official apathy.
In this Issue Brief, Neetha N., Professor, Centre for Women’s Development Studies, New Delhi, contextualises the reasons behind the continued neglect of India’s domestic workers. She draws attention to the socio-economic equations that result in an asymmetric balance of forces in this unique relationship between employer and employee, where the workplace is the former’s home and the latter’s workspace.
This imbalance is further aggravated by a form of patron-client relationship in employment, where other factors, such as caste, gender, vulnerability, internal work hierarchies, and weak or non-existent and unenforceable contractual obligations, are embedded. Consequently, the indispensable role played by domestic workers in the smooth functioning of many a household is matched by a persistent devaluation of the very nature of the job. Mere laws and policies, she emphasises, will remain statements of intent — and further evidence of state neglect — unless they draw from stakeholder consultations and lessons gained from the ground.
1. Neetha, N. 2021. Misconstrued Notions and Misplaced Interventions: An Assessment of State Policy on Domestic Work in India, Indian J Labour Econ, August 9, 64(3): 543–564. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8351567/].
2. NationalDomestic Workers’ Movement. 2021. Domestic Workers: The State of Domestic Workers in India.
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