Usha Aravamudhan Saxena
Law Min, GOI, STOP Discriminatory Segregation of Domestic Workers by Urban Condominiums!
They cook your food. They clean your homes. They collect your garbage. They do your shopping for you. They look after your children. They take care of your elderly and your sick. They even care for your pets. They make your city-life easier. In fact, you wouldn't be able to wear washed and neatly pressed clothes or keep your office job or relax in your car on the way home, or keep your kids safe or have a hot meal ready for you in a clean home, if it wasn't for them. Very often they face exploitation, low pay, no leave or medical benefits, verbal and physical abuse and sexual harassment at their workplace, often living in squalid slums with no electricity or water supply, not far from the luxurious condominiums of their employers. They earn barely enough to support themselves and whole families back home in their villages. But even if they receive fair pay and have employers who treat them well, they face discrimination in the form of lift segregation and separate entrances and no access to washroom and rest facilities. These are illegal practices enforced by a lot of RWAs/Residents' groups in high-rise condominium complexes in all cities across India - these rules are made under the pretext of security but are actually more because domestic workers are considered 'inferior or dirty' or 'not the same as residents and their guests'. Add to this the fact that most domestic workers come from the economically, socially, politically weaker sections of society, and a sinister pattern of discrimination becomes obvious. Domestic workers are forced to use lifts and entrances meant for garbage and heavy luggage! If they dare to use facilities like lifts and restrooms marked for residents and their guests, the workers are penalised with harassment by security staff and loss of pay and even loss of employment, under orders from RWAs. Since security staff also come from the same sections of society as the domestic workers they are ordered to harass, it is double discrimination and dehumanising for both the guards and the domestic workers! These practices violate the Fundamental Tenets of Rights and Freedoms enlisted in the Preamble of the Constitution of India: "JUSTICE, social, economic and political;LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith andworship;EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;and to promote among them allFRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual..." and specific Articles of The Constitution of India : 14. Equality before law.—The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.15. Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.—(1) The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them. 16. Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment.—(1) There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State.(2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment or office under the State. 17. Abolition of Untouchability.—“Untouchability’’ is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of “Untouchability’’ shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law. Citizens of India are also mandated to perform the Fundamental duties : 51A. Fundamental duties.—It shall be the duty of every citizen of India—(e) to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women; The Government of India is further tasked with providing justice, equality and fraternity to weaker, under-privileged sections of society who have traditionally had no access to legal recourse and protection from discrimination. We demand that the Union Law Ministry of the Government of India issue a legal notification to all housing societies, RWAs(Resident Welfare Associations) of condominium complexes and residential complexes to forthwith STOP the discriminatory segregation practices against domestic workers - maids, cooks, housekeepers, houseboys, service personnel like drivers, cleaners, gardeners, maintenance staff, regular vendors, who are new or old, verified employees of such residential complexes. 1) Lift segregation: this abhorrent practice forces domestic workers to use lifts meant for garbage collection and heavy luggage and furniture. Domestic workers are penalised with loss of pay and loss of employment if they dare to use lifts meant for residents. 2) Separate entrances and frisking and intimidation of female domestic workers by male security staff: Many housing complexes have separate entrances for domestic workers where female domestic workers are often frisked or body-checked by male security staff 3) Dismissal or firing/entry block without legal aid and advise on allegations/unsupported charges of theft or misconduct: domestic workers are often fired with no notice and no pay on charges of theft or other misconduct, and their entry is blocked from accessing other places of employment within the complex, without giving them a chance to seek legal recourse. 4) Forced to work on National Holidays: Domestic workers are not given days off on August 15th, January 26th, May 1st and October 2nd and while their employers enjoy these holidays. domestic workers usually work full days, with no extra pay. In fact, if they do take the days off, it is counted as leave without pay! While unionisation of domestic workers is vital to enable them to demand their rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of India, that is a larger struggle. These everyday dehumanising practices must be STOPPED IMMEDIATELY. Those of us who live in or know of people who live in such condominiums have a duty as citizens to ensure that domestic workers are treated with dignity and justice, in the spirit of the Constitution of India. The Union Ministry for Law and Justice MUST ACT NOW! Otherwise the vast caste/class/religious/gender/social divide between urban rich and the urban poor will engulf India irreparably.