The horrid lives of domestic servants

Published: November 10, 2010
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The writer has served as director-general of the FIA and retired as an inspector-general, police 
wajahat.latif@tribune.com.pk

The writer has served as director-general of the FIA and retired as an inspector-general, police wajahat.latif@tribune.com.pk

In the early 20th century, domestic help was the largest employment sector in Britain. Today, half of all households in England employ domestic help of some sort, paying over 20 billion pounds every year.

The British in India brought similar traditions, accentuating the lines between the nobility and the common people. In order to maintain control, they created a landed class which became the local aristocracy with feudal status, whom they kept in their pocket. Given a piece of land, the servants worked for the feudal master in return from one generation to another. It is said that in India today domestic help is still the largest sector of employment.

In Pakistan, there is usually no contract or job description for domestic servants. As a result, the servant knows that he will end up doing all the household chores. From cleaning and dusting, to cooking, washing and ironing, a servant is a general purpose help, often like a slave. His salary in Islamabad could be as high as Rs7,000 or as low as Rs2,000 a month.

Typically, the full time servant also gets board and lodging on the premises but quite often he has no fixed hours of duty. If he falls ill, he has to fend for himself unless a kind employer takes him to a doctor.

It is estimated that in Pakistan about 70 per cent of domestic servants are females. The Child Labour Act of 1991 made employment of children under 15 illegal. And yet a survey in 1996 showed that three million children were working in the country. However, with the informal sector taken into account, this figure would be much higher.

A bill was passed, banning domestic violence, in 2009 by the present government but no case of domestic violence has been known to have led to punishment.

Female domestic employees in this sector suffer because of a gender bias as well. The parents of a young maid, for instance, might withdraw a case of domestic violence to save face and retain family income, as state protection for victims is weak.

Because of maltreatment, economic pressure and rapid urbanisation, the master-servant relationship has become tense. The number of cases where a servant has attacked, and in some cases killed a master or mistress, is rising. (In almost all such cases, though, the foul mouth of the master drove the servant to violence.)

So let us have enforceable contracts in the domestic help sector. Otherwise, the seething rage that servants feel against their employers is likely to keep erupting, a fearful prospect in these times of post-flood stagflation.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 11th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (8)

  • Nov 11, 2010 - 2:19AM

    Today, half of all households in England employ domestic help of some sort, paying over 20 billion pounds every year. Sir, where have you come up with this ludicrous figure from? Domestic help as you categorize it, comparable to what we have in Pakistan is the presevrve of the very very rich in the UK. For that matter, how is the British experience relative here? Are you suggesting that before the advent of colonial rule their was no concept of domestic servants in South Asia? Share cropping or tenant farming is not one in the same as domestic servants. Recommend

  • Nov 11, 2010 - 12:18PM

    There are some people who are still human . See the only acknowledgement on his book to our housemaid in his latest book on this free book to download. https://docs.google.com/fileview?id=0B7bxkHDcg3mhOGY3YWM2NjItZDUxZS00N2IzLThjY2YtYTViYTJmMDllMjI3&hl=en&authkey=CP2wrbkPRecommend

  • parvez
    Nov 11, 2010 - 12:58PM

    The message conveyed is good and necessary.
    Starting the article with the reference to domestic help in the UK and then going onto our situation seemed disjointed the connection was fuzzy at best.Recommend

  • SharifL
    Nov 11, 2010 - 1:26PM

    It is a good article. We all know that household help is nothing less than modern day slavery in Pakistan. You see, servants working long hours for seven days a week. They have no limit to how many hours they work and even when they have nothing to do, must remain at the ‘masters’ disposal. I have heard reports that sometimes the masters do not pay or reduce their salary if they break anything.
    You see liberal and open minded middle talking about rights of the working classes who who are just as bad as others. In my views laws must be made to limit their work to 8 hours a day and at least one day off in a week. They should have a written contract which should show their salary, other benefits and any other relevant details.
    I spend my winter months in South Africa and notice that ‘maids’ have fixed working hours and do not work on Sundays. They are also off on public holidays. On top of that the employers are bound to contribute towards the old age pension also. And there a clause which includes the minimum salary per hour by the government. I admit their salaries need increases, the average is about $7 a day.
    I think the whites in Apartheid era treated their maids much better than our servants. Recommend

  • Nov 11, 2010 - 1:29PM

    Domestic workers are here for hundreds of years and were treated like slaves especially in rural areas. I doubt GORAS brought this concept.Recommend

  • dumb
    Nov 11, 2010 - 3:18PM

    the atrocities of the French revolution brought about child labor….what about the mougal era?…and the colonialism… ?Recommend

  • MAD
    Nov 11, 2010 - 3:49PM

    A number of female workers are subjected to physical and sexual abuse. Indeed in some (not as rare as thought) cases satisfying the master is part of the job description. Recommend

  • Abdul Qadir
    Nov 24, 2010 - 10:06PM

    regarding to this article in rural areas some of the people dont give salaries to the servants the poor servants give full services to themselves but they dont give any reward for it. if they ask they were killed by their masters so there is a proper law for the protection of the domestic servants. and there is also a fact that some of the domestic servants are giving salaries below Rs 2000 so Govt should also take notice about this because in this era a person cannot survive in just Rs1000 or Rs2000.Recommend

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