I visited my mom in India this time after a gap of two years because of covid. She had hired a new maid. The older one couldn’t cope with the expenses in the lockdown so returned back to her native village.
During my one week of stay, I noticed that the new maid took two leaves without any prior notice and my mom said nothing to her. When I enquired she told me an unbelievable but sad story.
Apparently, the maid’s husband was an alcoholic(which is a norm in an Indian maid’s life). He doesn’t work but demands money from her to drink every day. When she refuses, he doesn’t hesitate to hit her. Because of this, she cannot come to work many times. He just fools around all day with his friends while his wife cleans others’ houses for a living.
On hearing this, I was enraged and asked the obvious question, “Why is she staying with her abusive husband then if she’s the one who is providing for everything? Why is she putting up with all the abuse?”
My mother looked at me like I had asked the most stupid thing. She nodded her head in dismay and told me the harsh reality. In the lower class, a woman needs a man for security and support. If she doesn’t have a man by her side, other men take her as ‘available’ to everyone.
These men harass her and ask for favours (sexual). So to keep these vultures at bay, these women are forced to keep up with all the abuse and nonsense of their lazy and alcoholic husbands. Just for the security of a husband's name, they endure many injustices. It’s a price they pay for a peaceful and safe life from the outside world.
But what about their personal lives? Just to escape the cruel world they are forced to live a life full of hard work without any appreciation or respect. To feed their children and good for nothing husbands these maids go to several houses in a day for cleaning.
I was dumbfounded by this revelation. In my world, this was unheard of and I was under the false impression that the world has truly changed for a woman. It’s not like the olden times when a woman had no right and had to depend on her husband for everything. But here I was listening to a most unbelievable story which was questioning everything I believed for so many years.
While growing up in a typical middle-class family, I was never discriminated against because of my gender and my parents encouraged me to fulfil my dreams. They gave me a good education and freedom. In college, I never heard any such thing. It was like I was living in another world where everyone was happy and equal to another.
After hearing this story when I finally opened my eyes and ears, I found that such instances are very common in society. Almost every lower-class family has the same story. Men are taking advantage of the fact they are ‘men’.
The men have managed to build a society where a single woman is looked down upon and every other man tries to take advantage. These same women when complain, are told that it’s their fault because they are alone and single. Since their childhood, they are told how important a man’s name is for a woman.
So, when they grow up, the first and foremost thing they have to achieve is to get married. The men, conditioned to the fact that they are the masters of their wives, behave like a king. They just lie down all day, do nothing, aren’t ashamed of sending their wives to others’ homes for menial jobs and then have the audacity to beat her if she refuses anything.
They are able to get away with such behaviour only because as a society we have failed women in every aspect. Society never blames a man for anything. The women who are contributing to a major part of family income are at the receiving end of all humiliation and disrespect.
This society needs to change and it’s we who can bring this change with education. The maids in our home need to be educated about their rights. India’s constitution is among the best in the world and laws are in place for everyone to get justice. The need of the hour is to make people aware of these laws and rights.
We can start with our own homes. Whenever you listen to such stories, instead of ignoring please take time to educate these unfortunate women. Empathise with them and assure them that they are not alone.
Tell them that they shouldn’t take any nonsense and abuse. It’s appropriate for them to retaliate. The law of this country is with them. Maybe we’ll be able to change someone’s life. It’s a small start but every organism starts with a single cell.