Dear elites: Your servants have rights, treat them like humans

The way we demand unquestionable obedience is actually rather horrible; we treat servants like slaves.

Ameer Gilani January 21, 2014
As a result of my ancestors having achieved affluence, my early childhood years were relatively privileged – spent in an expansive house in Peshawar with my siblings, pets, pomp and delusions of grandeur.

We had many servants – someone to cook the meals, someone to bring the dishes to the table, someone to drive and maintain the cars, someone to wash the clothes, someone to sweep the floors, someone to feed the dogs, someone to trim the hedges and someone to guard the gate; all of whom collectively pandered to the nauseating imperial sensibilities that dominated the lifestyle of the rich.

Having the attention span of your run-of-the-mill spoilt youngest child, I never paid much attention to class differences in Pakistan. I lived in my own little world, comprising of Lego, Nintendo, Enid Blyton, older siblings, a doting mother and a distant father, with no worries of starvation, illiteracy or inadequate healthcare.

It was only recently that I began to open my eyes and question ‘the way things are done’ and heck, I realised that servants are people too!

The way we demand their unquestionable obedience is actually rather horrible. It isn’t the least bit uncommon to hear people expressing shock at servants demanding higher salaries, answering back to them, refusing to clean up dog poop, having the audacity to want to leave or using their ‘masters’ bathrooms (which is disgusting, as they aren’t humans). Some of my friends and family members are discomfited by the casual ease with which I interact with ‘the naukars’.

On a very optimistic note, this Monday, a lawmaker presented a landmark bill in the Senate, titled the Domestic Workers (Employment Rights) Act 2013 following pressure from the United Nations. The bill addresses a number of concerns:

- Domestic workers can be no younger than 14 and no older than 60.

- The need for contractual agreements between employers and domestic workers, which will include specific terms and conditions related to hours and nature of work, and are to include healthcare/welfare measures.

- The worker shall be paid at least minimum wage and compensated extra for overtime work.

- Workers may work no more than 12 hours a day.

- They will be addressed as ‘domestic workers’ and not ‘servants’. You aren’t their ‘masters’, you’re their ‘employers’.

These subtle linguistic nuances should help, over time, hammer it into our heads that they are people and people have rights.

The Domestic Workers Act 2013 will surely help regulate the 8.5 million domestic workers in Pakistan who live at the arbitrary mercy of their employers as glorified slaves, without any written contract or specific legislative protection.

It should be kept in mind though, that Pakistan has a track record of passing bills without working towards their implementation. Considering the number of domestic workers that aren’t able to read and write, the cynic in me predicts that many employers will deliberately keep them in the dark.

Due to the devolution of power to provinces following the 18th amendment, this bill only applies to the Federal Capital Territory. However, once this bill is passed, all the provinces should ideally follow suit, provided that civil society activists care enough to take this cause up.

I personally think that the bill isn’t perfect and hasn’t covered all the areas of concern. I would have liked to see a clause which ensures that employers pay for the schooling of the children of domestic workers, a move which would have helped alleviate the education system of the nation as well as bridge the class divide. Regardless, it is most definitely a start and a good one at that.

Once this bill is passed, we, the English-speaking, upper-crust, Federal Capital Territory ‘Sahibs’ and ‘Begum Sahib’ should work towards increasing awareness about the rights of domestic workers.

The day this bill is passed by the senate, as I am very sure it will be, I will be the first to draft a contract for the workers present in my home, ensuring their empowerment and equal treatment as human beings with legal redress in case of excessively prevalent inhumane practices.

Please put away the shackles and whips. And for what it’s worth, it is not that hard to make your own tea every once in a while.
Ameer Gilani A sociology major, activist, and aspiring journalist working on educational reform who tweets @Ameeratron (
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


sahiba | 8 years ago | Reply Even if I care about human rights, I don't find it fit that my employees should be using my bathroom. Not because they are not human, only because I wouldn't let anyone except my family members to use my bathroom. I dread to think that I am eating my dinner with my domestic worker, because in that way the distance between a employee and employer is filled with personal relationship, which harms the job ethics. You know just like you cannot use your boss' office or laptop to work in or at, you cannot let your domestic worker to use your personal space. Its is not fair on the employer itself, because a home is our personal territory, and domestic worker, is an outsider, working for money and not a friend or relative. I agree about their human rights, but imagine your driver taking your merc to drop his kids to school, I mean why not? Its his human right. Well its not. In that way, there are to be some boundaries which we should not cross, with our employees/domestic workers or employer. And thats right nobody should be asked to do something they don't want to do, so it is decided in the beginning of their job, if they refuse in between thn you might as well want to leave your other task in between, now the question is why do you appoint a domestic worker thn? To hear them saying no for their job? Its like your assistant refusing to bring you coffee because they are tired like you. Its good that they be given human rights but these rights help them and harm the employer, why not make some agreement for both parties. My domestic workers has dragged my patience to the level of madness because I thought they were human, but no they are like a bad relationship, an abusive one. Have you heard something like this before? Well, you know, it happens, these very human people treat their neighbors like animals themselves. I had such bad experience with my 'naukars' in past because I treated them well that I am planning to sue the next one for mental harassment. And I am not joking.
imaan mian | 9 years ago | Reply The laws being passed are a small step. You rightly say that it is the elite who hire these domestic workers who will have to change the way they are treated. It seems as though people have started investing effort into helping families of domestic workers. I am aware that many people pay for workers education. We can hope that this trend continues and changes the way our helpers are treated.
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