The first time the issue of domestic help turning on their employers came to public notice was when, legendary artist Gulgee and his wife were brutally murdered in 2007 and one of their servants was accused of the crime. There has now been a repeat occurrence as a driver has been accused of killing a family of five that he used to work for in Karachi. The police claim that the killings were a case of a robbery gone wrong and not a revenge mission. But there are clearly economic factors at play. Hired help in Pakistan are paid a pittance but are surrounded by luxury and opulence. It is only natural that their thoughts will turn to getting some of that wealth instead. Unfortunately, there have been various cases reported across the country where servants have resorted to using violence. While arresting and putting on trial such individuals is necessary, what is far more important is changing the culture that surrounds the master-servant relationship present here.
A strengthening of the enforcement of labour laws in the country is imperative, not just to reduce the chances of such incidents occurring again, but also out of a sense of basic decency. Everyone who is rich enough to keep servants should also be bound to provide domestic help with a decent wage, living quarters, three meals a day and a weekly holiday. Servants who are below the age of 18 should also be given access to education.
We may also want to consider toning down our opulent lifestyles. In a country where income inequality is as pronounced as it is here, it should come as no surprise that jealousy and anger lead to theft and violence. Leading a more modest existence is not only good for us, it could also help reduce such cases in the future. Living behind a wall of armed guards and fancy alarm systems may give us the illusion of safety. But when our lavish spending takes place in front of people who barely earn enough to make it through the day, it is not surprising that those very guards end up turning against us.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2012.
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