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.

  • Perth

    Manahyl Khan, you have raised a very serious issue here, and I appreciate your effort. Very well written.
    If one person can change his/her house hold attitude after reading your article, then you have made a difference. kodous Recommend

  • Mufaddal

    Great article , its always nice to see some one concered about people who could easily go unnoticed .Recommend

  • Amina

    Great read and an issue we ignore. Good to see people think about the people who serve us endlessly Recommend

  • 80s

    This is a true illustration of double standards in a so called “Islamic country”, we always been using the religion for our personal benefit but yet unable to respect each other as individuals. When this ‘help’ stands up for their right, like Asia Bibi or many others, we very rightly put them in their place for good, one way or the other. The domestic help is what I would call ‘modern age slavery’.Recommend

  • Erum

    You have raised a good point cz eventually they’ll raise questions in future!Recommend

  • Colonel

    @Manahyl khan
    Very well done. You’ve touched upon a very serious issue that needs to be addressed as quick as possible. Its good knowing that at least people aren’t unaware of what or how the result of their actions have been on others?
    My question to you, since you belong to a blessed-educated-class, what steps or changes have ‘you’ initiated at ‘your’ place so that others can follow you or Is it just one of the verbal-accusations(blabbing) this class does all apart from actually practicing it and making a difference? Mind you I belong to the same class. :(
    Its ironic that those who belong to a very well-to-do family, had better education are indulged in these practices.Recommend

  • saqib

    Great this is a grave issue our society accept it ironically for decades Thanks for bringing it out but I see thou we don’t treat our own domestic worker well situation with foreign workers is also not an ideal.Recommend

  • Sunny

    we don’t have right to cry for fair treatment at our offices if we our self cannot treat our domestic workers fairly. Thanks Manhyal Khan for highlighting this serious issue. Recommend

  • Op

    After reading your blog,, i just realize How superior we think of our self’s.Recommend

  • Iamthehighestcaste

    Well written.

    These people are denied education, its a cyclical process, passed down from the generations.These people would be better utilized in other areas of the economy, but of course, most are uneducated, and the Pakistani government doesn’t care…because they serve them and their “upper class”…lol.

    Agree with many of the sentiments expressed here.

    Caste system has a huge role to play in this, and historical entitlement culture.

    Hypocrisy all over the place in Pakistan. Muslim, secular whatever whatever camp you put yourself in, it goes everywhere, just hypocrisy.

    And then these same people talk about the “racism they experience in the west/KSA/Gulf countries” lol.Recommend

  • Colonel

    ..please do answer my question.Recommend

  • abrar

    Manahyl: the true change will come when you will not only speak out in the papers for the rights of your driver (by way of example), but rather have the courage to love him and hate him as a person, and yes, to pursue a relationship with him and marry him, if you so desire.Recommend

  • Fear Factor

    Also do sometimes raise the issue to children being molested by these servants….Parents are very careless in general……
    It seems the fear of God only can stop a master from abusing his subordinates and husband from abusing his wife, and Inlaws from abusing daughter in laws………these things are never reported to Police StationsRecommend

  • Vijendra Karacasia

    Great to read such views of a mordern day educated young lady. Refreshing and very possitive.
    God bless.Recommend

  • Ginger

    Very well written. Your words sent a shiver down my spine cz you’re right they will ask us one day. Thanku for questioning yourself too instead of preaching like most of us doRecommend

  • Parvez

    What comes to mind is a brilliant movie called ‘ The Help ‘ based on a novel by Kathryn Stockett on the same subject and relates to the 1960’s in Mississippi USA.
    I have said the above to show the mindset you talk of existed in the worlds most advanced country only a short time ago, but changes were brought about and today things are different. In our part of the world with our population size, education levels, recent colonial baggage, lack of job opportunities, religious dogma, insufficient government protective legislation, reducing or even managing inequality in our society is not an easy task.Recommend

  • binger

    I just read the title as
    “Are You made by dirty driver?”

    crazy ain’t you?Recommend

  • Ahmad

    Manahyl, you hit the bull right between the eyes. Unfortunately, majority carries this epidemic from Indian class culture which for some odd reason has become a part of our culture now. We talk n make big claims being Muslim but probably 7 out 10 daily practices are Hindu culture based (from cast system to marriage customs, from mistreatment of women to being savior n what not). We feel proud to sit on the same table, drink eat n talk with an western Christian but those who work in our houses, clean our toilets, wash car garage, broom in/out doors etc we treat them as untouchables like Hindus do to there lower class. We must start asking ourself questions such as What’s wrong with us? Are we sick? What we have done to our culture n which directions we are going? Do we really believe in Islam? Ate we really Muslims? Sure some people won’t like or appreciate such questions but we must ask ourself Now n Correct ourself, before it’s too late.Recommend

  • Final Solution

    Pakistani Muslims consider their servants ‘achoot’ (untouchables), more so if they are Christians (‘Chamaar’ in the word i believe reserved for them) or god forbid a Hindu (‘Bhungi’ is the word I believe reserved for them)…Recommend

  • I am a Khan

    Dear Author- You have mentioned an extremely important topic and a dark reality of the Pakistani society. The high class of Pakistan will have to accept the less privileged people as the humanbeings they are and treat them with respect. The main problem of our society is being arrogant and haughty. Islam teaches us that the arrogant people will not go to Jannah, but the privileged people forget this.

    It is nice to see you write on this topic. I hope more and more young men and women have a similar mindset as yourself, of respecting the less privileged in our society. May Allah bless you. May Allah increase the righteousness in our hearts. Aameen. Recommend

  • Khan

    People don’t follow labor laws when it comes to their working hours and salaries of domestic workers. These workers are not slaves. Even underage children are hired to work as domestic workers, there is nothing more heart breaking then a child servant. I would suggest that no one should be allowed to hire full time domestic workers unless these workers are given protections under the prevalent labor laws of the country. The ones treating them as house slaves should be sent to jail Recommend

  • Historian 1

    I am amazed to read emotional sentiments of author and comments above. Treating anyone with respect is understandable but giving equal status to different categories of people is unrealistic. How can you place a skilled person at the same status of an unskilled person. How can you place an educated and an illiterate in the same category? If you want your children to converse in English and to learn modern etiquettes you have to employ a Philipino maid or nanny. It’s all matter of resources and religion has nothing to do with it. Pakistanis feel proud to be educated in western ( non muslim ) institutions and also to work for western companies than why not employ non Muslims for domestic help?Recommend

  • Gary

    @Op: How superior or how inhuman…?
    @Ahmad: “Unfortunately, majority carries this epidemic from Indian class culture…”
    Dude, grow up and start talking responsibility. Blaming others is what intellectually bankrupt and emotionally immature indulge in.Recommend

  • gp65

    @Ahmad: “Manahyl, you hit the bull right between the eyes. Unfortunately, majority carries this epidemic from Indian class culture which for some odd reason has become a part of our culture now. We talk n make big claims being Muslim but probably 7 out 10 daily practices are Hindu culture based (from cast system to marriage customs, from mistreatment of women to being savior n what not)”

    You got a country to practice Islam the way you want. Time to stop blaming India and Hindus. Secondly, can you please provide any reference to caste system in the Vedas, Upanishads or the Bhagvad Gita – those are our divine books. You wil be unable t find that. The caste system was a cultural practice in our region. Finally patriachy is all over the world. Why do Arabas do honour killing – is it because they learnt it from Hindus? I will tell you this though – you have introduced laws that make life difficult for women after becomng an independent persn. Some examples:
    1) Laws of evidence – where a woman’s evidence has half the value of a man
    2) Laws of inheritance
    3) Rape laws where a woman has to show 4 male witnesses if she wants to file complaints.

    So you have your country – fix it. Blaming Hindus for your behavior is an idea that is well past the sell by dateRecommend

  • Thrilling Maalshi

    Reading this piece was bittersweet. Bitter because it forces one to realize how (no matter how unintentionally) warped our mindset is. Especially since this mindset best manifests itself no place other than our own homes. Sweet because there seems to be hope. After all, if one learned soul like you can ask why we’re like this, there is hope that others will eventually follow suit. Thank you, Manahyl.Recommend

  • Lets be honest

    @Ahmad:
    This is not so called hindu culture. Do you know how maids and domestic helpers are treated in the middle east, Saudi Arabia in particular which is supposed to be islamic. They are treated as slaves. Unless you want to argue now that Saudi Arabia and other countries in the middle east are not following islamic principles.

    Its a mindset that is in existence in many countries. Hinduism had its caste system and it has trickled down into the mindset of the educated elite on how they treat people working in their houses irrespective of caste really, its got more to do with money and the fact that people feel superior based on wealth. In the middle east slave trade carried on even under islam. That has led to how domestic helpers are treated in many islamic countries. Open your eyes. Do you know how Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis and Nepalies are treated like in the middle east. They are just like cannon fodder to do the menial jobs and are treated by the state and local population as second class citizens.

    Conveniently blaming your problems on hinduism is quite easy when islamic countries have laws that discriminate between people. Get off your high horse and reallize that its a problem of mindset which has been perpetuated by religion.Recommend

  • londonistani

    brilliant article. brilliant.

    next time i go to pakistan i will take my domestic servant to pizza hut. make him sit next to me and have a delicious meal and a good laugh.Recommend

  • KKK

    I guess its true it comes from an Indian class culture. I believe culture is one of the component playing a role here. I think such attitude is less in Pashtun culture, as there is more emphasize on equality.I personally sometimes randomly sit and eat with the workers even though some people find it weird.Recommend

  • Layla

    wonderful read, refreshing view! Recommend

  • nida

    reminding of the black/white divide. This is discrimination pure and simpleRecommend

  • Saad

    @Colonel:

    Your question on the author has raised another issue that still needs to be resolved in the society. Firstly you must understand this is a blog, not a public speaking assembly. The author has the right to share and speak her mind and thoughts. Secondly, your question is a typcial statement that ignorant people give to people who try make change by identifiying the problem. i.e. “Before you blabber about our issues, tell me what have you done?”. It is vital to spread awareness about certain wrongful procedures that are taking place for generations and so people can think for themselves.

    My question for you is, the arthur has made an effort to spread awareness of stereotypical behaviour in this society, what have you done other than replying with your blabbering critics?Recommend

  • I am a Khan

    @gp65:
    “Secondly, can you please provide any reference to caste system in the Vedas, Upanishads or the Bhagvad Gita – those are our divine books.”

    The Rig Veda mentions the creation of different humans from different parts of Brahma’s body

    Brahmins- the Mouth
    Kshatriya- the Arms
    Vaisyas- the Thighs
    Sudras- the Feet

    This formed the basis that humans were not created equal and were separated into different castes per the Rig Veda.Recommend

  • I am a Khan

    @gp65:
    “1) Laws of evidence – where a woman’s evidence has half the value of a man
    2) Laws of inheritance
    3) Rape laws where a woman has to show 4 male witnesses if she wants to file complaints.”

    Laws of evidence consider a woman’s evidence half as compared to a man’s because women are more emotional then men. You commonly see women crying out when in stress, how many men do you see crying when stressed?

    Women are given half inheritance because they do not need to spend a single cent on their family. Its their Father or Brother or Husband’s sole responsibility to take care of all the family expenses. In your religion women are not given even one cent in inheritance. The wealth goes to the sons only. So Islam is very generous in women inheritance laws.

    Islamic Rape Laws do not require 4 witnesses. If it is proved from sources that a woman was raped, the rapist is given the death penalty. Something which the feminists of your country are campaigning for. 4 witnesses are only required for adultery and fornication NOT rape. Pakistan and some other countries misinterpret the laws.Recommend

  • Nonimus

    We are all feudals, just of different scales. Recommend

  • gp65

    ET please allow rebuttal to someone who has written to me.

    @I am a Khan: The section you refer to from RigVeda is a much later insertion. It is not just I who say this but scholars like Ambedkar.

    “In your religion women are not given even one cent in inheritance. The wealth goes to the sons only.”
    First of all my comment was not at all about Islam but laws in present day Pakistan since I never question someone else’s faith and have never todate made a single statement that is adverse about Islam.

    IT is also true that in Hindu custom, women did not inherit anything (although not stated in our religious books – you need to separate custom from religion). And I will not defend something that is wrong. This is why India chose not to follow a practice which was wrong just because it was customary. The laws in India do give women an equal inheritance. So the issue is about what Pakistan’s laws are today not about what Quran wrote.

    As far as your statement about women having half the evidentiary value because they are emotional – seriously, I mean seriously, is this even an argument?Recommend

  • Tahir Mahmood

    Nice thought provoking article. I highly appreciate the beautiful way the writer has tried to arouse the empathy of employers of domestic servants.Recommend

  • Maxwood

    A well written article, I must Say.

    Keeping writing and May God bless You.Recommend

  • Realistic

    Fantastic article!
    i think exactly the same thing!Recommend

  • Muhammad Irteza Munawar

    A very well written article, touching a very sensitive issue of our society. We have forgotten our values this is not religiously, ethically and socially just. Every one is equal and one should realize how much dependant are we on them and their endless services.Recommend

  • Mariyah

    ..reading this takes me back to a number of events..
    There is one i can never forget – its kind of bitter sweet and tunred out to be helarious for some of us in the end.
    I had an old, mind i say, rather nasty woman living in my neighbourhood. She was known for her cruel treatment towards her servants. She claimed she had bought them for a couple of thousands (which acually does happen a lot) and said she could do anything with them.
    Among all the ‘bad’ things she did to them one was the worst e.i not letting them eat the food that was prepared daily but expecting them to live on left overs.
    One of her maid (just eight years of age) once decided to take action.
    When the old grumppy woman went to the market one day, the little girl decided to clear the refiregirator. She threw every thing in the trash can. Asked some one to write a note which said “share your food or it shall be taken from you” (this was in urdu).

    Well, we can all predict what happened afterwards when the evil granny found out but it was a lesson well learnt. Recommend

  • abhi

    Do you have people hiring filipino maids in Pakistan!
    @abrar
    Very funny comment, so in order to treat someone equal you have to marry them.Recommend

  • khalid

    I have seen drivers who are very clean despite they are poor but at the same some are dirty so it varies person to person. Recommend

  • Hira

    Maids are not important to most and r equal to slaves. May God bless you I am happy you wrote about thisRecommend

  • Fizza Rafique

    And then we call the Westerns ‘racists’. Isn’t it Racism which we are depicting from our behavior towards them? Well written.Recommend

  • Enough…!

    Finally I get to see that there are poor people in pakistan
    as reading most comments by chauvinistic paksitanis here and on youtube I always get a feeling that only India has poor people Recommend

  • Enough…!

    what is the biggest irony here that people who force their domestic help to use separate utensils are able to eat in the utensils that were cleaned by the hands of the same person Recommend

  • I am a Khan

    @Enough…!:
    I dont think separate utensils for different people is discrimination. Its just being careful about hygeine. In my family each person has their own plate, cup, etc and their are separate utensils for guests. However being harsh or arrogant to your maids, drivers, etc is detestable. They should be treated with respect. Recommend

  • Insaan

    @I am a Khan:
    Sounds like borderline OCD. Do you guys wash your hands too often too.Recommend

  • I am a Khan

    @Insaan:
    Well if you think being hygienic is borderline OCD then so be it. Regarding washing hands…we do ablution 5 times a day, so yes we regularly wash hands, rinse mouth, wash face, elbows, feet, etc. and not just us but all practicing muslims to that. Islam places a lot of emphasis of hygiene, unlike in the west where they do not wash themselves even after using the toilet!! My main point was that separate utensils for maids, guests, different family members etc is not discrimination. But being arrogant or rude to maids, drivers etc is detestable. Recommend

  • Shah

    a nice pieceRecommend