Here's How Our Treatment Of Domestic Workers Can Often Amount To Abuse

By Yumna Rathore | 5 Mar, 2018

Pakistan ki pursukoon zindagi – we all enjoy the very unnecessary perks that we have here.

For grocery shopping, just send the driver. Want your watch fixed? Well, you send the guard. For cleaning, dusting, ironing, and babysitting – you have your ayas. We can’t imagine our lives without them, yet we constantly complain about them. Unfortunately these ayas and chachas, rudely referred to as naukars, are often subject to rough working conditions. Working in the informal sector, domestic workers don’t have the same rights, terms, and conditions that we do – but they should.

Let’s start with the word naukar

In social gatherings, you’ll find many aunties exchanging naukar stories or looking for a naukar. When you refer to your domestic help, not by their name, but by this word, you’re stripping them off of their identity. When you talk about hiring someone for your company, you’d always refer to that someone as a potential employee or by their name. Let’s treat our domestic helpers as name-worthy employees.

Source: The New York Times / Jason Tanner

Then there’s the constant cursing.

It’s a very common thing to curse and shout at your domestic help and embarrass them in front of others. Imagine your boss telling you off in front of everyone. Wouldn’t you appreciate being talked to respectfully, away from others and in a personal space? No one likes to be humiliated.


And the non-stop critiquing and fault-finding which is degrading and demotivating.

Many employers are quick to criticize the cook for not adding enough salt or the dhobi for not washing the clothes properly. Negative reinforcement is widely used. What happened to appreciating good work and then giving constructive feedback? After all, you catch more flies with honey.


On top of the mental abuse, you have physical abuse.

Remember this employer in Lahore who forced her maid into the trunk of a car? Authorities should take legal action against any employer physically abusing their help. And yes, this includes the occasional push and thappar. This also includes sexual harassment that some face by the men of the household. Touching of no kind should be tolerated – this goes for white-collar workers just as much as any blue-collar worker.


Many take away their phones and TVs.

Imagine working with no phone? How many times a day do you check your phone during work? Unfortunately, a lot of help in Pakistan have their phones confiscated or are refused access to a TV. There is no araam for them in this 24/7 job where they are on duty at all times.


Sometimes, they aren’t allowed family visits or time off.

They have restrictions on who they can or cannot meet. Interfering in other people’s business is an old habit of ours that doesn’t go even if the other is someone who works for us day and night. Every employee is allowed vacation days and so should these employees. Threatening to fire them over a vacation is absurd.


And what about all the bachas working?

How many times have you seen a 10-year-old taking care of a 2-year-old? Underaged children working as nannies is a sight we see too often. And the rationale of agar hum nahi to koi aur doesn’t work. If a child approaches you for work, help enroll them in a school and invest in their education.


Then there are those who measure their food and water.

The worst of all are employers who measure food and water intake of those who work for them (yes even water!). Has your employer ever checked how much water you drink? – probably not. Because it’s plain wrong.

Via: Getty Images / Rizwan Tabassum

Oh, and those who take them to malls and splurge on clothes and lavish meals.

Then there are those who selfishly take their help to the mall, only to take care of the children or carry their shopping bags filled with Khaadi, Sapphire and the like (which by the way can amount to 3 months’ worth of their salary). Worse yet, in very elite places, helpers have “boundaries” they cannot cross – for example, Islamabad Club’s very classist sign on maids not being allowed beyond a certain point.


And for all their work, how do we repay them?

Majority of domestic help come from extremely poor living conditions and have large families they have to support. Many employers take advantage of this by paying them less than minimum wage. In that instant, we forget all forms of empathy. Why is that so?

There are good and bad people everywhere. This is not to say that every domestic help is abused, but let’s speak out against such atrocities when we see them. How often do you see this happen? Let us know in the comments.

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