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Business News/ Opinion / Objectifying maids? Is any different from us

Objectifying maids? Is any different from us

If we want to stop from commodifying people and respecting labour, maybe we could start doing the same

For most people, household help are just objects at best, invisible people at worst. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/MintPremium
For most people, household help are just objects at best, invisible people at worst. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Dhanteras is coming up and you are not sure what to buy for your wife? Does she have enough diamonds and gold? Why not gift her a maid? You can get one meeting all your wife’s requirements—shiny, pretty, Hindu, Muslim, Punjabi, long-haired—on the latest start-up and e-commerce site, You don’t even have to make an advance payment. How cool is that? And when this maid loses her shine, you can buy another one for your wife from a collection of other human washing machines and human mixer-grinders.

If you’ve been on social media and reading news and opinion sites in the last week, you’ll have noticed that has faced its rightful share of outrage because of their recent ad. The wording of their print ad is “Diamonds are useless! (The alarming-ness of this statement being brought across by the exclamation mark, I presume.) Gift your wife a maid."

Few ads manage to be sexist and elitist at the same time. But hats off to for managing both. If ever there was commodification of human beings, this site has managed to do it well. The wording of their proposition to clients is bad enough, it seems the site also allows you to choose maids based on region and religion—not just qualification or experience.

Of course, the co-founder of the ad seems to be missing the fact that he’s objectifying household help in his ad. Co-founder of Anupam Sinhal’s response to the criticism, as reported by Scroll, is: “The campaign was extremely light-hearted and we don’t mean to stereotype or discriminate women. We would never dream of doing that since women are the reason we exist. 99% of domestic helps are women. It completely depends on the mindset of the person reading the advertisement." His mindset obviously makes him think there’s nothing wrong with “gifting" a person to your spouse.

Much has been written about how outrageous this ad is and how we shouldn’t treat maids like chattel, and I agree with all of it. But my bone of contention is exactly what comes across in Sinhal’s comment. For all the umbrage being taken, if you look around yourself in Delhi and Mumbai, you’ll realize that seems to know its audience well. And is only supplying what people are demanding.

For most people, household help are just objects at best, invisible people at worst. How often do we see people at restaurants with their children and maids in tow? The maids are—if lucky—made to sit at a separate table. Most maids I’ve asked, don’t want to sit with their employers, as they find it uncomfortable to be sitting in silence while the others at the table are talking away. But rarely if ever, have I seen anything ordered for these maids, including a glass of water. Just last week at a Khan Market restaurant, where I had the misfortune of going for breakfast, there were 10 women who’d come for a kitty breakfast. These were women in their mid to late 20s. Two of them had toddlers with them, and had brought their maids along. The maids were sitting at a separate table. The mothers sat with the toddlers and occasionally asked for toys or a water bottle from the maids, and grimaced at them or ignored them for the rest of the time. The maids sat expressionless, watching while their employers ate copiously and showed off their children. Their job being to carry the toddlers’ bag and take away the toddlers every time they expressed boredom or cried slightly.

This is not an aberration. In most Delhi restaurants, there will be at least one of these groups.

Then there are the ones who don’t really speak beyond the necessary words of “pakdo, chalo, khana khilao" to their maids but take them along on holidays. How lucky, you say. How many of us are taken by our employers to exotic locales free of cost? But think again. Look around a holiday destination and you’ll see the same behaviour being replicated there. Then you’ll see pictures of the holidays all over Facebook with many pictures of the baby, but no mention or picture of the maid makes its way there. The same way you wouldn’t take a picture of your baby’s rocker or pram and tag it. These are people helping you raise and care for your children. How much skin off your back is it to acknowledge their existence?

In my uppity neighbourhood, and in others I’ve lived in Delhi, various part-time help or even some of the earlier maids I had at home, have turned out to have two names. One is their original Muslim name, the other the Hindu name they call themselves by while going for interviews. According to them, some Hindu homes don’t want to hire Muslim help. I’ve met neighbours—“senior" editors and CEOs of companies—who’ve asked me what my cook’s religion is and then expressed surprise that I have a Muslim cook. Looking as shocked as if I’d told them that I had a bona fide leprechaun living in my kitchen. I’ve almost expected them to throw a bucket of Gangajal on me instantly to wash away my adulteration.

My limited point being that the rot goes deep. For all our outrage, most of us wouldn’t let our help use our bathrooms, eat the same food as us, sit on our furniture or speak unless spoken to. The same way we wouldn’t speak to or dine with our fridge or oven. is only supplying what people are demanding and providing details which are very important to people. Which is why, while we are swimming in our outrage, is laughing its way to the bank. Just on Thursday, they raised 1 crore from 50k Ventures and Vineel Nalla, CEO of NBOS Technologies and founder of 50K Ventures, in their first angel round of fund-raising. So they seem to have hit on a winning formula, especially in the eyes of people funding them.

People are not discriminating more because of some random domestic help-service provider based in Bombay. That’s ludicrous. People are discriminating because that’s the way most people across class and community in India are. If we want to stop from commodifying people and respecting labour, maybe we could start doing the same. Try asking Ramu, your human mixer-grinder or Ratna, your human pram, about their family or give them some hot water to bathe with in winter. Treat it as a new thing to do before the year ends. You may just like it.

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Published: 06 Nov 2015, 11:19 AM IST
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