Home Work: Imagining a New Deal with Domestic Workers
In this session Rohini moderates a conversation that uncovers both the problems and the possibilities in the relationship between employer and worker. The panels attempts to flip the lens so that we can see the employers’ households from the eyes of the domestic worker; explores whether their rights are well understood and where the law stands. They also try to understand the limitations faced by employers, who have to worry about their own economic security. They then discuss whether the relationship between the worker who enters the most intimate spaces of elite households and the employer who often toggles between familiarity and aloofness needs to be re-framed, and how.
Geeta Menon, Amita Baviskar, Alok Prasanna and Vikram Rai in conversation with Rohini Nilekani.
0:00:01 Rohini: Hello everybody, thank you so much Ravi, thank you BIC. Today, Ravi got to go back to his previous, previous alter as a market research guy from Feedback Consulting. Thank you for that poll. It was most interesting. So here, we are again where BIC has created a really marvelous virtual platform just like their beautiful physical property here in Bengaluru. And thank you all for embracing the future and we’re all valiantly trying to do that. So, thank you all for joining us on this virtual show once again and thank you to all our YouTube viewers as well.
0:00:41 Rohini: So today of course as you know, we are addressing the issue of domestic workers and employers. This is a topic that all of us talk about a lot all the time in our homes and everywhere, but it rarely gets a chance to be aired in a structured manner in public, which is why it was very important for me to have this discussion because society does need to deepen the discourse on this as it involves a majority of the people and households in any city. One out of 25 women workers around the world is employed as domestic labor. Just in Bangalore alone, we have four lakh domestic workers. In India, we have about four million, most of these are women. And as you know, they work in houses big and small, apartment complexes, bungalows, small tenements, by themselves, with co-workers. They cook, they clean, they iron, they take out the garbage, and they do much more.
0:01:37 Rohini: Many of them take real pride in their work and most of them really love the children that they have to take care of. They are in the household’s most intimate spaces and to them, it’s members must seem like gold fish in a bowl, yet it is the most vexatious and complicated of relationships in the world of labor. And especially in India, because there is a very unequal power structure where the employer holds all the cards and yet often the employer himself or herself feels like a victim or feels wronged or feels in the clutches of the worker, and we’re going to explore that. And neither party seems to be fully aware of the rights and the laws around domestic work in terms of wages, leave, entitlement, and other things.
0:02:36 Rohini: And domestic workers usually don’t have a written contract. They don’t have any pension scheme. The state has pretty much left them alone and they do not get entitlements from the state. So, at the work place which is somebody else’s home, they are neither like other workers who come into our home spaces which is the carpenter, the electrician, or the plumber and nor are they like family or guests. So, they have to live in some kind of twilight zone between informal and formal, between familiar and unfamiliar and that kind of can keep changing just any time at all. And employers too find the issue of domestic help very tricky. How much should you pay for what service? Can there be flexibility? How much leave is right? How do you treat the staff? Should we be friendly, should we not? What… Should they eat the same food, sit at the same table, share the same bathrooms? What is right? What is wrong? What needs to change and how? So, the good news is that the lockdown has helped all of us understand a lot more about ourselves and our absent staff and the societies that we live in. We know now two things, we are capable of cleaning our own homes but we also know how much drudgery, tedium, and hard work is involved.
0:03:55 Rohini: So this is both good and bad for domestic workers because employers maybe feeling a little more self-sufficient, but also very good for the domestic workers because we know exactly now, very starkly, what the value of their work is. Social media is full of jokes about the… And self-deprecation about the bygone era, and stand-up comedian Deepika Mhatre who as in the daytime is a maid herself has gone viral and a lot of people are learning from her holding up a mirror to the employer and also shinning a torchlight on her own world. So, how will things shape up in the future? Will households start doing more work, buy more labour-saving devices like the West began to do or will we be ready, Indians be ready to understand the value and importance of the domestic worker and refashion the contract with them in a positive way? We will be discussing all these and more with my very excellent panel. We will look at the law with Alok. We will better understand the perspective of the workers from Geeta Menon. We will get a clearer glimpse of what happens inside RWAs and the households with Vikram, and we will get… Whom I’m I leaving out?
0:05:14 Rohini: Of course, we will get a 100,000 foot perspective on culture and sociology from Amita. So with that excellent panel, let me quickly tell you in this 90-minute discussion what you can expect. Right after I finish we will show you a five-minute clip of some voices that we have recorded in the field of domestic workers speaking about their issues. And after that each panelist will get exactly five minutes to present their point of view. I will then conduct an interactive session with them and then I will keep a sharp eye out for all your questions which you will send in writing and I will field them on your behalf to our panelists. Right at the end, we’ll do another very quick poll of one question before we close. So, lets dive right into it. I am going to ask Geeta to please start first and give us her perspective from all her work. No, I’m sorry. We are first going to turn to Raghu to show the five minute clip that we have prepared for you. Raghu, please take it over.
0:14:43 Rohini: Alright, thank you very much Raghu and Lekha for putting that together. And now, I’d like to turn to Geeta. We’ve heard these voices from the field. Please tell us about your experience working with this sector, and what you would like to say to all of our viewers?
0:15:00 Geeta: Thank you, Rohini. Thank you everyone for inviting me on this panel. And this technology is very annoying for me, but I will try my best. The work-from-home syndrome, you called it home work [0:15:16] ____.
0:15:24 Rohini: We are having a little problem with your audio, Geeta.
0:15:27 Geeta: Okay.
0:15:28 Rohini: Just talk a bit slower, please.
0:15:30 Geeta: Okay, yeah. The work from home that was introduced after the lockdown is different meaning for the domestic worker. That means that [0:15:53] ____.
0:15:54 Raghu: Geeta, I think you’re shaking your head, therefore, we are losing you from time to time.
0:15:57 Geeta: Okay.
0:16:00 Raghu: So we don’t have you in one place. Thank you so much.
0:16:06 Geeta: Hello?
0:16:07 Rohini: We can hear you now.
0:16:10 Geeta: Yeah, good. So, I won’t repeat again what I said but the lockdown has exposed us to many things, has taught us many lessons and I hope the lessons stay. And your survey, the survey very clearly showed that 64% of domestic work done by domestic workers has changed, which is a very welcome [0:16:34] ____. But I would just like to say that their voices reveal their conditions, and they are suffering.
0:16:44 Rohini: I am really sorry. I am really sorry, but we are not… You’re breaking up too much. Can you speak a little slower and stay very steady, because we really don’t want to miss what you’re saying. We can’t hear you at all now. I think you are on mute.
0:17:06 Geeta: Yeah.
0:17:06 Rohini: Yes.
0:17:07 Geeta: So, the voices of the workers… Can you hear me now?
0:17:11 Rohini: Yes.
0:17:11 Geeta: The voices of the workers have revealed their conditions. So, I am not going into that. The lockdown has taught us many lessons, and I hope that it will last. [0:17:24] ____.
0:17:26 Rohini: Okay, Geeta, we seem to have a problem with the audio, we’ll do a check, check on the site so you can come back later.
0:17:40 Geeta: Okay.
0:17:40 Rohini: Actually, I’m sorry about that. Raghu, will you work with her on the audio separately, please?
0:17:44 Raghu: Yes, I’ll do that.
0:17:46 Rohini: In the meantime, I’m going to switch now to Alok. Alok, can you take your five minutes now to tell us what is the state of the law? What other countries have done in this sector? And enlighten us for the next five minutes. Thank you.
0:18:03 Alok: So, thanks Rohini. And I really hope to be able to refer what Geeta had said, but let me make three very broad points here. One is that laws cannot substitute for organization, okay. So, in a sense, in as much as laws can recognize rights, it can… Laws can recognize certain, provide certain procedures, certain remedies and certain mechanisms to address grievances, they cannot replace unionization and they’re probably built on top of a certain level of unionization among workers. If you actually think back to our historical understanding of labour laws, and I’ll take a small deviation here and mention a very important point.
0:18:45 Alok: Our labour laws imagine the man as the worker, and it comes from the terms used also. The term used for the longest time in our labour laws is ‘workman’, right? And workman imagines that the person for whom we’re making this law is a man, who’s going out to work in a factory outside his home, in somebody else’s commercial industrial establishment and who has a capacity to do X, Y and Z to reach that place. Our laws do not even imagine women as being part of the workforce. Now, in a sense, and this is still the organized part of our workforce, yes, women have now been included in the workforce, the definition of workman includes them, also, but I’m talking about the imagination of the law. The imagination of the law is built on a certain social understanding of who is a worker. So when I say that laws are needed, I need to say that laws should sort of follow downstream from a certain kind of organization which can help women take advantage of the laws in the first place. And I sort of hoped that Miss Geeta Menon would talk a little bit about the organization that she has worked with, as well as the stellar work that they have done.
0:19:53 Alok: The second point that I sort of want to make about the law, before we go into international examples is that they should facilitate such unionization. It can’t just be that, “Oh okay, there are these organizations, we just make laws they can use.” If you see one of the first legislations to protect labour rights in India was a Trade Unions Act. And the Trade Unions Act expressly removed certain difficulties that trade unions used to face, when they used to collectively bargain with employers. In that way, I think there is a need for the law to not just say, “Let there be unionization”. Now to be fair, there was a draft policy which was mentioned a year ago in 2019, and that did say that we will try and recognize trade unions or any unions and organizations which involve domestic workers, but we haven’t yet seen the draft law. So we don’t know for sure.
0:20:43 Alok: Which brings me to my third point, which is that these laws have to be local. It is fine to look at international example. Mexico has a fairly progressive law. I don’t want to go into too much into detail, but the international labour organization which has an international definition of who’s a domestic worker, works at home full time and not just a one-off exercise, has sort of tried to understand the history of this legislation. I think Austria was one of the first in 1920. But my suggestion, and my point about the laws, is that they have to be local. You might need a law for Bangalore. BBMP might be the best persons to make the law, or if not, the state of Karnataka because there’s no, in as much as there’s a common definition, when even if we just heard the voices of the women domestic workers, we saw their conditions were very different. They all did very different kinds of work in different households. So the legislation that we’re gonna talk about has to be something that addresses a very local concern. So I’ll just end there at the moment and I’ll bring a couple of points in as the discussion goes forward.
0:21:46 Rohini: Just… Alok since you have one and a half more minutes…
0:21:50 Alok: Sure.
0:21:52 Rohini: Just tell us a little bit about the international standards on this…
0:21:58 Alok: Okay.
0:21:58 Rohini: And the difference between live ins and part time workers, if you can shed some light. You have one and a quarter minute left.
0:22:05 Alok: No problem. So, what I just wanna talk about is that there’s an international labour organization convention called C189 in 2011, which India has adopted among other countries, talking about household employment and workforce and so on. Now, when we talk about full-time employment, it doesn’t mean that if a person works for one hour at my house, they are not full-time employment. They could be working for six other houses and that’s sort of what was mentioned by Saudi domestic workers also. There are two broad kinds of models here. One is a full-time live-in worker, that this person is also domestic worker. They are living and working with their employer in their house, so they’re as much entitled to rights. So there’s a problem in India were we think that they are to be ” treated as part of family” and that never happens.
0:22:47 Alok: On the other hand there are also workers who prefer to work in different houses during the course of the day. So they want to be able to take one to two hours in different houses and in a given locality or in a given apartment and they need as much protection as well. Now, exact there will be some differences in the detail. We find that a lot of live-in workers tend to come from outside the state. So this is also another problem that the law does not acknowledge. We don’t know how many domestic workers there are. So whatever definition we apply, the first task of creating a definition is to actually conducting a survey of some sort, to find out how many people fall within this net in the first place. And then we sort of try and figure out what can be the legal protections that can be offered for these workers.
0:23:29 Rohini: Right. Thank you very much Alok. Of course we’re gonna come back to you. Geeta please unmute yourself. We’re gonna try again. Maybe you can keep your video off and though we won’t be able to see your face, I hope we’ll be able to hear you clearly. Alok, you could mute yourself now. Geeta please go ahead.
0:23:48 Geeta: Yeah. So, I’m back. So I’m back again. Can you hear me?
0:23:50 Rohini: Yes we can.
0:23:51 Geeta: Okay. So the issue that I started out with was saying that it is great that the lockdown has taught us some lessons. First of all, the work from home applies to some employers, but the work from home does not apply to the domestic worker because she works in somebody else’s house, and that somebody else’s house is still today not recognized as a workplace. Even in the law… Alok spoke about a lot of issues about the law. Even in the law till today, the workplace is not defined, and therefore it is… Become a problem. It is only in this sector that we have issues about workplace definition, we have issues about worker definition, and we have very many issues of definitions, it’s only in this work sector. Now I will not talk about what the voices of… The women themselves spoke about very well. About devaluation at work, devaluation as a person, no dignity, respect that is needed, and what we are looking for is basically for respect, recognition and social security. And it is in these aspects that workers or domestic workers are not covered till today because they are first of all, not recognized as workers. They are part of the large sector of the informal sector, they are last on the hierarchy of work. And when this is the situation, part timers, full timers [0:25:20] ____. This is the situation, they are discriminated before law [0:25:28] ____. Discrimination of opportunity, discrimination of low wages, [0:25:36] ____.
0:25:36 Rohini: Geeta. Geeta, I’m so sorry, we lost you again. Can the last sentence… Can you repeat a little slowly?
0:25:44 Geeta: Before the lockdown, just like there was… We have to take the context of today, as per the conditions that existed before the lockdown. It is not that it’s happened suddenly.
0:25:55 Rohini: Right.
0:25:57 Geeta: So, before the lockdown itself, there was discrimination. There is devaluation. There was a no social security. Some of them even spoke about when accidents take place. There is allegation of theft. We have many police cases on us. So this whole arena is of work is not work. This arena of work is almost like slavery and it is much more slavery and bonded labor in the case of live-in migrants because that’s where trafficking takes place. So when we have this context of inequality before the lockdown, we’re also seeing that during the lockdown and after the lockdown was lifted, we are seeing the same pattern of inequality, the same pattern of discrimination. Although perceptions have changed. You know, so for the first month, the domestic workers worked in March, and many of the domestic workers told us that their employer has come from abroad but they didn’t have responsibility to tell them that they have come from abroad and therefore have screening. The domestic workers spoke about the fact that no one at that time advised them to stay at home. It was in the second month, in April…
0:27:11 Rohini: Geeta, we really lost you. Say the last sentence again?
0:27:16 Geeta: In the second month, in April it was, that when the strictures became much more. And they were told to stay at home and not come for work.
0:27:24 Rohini: Yes.
0:27:25 Geeta: It was at that time, we were very astonished to find the advisory from the labor department to the RWAs, was more about sanitization, was more about your hygiene, was more about security and safety for the employers. There was nothing in the advisory which said that domestic workers need to be brought into work, if at all, and also need to be protected. And therefore, when the lockdown was lifted, I would like to say here it’s not an issue of them and us. It is an issue of whether we’re both in this together. So if… Because many of domestic workers have…
0:28:08 Rohini: Repeat. Repeat your last sentence please.
0:28:11 Geeta: It is not an issue of them and us. We are in it together, and many domestic workers have been told by their employers not to come for the next two months.
0:28:20 Rohini: Yes.
0:28:21 Geeta: And they’ve not promised them any kind of security. So, what I’m saying… I’m trying to say is that it’s important that we look at this together. It is important that we have this pattern of equality within us. We should not have discrimination continued even during this lockdown. I’ve heard reports, many of my workers have told me that most of them have gone back to work. Those of them, who’ve gone back to work have been taking a professional pass. But the migrant workers need to go back home.
0:28:53 Rohini: Repeat your last sentence.
0:28:56 Geeta: Only out of 500 workers, only 50 workers have actually been taken place on an average, have been taken back on an average. The employers are citing safety conditions. So they are making it out to be between us and them, which is not. And some apartments, they’ve been asked to stay off the lawns, they’ve been asked to use separate lifts, which was a condition before also. But now they’ve been asked to use separate lifts. I mean it’s all the time an attitude of that “You bring in the virus.” So an attitude problem is there.
0:29:33 Rohini: One last sentence.
0:29:35 Geeta: It is all an attitude of that, “You bring in the virus. So, you should take care. You should be hygienic, you should be safe.” You know it’s like the cultural virus that existed before. The cultural virus of caste and class that existed before the lockdown, still continues in May.
0:29:57 Rohini: Alright. Okay. Thank you so much. We’re gonna be coming back to you, Geeta, with questions. But I’m going to use this opportunity to turn to Vikram now. Vikram, you are the President of the federation. You have been listening to all sides on this issue from the apartment dwellers. People have told me how difficult that has been. Please enlighten us on what the employers are feeling and what is the divide that is happening, that we’ve been reading about so much. Please start you have five minutes. Thank you.
0:30:27 Vikram: Thank you Rohini. Thank you Ravi, I think for this opportunity. And to be able to speak after Geeta is a whole weight of expectations, right? [chuckle] So… And the last week for us has been definitely extremely stressful, to say the least, with the lockdown relaxation measures which is coming in. I think I look at the entire last few weeks in two phases. The first phase when the lockdown came in. I think that was an easier choice because a lot of guidelines were much more prescriptive at that point of time. We just made sure that everybody had to stay back and stay home. So it didn’t create so much of confusion in people’s minds. You had to stay at home. Everybody had to stay home. And we saw I think reasonable support even within our own members and residents on being able to extend the support to all the domestics helps that they were employing.
0:31:20 Vikram: But I think the real challenge has come up during the time when the relaxation measures have come in as well, because those have posed a lot of questions, uncomfortable questions many of them, in terms of I think, some of the aspects which Geeta mentioned as well, right? The overall nature of domestic helps being extremely informal, them not being covered by legal framework, right? What are their rights and responsibilities, are all very, very fuzzy. And I’m not surprised by the results of the poll in the beginning of the session itself, because it’s reflective of what I think the lack of clarity which exists today.
0:31:57 Vikram: Having said that, I think we also, I’ll give a little bit of a chronology of how it worked for us. I think we knew that by Saturday or Sunday, the relaxation measures… So we felt this air of anticipation amongst all our members that… And everybody had one question in their mind, “Will domestic helps be allowed” right? And there were both sides to this, there were people who were wanting them to come back and there were people who didn’t want to come back. And I’m not taking either sides basically, right. But we felt this air of expectations on Saturday, and the orders from the MHA and the Health and Family Welfare Department came in. Those orders were not very clear [chuckle], as usual it was a lot of text, I think problem starts from there, right? I mean are laws and rules clear enough for people to be able to interpret, right? So, we knew that it was not clear enough. So we started putting pressure to folks like BBMP, and I noted Alok mentioned about BBMP’s role over there.
0:32:51 Vikram: So, eventually we were able to get a conversation with the BBMP team on Sunday evening. And we derived a lot of confidence and clarity from that. And then, I remember we’d put out an advisory at 8:30 in the night and by that time… We had the call at 5:00 and we had the advisory at 8:30. I think I would’ve received at least about 40, 50 messages saying “When is the clarity coming? When is the clarity coming?” We finally put out an advisory. It’s saying no, it’s now clear, it’s… I think the orders very clearly say that you should be taking the domestic helps everywhere. Because people can now go out to work etcetara. And we put that advisory out. And it gave us a sense of, temporary sense of calm. But what we saw after that, I think on Monday and Tuesday was that a lot of people were perhaps not very clear with this idea of why should, I think, they had not sort of rationalized in their mind that [chuckle], it is, it can now be back to normal. And there were some sense of fear, risk, whatever I don’t know, but I think it played out very differently.
0:33:49 Vikram: We saw clearly two categories of communities if I were to say that way. One set of communities, where I believe that the relationship between the residents, the resident welfare association, and all their sort of staff is a little bit more engaging and more confident. So, they were able to come to a conclusion, consensus in many ways to be able to put measures to make sure that, I think, the relaxation kicks in fairly well, right. And there’ve been cases where there are communities which said that we will extend the lockdown by consensus, we will pay the domestic workers etcetara, those cases have been there as well. Then, there’s another category of communities which I believe, I think, there’s a lot of functional, relation or transactional relationships between the resident welfare associations and the residents themselves. They just look at each other as things going on everyday. I think they took, they found it very difficult to put together measures which then adopted these orders and relaxations to bring the domestic helps back in. So, they imposed rules, they did polls, they took majoritarian views and things like that, which I think has not worked out really well, right. There’ve been a lot friction.
0:34:58 Vikram: We have since then received tons of queries from people saying, “Hey, my RWA is not allowing this”. An RW is writing to us saying that, “How can we now, we’re not very sure, we are in a red zone, we are in a green zone.” So, basic understanding of rules, laws. Do you belong to a clear zone or not also was in question. So, we had to put out the clarification on Wednesday which actually gave them the entire breakdown. We actually pulled data out to say that almost 171 wards had either zero or one cases, which is 91% of this city was reasonably safe, right. And then we said that, “Hey you know what, nine out of ten areas are safe.” So, you should be able to go ahead and now implement measures which will allow relaxation to come in. We said, “Hey, how people can go to work, everybody can come to work”, Right. But put reasonable amount of measures and cautions to make sure that all things are taken care of basically.
0:35:47 Vikram: So, I think that gave a lot more confidence to most of the RWAs which were sort of sitting on the fence and did relax then. But having said that, I think, it puts into question very starkly the relationship between residents and RWAs, RWAs and the government and in this whole mix where does the domestic help fit in, right. What is the relationship? And I like to, my favorite term for domestic help is invisible essentials, right. They are so invisible in our lives. They just permeate our lives, they keep us going on a day-to-day basis. They are so, so essential that in the pre-lockdown phase, one or two days of them not coming in would have just sort of distracted and disturbed our lives so much. I don’t anticipate that in these 45 days of lockdown everybody has become self-sufficient, not to me. That won’t happen in India, I can guarantee you that. They want the invisible essentials to come back. But I think what has really, I think, shaken us up and the real question to ask is, how invisible, how essential, right. How do we take this forward and make them very visible and make them, make their essentiality really, really relevant. I think that’s the question we need to ask.
0:37:00 Rohini: Thank you, thank you very much. And that’s a nice segue Amita, into speaking to you and asking you to give us a sort of a broader view as a sociologist, anthropologist about the whole question of caste and culture and how… How this employer-employee relationship has it’s roots in other sociological issues? Please go ahead.
0:37:26 Amita: Thanks so much Rohini. Thanks for inviting me to this absolutely important and fascinating subject that touches us all so intimately. Most people when they think about the modern middle class Indian family, they think about a nuclear family with a husband and wife at the center of it. But what most of us, I think, don’t acknowledge is that it’s actually three people in that relationship. There’s pati, patni and maid. Because what allows middle class women to go out of the home to work in offices, to teach in schools, colleges, do a whole host of things that weren’t possible for an earlier generation of women, is the presence of someone else, another woman at home who’s doing all the jobs that the domestic workers whose voices we heard earlier talked about, taking care of the children, the elderly, the cleaning, the washing, the cooking, and everything else in between. And the reason that we haven’t really…
0:38:39 Amita: We haven’t really addressed this issue, is what led to the panic in the pandemic. To a large extent, it was indeed about the virus and what might happen to us or those we cared about but a lot of it was about women and men looking at each other and saying, “Oh, now, we have to do all of this?” And that’s when the invisible, that Vikram just spoke about, in fact became visible and people realized just how hard a job it is to do these things day after day because it isn’t that you can clean once and then look at your house and feel proud because you have to do it again the next day or the day after. But I think what it made us realize in a way was that there’s been an elephant in our living rooms that we have not confronted and that elephant is the continuing unequal gender division of labor. And by that, I mean that Indian women are still expected to perform two sets of duties. One, the traditional role of the homemaker, somebody who takes care of all household chores and now, the increasing expectation that she will also be a wage earner, she’ll work outside the home. And the only way that middle class women can reconcile these two tasks and still come out trumps is by hiring some other poor woman who doesn’t have a chance to, in a way, override this dilemma, step in and perform that role for her.
0:40:25 Amita: There are any number of studies that tell us that among most countries, the gender division of labor continues to be deeply unequal. Women, even if they work outside the home, do a lot of domestic chores that men don’t. Even when they have appliances, it’s the woman who’s loading the dishwasher, she is the one putting dirty clothes into the washing machine. But when we come to India, that unequal division of labor becomes truly, deeply skewed and I think what this pandemic… I hope what this pandemic will do is force people to confront an issue that they have been able to avoid, which is the issue of how husbands and wives or people who are able-bodied and adult living in a household of different genders, men and women, need to realize that they have an equal responsibility to do all the domestic work that is a part of what their family generates. Be it looking after old people, be it washing nappies, be it washing the dishes.
0:41:43 Amita: So, this is really hard to do in a way because our cultural norms still are based on ideas that there’s a woman who is going to be doing these things. Look at the idea of a traditional Indian maid. People are sitting around, say, a dining table and there’s somebody in the kitchen who’s frying up garma garam paratha or puri, or dosa. And this idea of someone who is standing and cooking, and serving other people while eating is so… It’s ingrained into our recipes. All the things that we think of as good things to eat require a heck of a lot of labor and usually it’s women’s labor.
0:42:30 Amita: So, I think we need to have a conversation that looks at all of these things. What are our expectations of a wifely love or a mother’s love? Must she always be the one who’s frying pakore when her children come home from school or must she be deputing that task to another woman who’s doing it, or is there some other way of thinking these things out?
0:42:54 Amita: The other point that I want to make and it’s a point that Geeta has made as well, is really about what this pandemic in some ways has brought home and that is how in other countries even though people do often employ domestic workers and given that global inequality has been rising, their numbers have been increasing even in countries like, say, Scandinavia where they’ve not done this for years and years, for decades. Even in other countries where domestic workers are employed, they’re generally never treated as badly as we treat them in India, and I think that is very much a factor of a caste system.
0:43:42 Amita: And we may think, “We’re middle class, we’re urban, we don’t believe in caste,” But in fact, caste is very much a part of our lives and caste works through these very strange ways of logic, of reasoning, where, as you know, traditionally, we’ve taken certain kinds of tasks that we have designated as dirty and polluting and we have reserved them for certain castes of people. So, things like dealing with blood, dealing with hair that’s been cut off, dealing with bodily waste, dealing with dead bodies, all of these things have been… Certain castes have been forced to deal with the disposal of these kinds of wastes. And by association, it’s these castes who were thought of as performing dirty duties, who work… Yes, I’ll wind up in a minute. Who were also then regarded as dirty themselves. And what’s even more appalling is that they are then blamed for being dirty.
0:44:52 Amita: So, in this pandemic we have the strange situation where people are saying, “Well, I need domestic workers to come into my house to do the work.” But at the same time, they’re saying, “But I might get infected.” Now, wait a minute, this infection has come from relatively well-to-do people coming from outside. If one should be worried, it’s for the domestic worker who might get infected and who doesn’t have health insurance, who doesn’t have the money to deal with a prolonged period of illness.
0:45:20 Amita: So, I hope that this pandemic will make us realize that these are larger issues that we need to examine. We need to examine our own practices and the ways in which we discriminate against people. And these are part of a larger struggle for gender justice, for… Social justice and especially the fight against the way in which caste still pervades our lives in urban India.
0:45:45 Rohini: Thank you, thank you so much Amita for that analysis. Somehow, because we added so many things including the poll, there is so little time left that I am gonna have to rush through some questions so the audience can also participate. So, I would like short responses from all four of you. Alok, if you can unmute, can you provide, you know, there are drafted laws, there are some laws anywhere, for basic laws of justice for all informal sector workers, how justiciable are any of the rights that domestic workers have? How justiciable are they?
0:46:21 Alok: So, here is the way to understand labor laws and this is a point that I had made right at the start. If we put the onus of enforcement on the individual worker to go out there, access the institution, whatever it is, whether it’s your labor office or whether it’s your judiciary or tribunal or whatever it is, that is not happening. You may find the very extraordinarily determined individual who can do that but without some sort of organizational support this is not happening. So, it’s very well to say, okay, they are covered under this law but how are they gonna be able to access? Whether they’re not gonna be able to access this law. In as much as the laws like NREGA and others were well intentioned, they never really thought about the enforcement aspect of it. They assumed underlying organization which already work in this area will be able to do that, and I don’t think that much, that much [0:47:11] ____ should be given to this organizations, like the burden should be put on the organizations and individuals to enforce it.
0:47:16 Alok: So, ideally, the focus has to be how can the law build on top of recognition of organizations, give these organizations a role in the law itself and say help in making these rights realized and meaningful. Because you have welfare legislations, there’s a law covering informal sector workers, these things are very distant for workers when you don’t have a basic definition of what domestic workers are? When you don’t have an enumeration of what domestic workers are? So, I think we are putting, in terms of our legislations we are putting, the cart before the horse without really wondering can we first focus on a legal definition, can we tailor solutions for this particular set of workers and not try and lump them under larger categories of unorganized labor.
0:48:00 Rohini: Right. So, you are saying not only that some very basic work has to be done to make the laws more robust but you’re also recommending intermediary organizations that can bridge between the individual who’s affected and the legal system itself, which is a good segue back to Geeta if you want to unmute. Geeta?
0:48:21 Geeta: Yeah.
0:48:22 Rohini: So, actually these laws seem to be, even if there are laws and we need better laws, they seem to be not very implementable or justiciable. Talk a bit about that but also as a consequence of that, there is also the other issue that unlike in a factory, I may have a trade union, and I can do some kind of collective action if something happens to me… Some other people will be there to join me. Here I am alone in some employer’s house, I am being abused or I’ve been made to work too hard or paid too little or all those things. Even if I knew about my rights, I’m inside a family home. I cannot be an agitationist and be able to continue in the work place. Can you shed some light on how even if the laws come and even if the employer wants to be just, how will mediation happen? How will implementability increase of the rights of workers? You can take two to three minutes but just explain these two things a little clearly from your experience.
0:49:25 Geeta: I’d just like to start by saying that in the overall analysis of laws in our country, we have never taken the participation of most people into account. The laws are made [0:49:39] ____ but there is no participation of the people that the state [0:49:43] ____ domestic workers.
0:49:47 Rohini: We can’t hear you well. I am so… I feel so frustrated that your connection…
0:49:51 Geeta: I don’t know, I don’t know, why? I don’t know, why?
0:49:53 Rohini: Now you can… Now we can hear you, please go ahead.
0:49:56 Geeta: Okay, I’ll just sit at one place here, yeah.
0:49:58 Rohini: Yeah. Don’t move at all and talk slowly. [chuckle]
0:50:01 Geeta: Okay. [chuckle] So, do you think that the whole thing that we have observed is that as long as you don’t take an inclusive [0:50:12] ____.
0:50:18 Rohini: You’re breaking up, Geeta you are breaking up. Say the last sentence again.
0:50:22 Geeta: If you don’t have an inclusive policy of taking in workers, when you frame laws for them, it will fail. So, that is the first thing. The second thing is that the workers themselves through our experience, [0:50:38] ____.
0:50:41 Rohini: Repeat.
0:50:43 Geeta: Through our experience we have been able to organize workers more at the houses [0:50:49] ____. We have started to organize people at residential colonies, at the slums because they don’t have a definition of a workplace. Okay, so in the slums, we organize them as women workers, [0:51:17] ____ not just as workers but also as women and the social issues that go with being women. So we organize them both as women workers.
0:51:32 Rohini: Right.
0:51:32 Geeta: And then the attitude or dignity is built up.
0:51:38 Rohini: Right. But can you address this issue of, how do you actually assert your rights when you’re inside a home and it’s a… Somebody else’s private space, so it’s not like a factory or something. How can a woman working there actually assert her rights without being thrown out or something because it’s such a fragile, vulnerable situation.
0:52:05 Geeta: I would just give one word for it. I would just give one word for it is negotiation. We have taught women the art…
0:52:18 Rohini: Please repeat. We have taught women the art of…
0:52:19 Geeta: We have taught women the art of negotiation, because no third parties allow them and then laws come on so the inspectors are not allowed there. [0:52:28] ____. I don’t know what to do. Once we discuss with the women about their own rights and how to assert it, that power comes by itself.
0:53:00 Rohini: I see. And so you have had some success, you would say, where the people you have, the women that you’ve worked with and organized, they have been able to go and negotiate a better deal for themselves without their working environment and relationship being seriously damaged. Have you… Can you share one success story quickly?
0:53:19 Geeta: Yes, very many times with this issue they have done their own negotiations, and then the lay the criteria and the conditions. In the issue of allegation of theft, of course the outside agencies are there. It’s in the live-in migrants that it is very, very difficult. So, we get neighborhoods who are sensitive to help us.
0:53:45 Rohini: Right.
0:53:46 Geeta: So example is of a lady who had an accident, who fell while cleaning the floor. [0:53:53] ____ she was not looked after. So she took it upon herself to tell her neighborhood, to tell the people in the neighborhood [0:54:11] ____ As long as she voices it, as long as she voices it, she can handle it. She has handled it.
0:54:24 Rohini: Thank you, thank you so much Geeta, we’ll come back to you. Vikram, let me take it to you now. You heard what Amita said, you’ve heard what Alok said about implementability. You’ve heard about what Geeta said that it is possible to negotiate and come to a better sort of contract. But can you tell us from what you’ve seen in the last few days, are employers willing to change? Do you think they are willing to pay more fair wages, give more leave, be less discriminating and see whether we can think of the safety of the domestic worker, not necessarily only our safety. It’s not either/or but and. Do you see any movement towards that?
0:55:06 Vikram: Yeah, I think we need to put movement towards that, right? I think there is no two ways about it, whether we like it or not. In fact, a couple of months back at our federation, we had initiated the idea of a health insurance program for domestic help. It’s called MADHURA. In fact, we are working express now to make sure that we launch it sometime soon. The idea was actually to bring ownership between the group of employers to which, to the households to which the domestic help goes to because more often than not they work with multiple houses and the domestic help herself, to be able to then be participants and collaborators in the health of the domestic help. So we do believe that… And I would like to connect that point to the part of negotiation which Geeta mentioned about. I think if you’re able to bring that power of negotiation, and a mechanism of a little bit of a group ownership to employers, I think that conversations can move forward.
0:56:10 Vikram: But having said that, I think the big lacuna today which exists and which we need to address, and it was brought out a little briefly, I think, one, the fact that the employment and the employment space of these domestic helps is within the reliance of a private household is a big challenge. Even today within our own members and resident welfare associations, broadly the golden rule is that if something happens inside the private homes, we do not have the right to go and ask questions anything about it. I mean, the question whether what rights do RWS have in the first case itself is a big question mark, which has come to light. But having said that, if I park that question aside for a moment, I think what happens in private homes are rights exercised adequately is a big question mark. I think we need to be able to address that part very, very strongly. I think from our point of view, we see somebody like us playing a much more enabling role on that. I remember Geeta saying that the Department of Labor in the beginning, their guidelines was only about sanitization, hygiene and really not about the work and livelihood, basically.
0:57:15 Vikram: It continues to be that way, the attitude, at least, from the legal point of view. We do believe that we have a very strong role to play in bringing a certain degree of middle path, a certain degree of balance between ‘Sarkar’, the legal framework, the resident welfare associations and residents, right? I mean, you’ve seen in the last [0:57:32] ____ people saying something like, “We’re looking at your advisory as the rule to follow.” While it’s very flattering but it’s also very scary. But having said that, I think we believe that that’s a role that we can play in enabling… And I’m sure we’ll work with people like Geeta and teams like us, saying that how do you bring this sort of sense of responsibility and compassionate within our residents.
0:57:53 Rohini: How do you educate people more? How do we make people more aware that… If you’re willing to spend 2000 rupees on a pizza meal for a family of five, what is that as a right in the hands of the domestic worker? How do we re-prioritize? Especially now that we have learnt how hard it is to clean every corner of our home…
0:58:19 Vikram: Yeah, I’ve lost 4 kgs. [chuckle]
0:58:20 Rohini: [0:58:21] ____ awareness. Sorry?
0:58:21 Vikram: I’ve lost 4 kgs. [laughter]
0:58:22 Rohini: Very good, definitely. And you’re a man and you’ve learned about gender and work as Amita was saying. So you’ve been also doing things I’m sure that you’ve…
0:58:30 Vikram: Absolutely. I think my key takeaway from this, Rohini, is that I think we believe that there’s a very, very strong role we can play. We will definitely play. I think to take this conversation forward and this experience forward to bring much more empathy, much more reason and much more balance in this conversation in working with all the people.
0:58:47 Rohini: That’s good. Geeta, you should create a curriculum which all of us can look at, some questions, answers, FAQs, all that. Amita, let me turn to you again because the issues are there of caste, the idea of cleanliness, somebody else should do this work, this is not my work. All that is there. But there’s also this question of… So that feudal… This whole domestic work thing has been extremely feudal. And even today, even if we want to be enlightened employers and we try our best to give a good salary, leave, even then there are many elements of a feudal relationship between the employer and the domestic worker. At the same time, and that’s even more true with older domestic workers or maids if you want to call them that, they are used to that kind of almost a feudal nature of the relationship. But the younger maids, those who are a little more aware, they want a more professional, contractual kind of engagement. They will demand something. So that change is happening. Do you want to comment a little on how such change happens because these younger people are also more aspirational? They watch television. They want their lives to be at least somewhat as comfortable as ours with all the benefits that we have. How will that begin to impact on the sector as a whole?
1:00:13 Amita: There, Rohini, we have to see domestic workers as part of that very large 93% of India’s workforce, which is the informal economy. And for most people in the informal economy, as other sociologists of labor like Jan Breman and others have pointed out, the transition from a more feudal set of arrangements in the village to new forms of contractual work, both in agriculture as well as urban areas and construction and I’d say also domestic work, has been from the frying pan into the fire in some ways. Because in the feudal system, you got very little. You were humiliated and you were crushed. But at the end of the day, there was a tiny bit of guarantee that your patron, your yajman would take care of you in bad times, if you were sick, if you had to get a child married. Now you have a footloose working class which has to look for jobs everywhere. But where the relationships of trust and security, which in a tiny bit did operate before, don’t now exist anymore. So they’re in a position of having to bargain in a situation where they have very little power to bargain with. They have no social capital. And this, unfortunately, is something which is going to increase because with the pandemic we’re going to see much more distress. The economy is plunged into confusion. A lot of people are going to not have jobs and are going to be dealing with far less bargaining power, far less ability to say no to bad conditions of work than they did earlier.
1:02:11 Amita: So I think the kind of work that people like Geeta and her comrades are doing is absolutely essential to be able to make people deal with these even more dire conditions. The kind of situation that we now have is where the kind of laws that Alok was talking about become even more important to implement. And that’s going to be a real fight. Because in the informal sector, as we know, laws don’t really matter, but what’s happening now is that informally domestic workers I know in particular neighbourhoods use informal means. They talk amongst themselves. They find out who’s paying what and they might say no. They keep tabs on people who are being abused. If you look at who’s reporting live-in workers being abused, often it’s domestic workers who are coming in from outside. So I think there are ways for us to generate solidarities, even in bad times, and those ways will be both formal as well as informal.
1:03:19 Rohini: Right. Geeta, I really hope your audio is going to work. But otherwise people have said, “Can you type out your answers?” because they really don’t want to miss what you’re saying. So Geeta, do you wanna pick up from what Amita said about in these times, post the pandemic, when in fact many of the employers, because not all employers are well off, too and their own jobs are at risk and they are themselves worried about their economic security. They want the domestic worker back but they may not be able to be ready to make a better deal just yet. How should you look at this situation, Geeta? Geeta, you’re on mute.
1:04:01 Geeta: Okay. Can you hear me?
1:04:03 Rohini: Yes.
1:04:03 Geeta: Okay. What Amita said is very true. We have had also women telling us, domestic workers telling us that their employers did not want to pay them [1:04:14] ____ even any payments for the month because they themselves are not getting any money. So we are coming to a situation where, if I’m not earning any [1:04:26] ____ If I’m not earning any money, then how can I pay you? And this is a [1:04:34] ____ that’s going to be challenging for us. This is really going to be a challenge.
1:04:39 Rohini: Last [1:04:39] ____.
1:04:41 Geeta: If we ourselves are not getting paid, or if we are also losing on our salaries, how can we pay you?
1:04:49 Rohini: So what should be done?
1:04:51 Geeta: This will be a challenge in the coming days. I think then the whole issue of what is the responsibility of the employers for [1:05:03] ____.
1:05:13 Rohini: Repeat the last sentence [1:05:15] ____ for our audience, because I don’t want to lose Geeta but… Geeta, say the last sentence again. After so many years…
1:05:25 Geeta: Basically, basically so many years have gone by where there has been injustice done to them.
1:05:31 Rohini: Yes.
1:05:31 Geeta: Less than the minimum wages, no wages at all, bonded labor. So, at least now, you should not take this [1:05:41] ____ virus as an excuse for not paying them at all.
1:05:45 Rohini: Right. Don’t use the virus as an excuse for not paying them, even if you have some cut backs in your own salary. We have a long history of injustice which we have to make up for, see what compromises that you can make, some negotiations you can make. Is that correct, Geeta?
1:06:03 Geeta: Yes, yes, yes.
1:06:03 Rohini: [1:06:03] ____.
1:06:04 Geeta: Can I just add one thing here?
1:06:06 Rohini: Yeah, so long as we can hear you, you can add many things.
1:06:09 Geeta: No, no just to add one bit of a… Because we’re looking at women workers, okay? I would like to add here especially [1:06:19] ____ working with migrants. And among the migrant workers, among the migrant workers, there have been a lot of cooks, there are a lot of domestic workers male who are suffering the most, because within the whole scene of bonded and [1:06:36] ____ migrant workers.
1:06:40 Rohini: So you are [1:06:41] ____ We missed you after… Yes, there a lot of male workers also especially cooks, migrants workers…
1:06:47 Geeta: And especially in the context of today what is happening to the migrant workers…
1:06:52 Rohini: Yeah.
1:06:52 Geeta: We are working with their issues. It is much more serious and we have to look at that, too.
1:07:00 Rohini: Right. So while we’re talking about women domestic workers who form the majority of this population, let’s not forget that there are so many men who come in to do work inside the house as well, especially cooks, especially for some cleaning which is beyond… Heavy cleaning. So, let’s not forget about them as well. There are some questions coming in. We have 15 minutes left. I’m gonna try and clump some questions together. Geeta, this has to come to you and then to Amita. I hope we can hear you, Geeta. You’ll have to answer quickly and slowly. Some people are asking and I have to ask on their behalf, sometimes we find that the work ethic may not be very strong in our domestic help. How can we together improve the work ethic?
1:07:44 Geeta: Can you hear me?
1:07:46 Rohini: Yes.
1:07:48 Geeta: Basically, I think dignity. With dignity, with treating the other person with dignity [1:07:54] ____.
1:08:01 Rohini: No, no. Let me go to Amita on this because you’re breaking…
1:08:05 Geeta: With conversations, with the language you choose to use.
1:08:08 Rohini: Yes. You said that if we treat them with dignity and you use appropriate… Learn to use appropriate language which increases that person’s agency and gives that person a sense of pride in the work that she or he is doing, it is more likely that a better, more professional work ethic will emerge. Right? You are putting the onus on the employer.
1:08:31 Geeta: Yes.
1:08:31 Geeta: Thank you. Amita, you want to follow up on that before I go to Alok?
1:08:35 Amita: Oh, just to say that I agree with Geeta completely, that the reason say, we take pride in our work is because that work is rewarding for us. Why is it rewarding? We could get paid well, we get respect. And if one could make domestic work equally well paid, equally a source of dignity and pride, I think people would do the work as well as they could possibly do it.
1:09:00 Rohini: Yeah. Thank you. Alok, there is a question, there are questions coming in that actually there is also self-interest, enlightened self-interest in employers almost banding together to fashion a better new deal for domestic workers as a profession. Because then all these issues of… If suppose, one person leaves, where will I find the other person? Where is the trusted network? There are not enough good agencies. So, even to, for the interest of the employer who desperately needs domestic help, so the woman of the house can go to work, the man of the house can go to work, the children can be looked after, on and on and on. How do you incentivize this organization so that self interest of this employee-employer class is actually realized and actualized?
1:09:55 Alok: I would be a little bit skeptical of the self interest of the employer class for the reason that there is an existing power imbalance here. Let’s acknowledge that fact and let us come through from what Amita has said, what Geeta has also said. There is an existing power imbalance. And no matter what the self interest or whatever the self interest of the employer class is, they will not be able to change this power imbalance. The power imbalance is always in their favor. And what organization does is at least lift them up… Lift up domestic workers to somewhere close to having the same position. And what Geeta and other organizations do is to address this imbalance. If employers sort of organize or rather if they get together, that will undo this. And there may be some enlightened federations, there’ll be enlightened RWAs. But we cannot rely, we cannot rely on charity, we cannot rely on good intentions. We will have to work within frameworks and institutions and procedures if we want to make it a right. See, the conversation is not about giving them a little bit more. What we say in Karnataka…
1:11:10 Alok: It’s not what we talking about. We’re talking about rights, we’re talking about institutions, we’re talking about a certain level of dignity that comes from knowing that my rights are secure.
1:11:17 Rohini: That’s the framework, it’s not my philanthropy or my kindness. [1:11:23] ____ have to view how I am treating my domestic help. But because it comes from their rights, how would we like to be treated in our work places? If we can transfer that lens when it comes to… Yes. I see what you’re saying. There is apparently a Gurgaon model. It’s coming from our readers and listeners where they altogether, Vikram, decide about what labor should be done, what things should be paid, and what timing should be there and so on. Do you know of such instances and how can they be spread? But not to again give the bargaining rights to the employers or the residential associations, but keep the bargaining rights distributed between the employer and the employee. Would you have some thoughts on that?
1:12:07 Vikram: True. I think interesting model which was mentioned over there, in fact, somebody in the chat also mentioned saying that, can there be an internal complaints committee kind of an equivalent, right. [1:12:16] ____ with this bigger…
1:12:17 Geeta: Oh my God…
1:12:19 Vikram: And Geeta is…
1:12:20 Geeta: We’ve tried it. [laughter]
1:12:22 Vikram: Geeta is already talking about it, but yeah, I think anything which is able to… I mean aggregate them together, which makes them much more aware of their rights. And I mean, Alok did mentioned saying that if it is not… If it doesn’t have legal teeth, then it doesn’t fly too much. That’s one of my peeves as well. I mean we can, we always ask our RWAs to say, “Hey, this is an advisory and this is what you can do.” For example, if an RWA asks me saying that, “Hey, who are you to say that?” I don’t have an answer. Similarly, an RWA telling a resident saying that you know, “You need to do these kinds of things.” They don’t have an answer. So I think there is a fundamental structural problem, but having said that there is an opportunity for ecosystem players like us, RWAs etcetera to sort of have a code of conduct or a kind of guideline to say this is what… These are things that… These are minimum common denominator things, that we need to bring together about and enable because they are like I said, I think they are people who are part of our ecosystem, and are contributing to that. I think that’s the way forward. And eventually, there has to be much, much better laws guaranteeing rights to the them which needs to come and fit into that ecosystem as well. So that’s I think, the way to go forward.
1:13:42 Rohini: Geeta, there are a lot of questions and Alok you can pick it up too, on insurance. You know, like we take life insurance or accident insurance, or so many kinds of insurances. Is there some way that employers can pool in or make that a part of the salary? Would that be understood and accepted by domestic help? Who should create some social nets for domestic workers? How much? What is the role of the State and what is the role of the employer? Could you shed some light on it? Talk slowly!
1:14:16 Geeta: Oh. I hope my works.
1:14:20 Rohini: Yeah, we are hoping. Right now you are on mute. Yeah.
1:14:23 Geeta: Okay. Very, very… Too many questions, Rohini. With this kind of distorted mic, but I find [1:14:32] ____ times that there is no [1:14:36] ____ there is no insurance.
1:14:40 Rohini: Stop. Geeta when you begin, it comes clearly so don’t waste words. In insurance continue.
1:14:47 Geeta: There’s no insurance policy, that’s period. There are only private insurance companies and whatever they offer, but Vikram’s Apartment Association, Federation, they do offer a group insurance pattern. So, I hope that is working well, but that means that group of employers have to agree to come together.
1:15:15 Rohini: Yes.
1:15:15 Geeta: And we have answers from the employers saying that if she’s working in five different houses, in five different houses. How do we pay insurance?
1:15:25 Rohini: Right? It could be shared models. You want to come in quickly, Alok on that in terms of responsibility of the state and imaginate, innovation around creating safety nets for informal labour like domestic workers.
1:15:39 Alok: So very quickly, my colleague Akhileshwari Reddy has put together a very good set of reading lists. I will share that with BIC at the end of this conversation. And some people had asked, “Where can we read more about it?”. So I will share and people will get a lot more detail about this but let me state that insurance has to be done at the level of the government. It’s fine for private parties to take the initiative. It’s a good stopgap measure, but it has to be of the government, because we forget that the problem with insurance is not how much money is taken out of your paycheck. It is how do you get the claims at best and that is the biggest difficulty here. We cannot expect individual domestic workers to negotiate with a bureaucracy on this point. It has to be something which they can hold accountable whether through votes or politicians, or the local leaders to be able to say, “Hey, I suffered this loss. Please compensate me.” Also, negotiate… If we forget the third party in these insurances, which is the insurer themselves. Now, it is not possible for domestic workers to… Hard enough to negotiate with their employers and insurance companies is practically an impossibility.
1:16:41 Alok: So we have to keep in mind that these are to be measures which the state mandates, right and even for domestic workers whatever scheme is evolved, the state has to be a party to it. Because at least, the state they can hold accountable in some ways, in a way that the insurer they cannot hold accountable. So yes, insurance is great. A stopgap measure maybe like what Vikram’s organization is doing, but it is not a substitute for, and we cannot assume, it will take a place of state mandated insurance. On more of this, I will share some of the readings that my colleague has sent.
1:17:14 Rohini: Sure, and a very quick comment in the Punjab Law which was passed on domestic workers, have you followed it at all, has it worked? Has implementation…
1:17:22 Alok: I haven’t followed this particular law yet, we’ll have to see, maybe, with any law I’d like to say give it at least 5 years. Because in the first four years, five years they’re going to have implementation difficulties. We won’t be left any wiser. Give it a five. Five years is what it takes to do this.
1:17:38 Rohini: Amita, do you think, by observing the middle class in all your academic work for so many years, do you think the middle classes will accept a law which defines the rights of the people who come into their house and whom they’re used to sort of telling what to do, “Aaj kapde fold karo kal doosra kuch karo?” Would there be acceptance even of such a law? Forget about implementability because you don’t want inspectors coming into your home. So would there be acceptability? How will this change happen?
1:18:10 Amita: Well, I think the middle class accepts a lot of things from the government, if those things come accompanied by a big stick. And with the little bit of behavioral education, but the big stick is important. So if this were to be an area where the kinds of laws and measures that Alok and Vikram were just talking about, actually can be enforced by the government, where the police comes and proactively investigates what is going on, not the police, but it could be a group of people which includes representatives of domestic workers union most of all, so that women feel comfortable that they have people who understand their situation and so on. If we manage to have something like that, I think people will clean up their act, they will have to. Good enforcement is necessary for all kinds of legislation, be it environmental pollution, be it domestic work, be it any situation where people or the environment are getting exploited. And we need to have those mechanisms in place.
1:19:11 Rohini: Right, after all we should not imagine it is impossible at all. For example, domestic violence, some 50% of men in a recent perception survey… Actually 50% of all respondents including women thought it was alright for a man to occasionally beat up his wife for some minor misdemeanour like not even making tasty food. So it’s a whole cultural and social norm that has to shift and a lot of laws have come into place against it, whether it’s dowry, domestic violence. So it may be just one more shift, but sometimes if the law is too ahead of society, Alok, if the law is much more further out in terms of justice and rights than the society, can you quickly say, what can happen. And then I need to go back to Geeta.
1:20:01 Alok: It is a question of which section of society. It’s hard… At least with India, let’s be fair, it’s not uniformly across the society. We have seen that with, for example, the Hindu Marriage Act and the Hindu Code Bill, there was a demand for it. Obviously it was resented by the conservative Hindu men and some conservative Hindu women. There was a strong demand for it, there was an organization around it. There were people who demand… So it’s hard to say what’s the median societal view of this, especially with the responses are so stark. I don’t make any claims about what is too far ahead of society, because that society itself is something to be thought about carefully. So which is why I’d say that it has to be about saying that no one will be left behind in that claim for rights. What may seem radical to us, even as late as 1945 by the way, people said Hindu Code Bill is impossible, don’t even try it in the country. But in 10 years we had it. In 10 years we had it, and now we take it for granted like the air we breathe almost, it’s good and bad, worked well and worked badly. But the very idea which seemed unthinkable in the mid ’40s was a reality in the ’50s. So let’s not make too many assumptions about where society is and what it’s gonna mean for us.
1:21:16 Rohini: Change is possible, of course, and there’s a huge demand for that change. Certainly from our viewers who have already said, 64% of our viewers said in the beginning, that a new deal is necessary for domestic workers. So you’re quite right that there’s no one idea of society. Geeta, I have to ask this question, because it’s coming from our listeners. Geeta, they’re also saying that some of them are actually a bit afraid of the domestic worker because she can quit any time and she can get another job, but I may not be able to find another person to replace as quickly as I need. Is there some truth in it that all power equations are not black and white and that there is something to this sentiment? What would you say? And Amita, prepare your answer because I am coming back to you also on this. Geeta, yes.
1:22:11 Geeta: The same power rests with the employers also. They can make the worker quit and suddenly dismiss her like this, proactively throw her out. So it is either way it is the same. And why do you make the… Why are you so scared of the domestic worker? Because this domestic worker has done nothing to scare you, has not held you to ransom for anything. [chuckle] I don’t see why this statement is coming up.
1:22:47 Rohini: Okay. Any thoughts on this Amita? We did discuss when I spoke to you before, if you could talk a little bit about power relationships and how… See everything is so… We are so used to the binaries, and it’s become even worse with the polarization that some of the grey areas do get left out. Could you put some nuance on this?
1:23:10 Amita: Yeah, I think that we must remember that even though most of domestic work is monotonous, repetitive tasks that we call drudgery. A lot of it is also care work, and care work whether it’s taking care of the elderly, or taking care of the children or feeding people, that is really about the emotional labor that you put in. It’s not just about the physical labor or the mental labor. So I think because there is emotional labor, that the worker is supposed to provide, it does Rohini, exactly like you’re saying, make the power relationships a little bit more complex, more fraught. Economists might describe this phenomenon in a different way by talking about imperfect markets and imperfect market knowledge or something, I don’t know, but I don’t think that part quite captures the kind of dependency that comes to develop. And it’s because every worker is individual in the care they provide. You can’t replace them just with somebody else. Every household has some peculiarities. Somebody likes to have their, that their sambar cooked just so. The new person who comes in will not know that this is going to be made just that way. I think if we understand that there is a shared intimacy in this space, and in some ways think about what that tells us about interdependence and inequality in the world, at large, it might just perhaps make us move towards a more just society, I hope.
1:25:01 Rohini: Thank you. I think my time, our time together is running out, it’s already 8 o’clock. Ravi, I want to carry on for another hour. We’ll have to do another one some other time, but I think we’ve learnt a lot. We have learnt from very different perspectives, and I hope it has been a nuanced debate. We got a real chance to learn from Geeta about what domestic workers feel. Amita gave us a broader perspective. Vikram very nicely captured what happens, the dilemma of RWAs and individual households. And Alok has enlightened us about the law. You now have to do the rest of the polling, your market research, you have to end with. But I would use this because I have to sign off. I will say thank you so much.
1:25:47 Rohini: A lot of resources will be put on our BIC website after this, please come back, join us for the rest of the series. Thank you so much for your questions. Thank you for interacting so well. And I do hope that we will go back and take this discourse on domestic workers, their rights, our attitudes to ever widening circles of discourse. Namaskara and thank you.