In modern times, it is hard to imagine a household without a domestic helper or a housemaid to assist with household chores and duties. According to an official survey, India employs over 4.75 million domestic helpers. However, the number is considered to be underestimated, but the number is thought to be much higher, ranging from 20 to 80 million.
While domestic help was once available only to the elite class, today, even middle-class families can afford at least one domestic helper. Therefore, it is no surprise that most people in the country cannot imagine surviving a single day without them. These helpers manage every task in the house, from preparing morning bed tea to dinner desserts. But as we remain blindsided by the chaos of our daily lives, we often fail to recognize the hardships housemaids face and their daily challenges.
In an attempt to show our appreciation for their tireless efforts, we paused for a moment and decided to have a heartfelt conversation with a housemaid to gain insight into the daily challenges they face.
What does your regular day look like?
Every day, I wake up early before the sun rises, prepare food for my family get the children ready, and send them to school. I do some chores, freshen up and then go to the first household where I work as a housemaid. I start my work amidst the chaos of a family where the house lady is a teacher, so naturally, she is in a rush, so I also have to rush to prepare breakfast for the family and her children. My morning hustle calms after the first household, and I enjoy basking in the sun with my peers. After an hour or so, I head over to the next house. The owner there is not very friendly because she micromanages my work even though I’ve been there for seven years. This house consumes maximum hours in my day as I do almost everything, from cleaning to washing. Working at her place once in the morning in itself feels overwhelming, but unfortunately, I go there in the evening too to clean the kitchen after lunch. Anyway, I go to the third household after that mainly to prepare lunch for an old couple. Bauji and Amma are down-to-earth and treat me like their daughter. I spend a reasonable amount of time talking to them while working. I head back to the irritating woman’s house after that, and she manages to turn my happy mood into a low one, but since that is my last job of the day, I feel a rush of excitement as soon as I’m out of her house as it’s time for me to go home and meet my family of 6. Unfortunately, I get exhausted at the end of the day, and all my energy is drained, so I cannot clean my own house. Whatever I earn from these three households is just enough for my monthly expenses. Since my husband is unemployed, I am the sole earner in the family, but I have no hesitation in working as a housemaid as long as I can serve my family.
What is the most challenging aspect of your day?
There are days when I feel exhausted and drained, but people don’t tend to understand our pain and expect us to continue working properly as on regular days. Apart from that, the most challenging aspects of my job include 2 particular situations that make me feel inadequate. Firstly, when the family members switch to a language I don’t understand. I may not be educated but I can’t help but wonder if they are discussing me behind my back. It makes me feel small and insignificant. Secondly, cleaning washroom especially if they are in filthy state. People don’t realise that we are also human and no one likes cleaning anyone else’ filth so the most they could do is maintain basic cleanliness so the job doesn’t feel heavier than it should.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Diwali is a special time of the year for people across India, and it’s no different for me. During this auspicious period, I feel grateful for the generosity that people show me. For instance, Amma always asks me what I want for Diwali and makes sure to get me something that can fill a gap in my life, whether it’s a household appliance or something as basic as a shawl. Even though Amma and Bauji are retired and live off their savings, they always try to spare some money for my gift, which I appreciate sincerely. It’s not about the value of the present but the thought behind it that counts. While some people who earn much more may choose to be stingy and give old or used products, I still respect their choices. However, those who show their consideration and generosity never go unnoticed in my eyes, and I’m grateful for their kindness.
Is there any message you want to convey to the households?
As a domestic helper, I understand that not everyone values the work we do. But all I ask is for a basic level of respect and acknowledgement. When we see each other face to face at the beginning of the day, a simple greeting can make us feel human and not destitute workers. After all, we are not just doing our duties but we are practically maintaining your home more than you yourself probably do. It can be a thankless job at times, but we still deserve to feel that our efforts are appreciated and that we are respected.