Are your maid and driver ‘dirty’ because they work for you?

Published: April 6, 2013
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What drives the difference? Are the stains on their clothes from the cleaning of our house the problem?

A woman snatched a fork from the hands of another woman just as she was about to eat at a dinner recently.

The other woman did not flinch nor retaliate. In fact, she went on to accept an entire set of different dinnerware from the plate to the glass.

That’s an extraordinarily polite guest, I noted.

Except this woman was not a guest. The woman was a domestic servant.

No one paused to notice what happened, no one found it strange.

There is a difference we have with the people that work for us. We do not eat in the same plates as them and cannot fathom the idea of sharing the same glasses, cutlery, furniture, or a dinner table as them.

The platitude most commonly heard in Pakistan is that domestic workers are considered family which belies the heavy brick of discrimination placed on their backs. Even in cases where the help has remained with the family for decades, there is no question of common plates or permission to sit on furniture in the drawing room.

It should occur to me that something is wrong when I see someone sitting on a sofa while the cleaning lady squats on the floor. It should depress me when I notice that the domestic-staff keeps their plates in a separate place altogether in most homes. My brother, who is not past his preteens, should not be called sahib by a man old enough to be our grandfather.

Domestic help is no concern to us, their plight goes unnoticed. It could be because we need them to cook, clean, iron, wash and drive.

It might also be that we are scared to think of just how cruel we might really be.

Today, the domestic worker’s position is stagnant because he cannot spell his rights and we devour the advantage like cake. We know well how to treat the foreign maid brought to Pakistan on a contract. Local help is treated significantly different while the foreign maid is allowed to be human. I am yet to see a Filipino maid accept the same conditions as the domestic workers or be refused a seat in your lounge.

Legislation, protection, proper working hours and conditions for domestic workers is a far cry. I want to begin by questioning people like you and me.

What drives the difference?

Are the stains on their clothes from the cleaning of our house the problem?

Do we need to remind them of their class difference? Or do we want to remind ourselves of our supposed superiority?

Foreign workers bring a contract, a passport and an attitude.

Are the local domestic workers finding themselves being treated as new-age untouchables just because they comply?

We need to have an answer to give them; they will ask your children if they don’t realise in time to ask you.

Read more by Manahyl here or follow her on Twitter @mintsnk

Manahyl Khan

Manahyl Khan

A sub-editor on the Magazine desk of The Express Tribune. She tweets @manahylk (twitter.com/manahylk)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.