Dear elites: Your servants have rights, treat them like humans

Published: January 21, 2014
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Once this bill is passed, we, the English-speaking, upper-crust, ‘Sahibs’ and ‘Madams’ should work towards increasing awareness about the rights of domestic workers.

As a result of my ancestors having achieved affluence, my early childhood years were relatively privileged – spent in an expansive house in Peshawar with my siblings, pets, pomp and delusions of grandeur.

We had many servants – someone to cook the meals, someone to bring the dishes to the table, someone to drive and maintain the cars, someone to wash the clothes, someone to sweep the floors, someone to feed the dogs, someone to trim the hedges and someone to guard the gate; all of whom collectively pandered to the nauseating imperial sensibilities that dominated the lifestyle of the rich.

Having the attention span of your run-of-the-mill spoilt youngest child, I never paid much attention to class differences in Pakistan. I lived in my own little world, comprising of Lego, Nintendo, Enid Blyton, older siblings, a doting mother and a distant father, with no worries of starvation, illiteracy or inadequate healthcare.

It was only recently that I began to open my eyes and question ‘the way things are done’ and heck, I realised that servants are people too!

The way we demand their unquestionable obedience is actually rather horrible. It isn’t the least bit uncommon to hear people expressing shock at servants demanding higher salaries, answering back to them, refusing to clean up dog poop, having the audacity to want to leave or using their ‘masters’ bathrooms (which is disgusting, as they aren’t humans). Some of my friends and family members are discomfited by the casual ease with which I interact with ‘the naukars’.

On a very optimistic note, this Monday, a lawmaker presented a landmark bill in the Senate, titled the Domestic Workers (Employment Rights) Act 2013 following pressure from the United Nations. The bill addresses a number of concerns:

– Domestic workers can be no younger than 14 and no older than 60.

– The need for contractual agreements between employers and domestic workers, which will include specific terms and conditions related to hours and nature of work, and are to include healthcare/welfare measures.

– The worker shall be paid at least minimum wage and compensated extra for overtime work.

– Workers may work no more than 12 hours a day.

– They will be addressed as ‘domestic workers’ and not ‘servants’. You aren’t their ‘masters’, you’re their ‘employers’.

These subtle linguistic nuances should help, over time, hammer it into our heads that they are people and people have rights.

The Domestic Workers Act 2013 will surely help regulate the 8.5 million domestic workers in Pakistan who live at the arbitrary mercy of their employers as glorified slaves, without any written contract or specific legislative protection.

It should be kept in mind though, that Pakistan has a track record of passing bills without working towards their implementation. Considering the number of domestic workers that aren’t able to read and write, the cynic in me predicts that many employers will deliberately keep them in the dark.

Due to the devolution of power to provinces following the 18th amendment, this bill only applies to the Federal Capital Territory. However, once this bill is passed, all the provinces should ideally follow suit, provided that civil society activists care enough to take this cause up.

I personally think that the bill isn’t perfect and hasn’t covered all the areas of concern. I would have liked to see a clause which ensures that employers pay for the schooling of the children of domestic workers, a move which would have helped alleviate the education system of the nation as well as bridge the class divide. Regardless, it is most definitely a start and a good one at that.

Once this bill is passed, we, the English-speaking, upper-crust, Federal Capital Territory ‘Sahibs’ and ‘Begum Sahib’ should work towards increasing awareness about the rights of domestic workers.

The day this bill is passed by the senate, as I am very sure it will be, I will be the first to draft a contract for the workers present in my home, ensuring their empowerment and equal treatment as human beings with legal redress in case of excessively prevalent inhumane practices.

Please put away the shackles and whips. And for what it’s worth, it is not that hard to make your own tea every once in a while.

Ameer Gilani

Ameer Gilani

A sociology major, activist, and aspiring journalist working on educational reform who tweets @Ameeratron (twitter.com/Ameeratron)

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

  • VOC

    An excellent article. We all must realize that all humans are equal! Keep up the good work. Lets hope the bill gets passed and implemented too!Recommend

  • Khan

    Well, it is not hard to make your own tea or do any of your any of your own chores like cooking, driving, laundry, cleaning your bathroom, etc. These are essential things anyone should know about living. It is remarkable that we do the same things on our own (out of necessity) when we go Europe or North America. But in Pakistan we can afford the luxury of being lazy and letting the servants do all the housework. A simple economic explanation is that the price of labor (the wage rate) is too low compared to wages in European or North American labor.Recommend

  • Duah

    Excellent topic to write about, clearly we Pakistanis need lessons in treating humans as humans. Also the mentality behind this debatable treatment of domestic staff manifests in really horrible events. Lets hope bills is passed, but I wonder all those politicians with armies of domestic staffers will approve this or become an obstacle against this.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Nice subject……nicely written.
    You have rightly said that laws do in fact remain only on paper and is only a partial answer. What needs to change is the economic prospects for the servant class and that considering the population growth, is a tough call. Once the disparity between rich and poor narrows, the concept of ‘ dignity of labour ‘ creeps in and things may improve.Recommend

  • ovais

    You do know that just a few articles before you was a blog on how hot Bilawal Bhutto is . Do you really think this elite cares about their servants ??Recommend

  • Khaula Rizwan

    Before even hiring them, you have to think, ‘are we ready to understand their rights?’ Are we even aware? Else, its better to be your own servant, and work hard.Recommend

  • tungi

    only a sick mind would hit his servants!as far as talking back, or refusing to work is concerned that is a problem in the corporate world too!over time and listening to your boss’ rants are all too commmonRecommend

  • a;dk;ad;

    Absolutely brilliant subject and write up! I but would like to add that it is not just members of our notorious elite classes that mistreat domestic workers but many of the middle class/upper middle class crowd who can afford to have to have a servant are just as inconsiderate of the fact their servants are in fact humans!! I am a big critic of Pakistan’s so called “elite” and of the hedonistic lifestyles they leave but believe me, on this subject, I have seen the middle classes treat their servants a lot worse! But that’s not to say that the elite dont do it as well, it just shows as that treatment of domestic workers is poor throughout parkistan whether the person in question is from the elite or the middle classes.Recommend

  • smbfh

    You know! You don’t have to fire that extra peon or driver or maid or cleaner. Just understand their need of self decision, respect, freedom to go where ever they want to after their scheduled work. Imagine that worker has a grown-up son along with him or her and what his feeling would be from your treatment of his elder. Keep that as a marker to check your attitude toward his relative. Find your self lucky your worker don’t use terrorism to gain respect from you, or you would not know what hit you, lol!Recommend

  • Mr Bajwa

    I will be the first to draft a contract for the workers present in my home, ensuring their empowerment and equal treatment as human beings with legal redress in case of excessively prevalent inhumane practices.

    I doubt about it. I do not have doubt about your sincerity but………….., you know when you try thisRecommend

  • Hillary 2016

    Domestic servants have always been abused and treated badly the only reason in Western countries that they have more rights is that their are laws to protect them. It does not matter how rich you are, or where you live it is the right of every Pakistani to make sure that domestic workers or factory workers are not abused. If you are aware of such a situation in your family or friends and take the cowards route of SILENCE then you are complicit in the crime of also being a part of the abuser!Recommend

  • Asif

    All good but who is going to enforce the act? Certainly the people employing the helpers don’t care & the police won’t wither.Recommend

  • Necromancer

    Stop child labour first that is the first form of slavery……and we can do that by not paying to people who employs child like mechanics, shop owner and stop going to people houses if they hire help of a child be it your relative or friend and tell them why you are not visiting them so they can understand………Start the change from yourselves……..Recommend

  • Haris Javed

    In-house maids are not personal slaves. They think and feel the same way other people do. They are human beings, yet somehow, the paymasters forget this simple fact, and behave in a way that is not even fit for animals.

    We all know someone who is as thoughtless as this. We see it happen on a daily basis and just look the other way, so that we don’t have to get involved. This proposed law is appreciable but we as a society have certain responsibilities as well. Our silence is what keeps these monsters out and about, free to do as they please. We must take initiatives on individual basis as well.. .Recommend

  • Haris Javed

    In-house maids are not personal slaves. They think and feel the same way other people do. They are human beings, yet somehow, the paymasters forget this simple fact, and behave in a way that is not even fit for animals.

    We all know someone who is as thoughtless as this. We see it happen on a daily basis and just look the other way, so that we don’t have to get involved. This proposed law is appreciable but we as a society have certain responsibilities as well. Our silence is what keeps these monsters out and about, free to do as they please. We must take initiatives on individual basis as well.. .Recommend

  • treefingers

    Why didn’t you draft a contract for your employees before? Why wait for the government to force you? You think that government is protecting these workers from captivity when in fact they are not slaves but are there under there own free will, likely because their lives as servants are miles above any alternative life they would probably endure.Recommend

  • Ayesha

    Passing a law is a step, but a small one. I am astounded by how toddlers speak to their nannies in Pakistan. Growing up, we had domestic help, but we were NEVER allowed to address them by their name or “tum”. It was always “Apa” or “Chacha” and the acceptable pronoun was always “aap”. Children will learn the same habits their parents have. The law is good, but humanity comes from within, not from legislature.
    Recommend

  • imran takkar

    Education is the only way that can eliminate all forms of children labor, In this connection it is the responsibility of Govts’ to implement Article 25-A of the constitution, keeping in view to ensure free and compulsory education to all children from age 5 to 16 years.Recommend

  • bbbb

    Well SaidRecommend

  • Yumna

    Thank you SO MUCH for writing this!!!! seriously!!!
    I agree with every single word of this article.Recommend

  • https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=8559594100366660134#allposts Supriya Arcot

    Well …It’s a question
    Of demand and supply I suppose.go to big cities like Mumbai and see how high and mighty ‘maids’ behave. Some ‘aware’ maids are also known to have blackmailed their employers to pay up or (they threaten) they will go to the police or some unions with (false) stories. Servants are not bonded laborers. If they don’t like it then who is stopping them from leaving.Recommend

  • arshadfilms

    There is a class war in Pakistan. The entire naukar culture is created to keep the elites in power and the rest of the country subjugated. ‘Afsarshahi’ and naukar/malik culture will only change after a revolution. Not by the kindness of the oppressing class. Good article and great movement towards legal rights though.Recommend

  • http://muslimweddingflight.com/ Fayaz Pasha

    You have referred as Dear Elites. One should have humility to be an Elite person. Humbleness is a quality of the Prophets and Messengers. This attribute is for the God fearing and Guided. Arrogance is a characteristic of the tyrants and oppressors. So, it is clear if they are truly elite or oppressors. Once they understand the difference their behavior and attitude would change automatically.Recommend

  • Farhan

    The fact that you are a sociology major does convey you’re from the elite club.Because who in their right mind would study such crap?Recommend

  • Javerea

    beautifully written! I must say I’m quite impressed…I had no idea you were a writer, and yes I too believe that this is modern day slavery and the majority will keep them in the dark.Recommend

  • Shabbir

    “Domestic workers can be no younger than 14 and no older than 60”

    Simply putting this law into place will not some how magically alleviate ‘domestic workers’ of their problems. Rather, a much longer term plan is in order: for instance, If children were kept in school till their teens with a bigger emphasis placed on the quality of state school education and teaching and healthcare benefits, government subsidies for old age pensioners, you might actually be on to something. Right now, at the rate you’re promoting this, you’re simply implementing ageism and promoting a child’s inability to earn for their parents. There’s more to this than just what you’ve written in this article. While I overwhelmingly agree with your sentiments, you haven’t thought this through at all. Rather, just criticized the norm – which albeit, is a start. Keep writing. Think harder.Recommend

  • imaan mian

    The laws being passed are a small step. You rightly say that it is the elite who hire these domestic workers who will have to change the way they are treated. It seems as though people have started investing effort into helping families of domestic workers. I am aware that many people pay for workers education. We can hope that this trend continues and changes the way our helpers are treated.Recommend

  • sahiba

    Even if I care about human rights, I don’t find it fit that my employees should be using my bathroom. Not because they are not human, only because I wouldn’t let anyone except my family members to use my bathroom. I dread to think that I am eating my dinner with my domestic worker, because in that way the distance between a employee and employer is filled with personal relationship, which harms the job ethics. You know just like you cannot use your boss’ office or laptop to work in or at, you cannot let your domestic worker to use your personal space. Its is not fair on the employer itself, because a home is our personal territory, and domestic worker, is an outsider, working for money and not a friend or relative. I agree about their human rights, but imagine your driver taking your merc to drop his kids to school, I mean why not? Its his human right. Well its not. In that way, there are to be some boundaries which we should not cross, with our employees/domestic workers or employer. And thats right nobody should be asked to do something they don’t want to do, so it is decided in the beginning of their job, if they refuse in between thn you might as well want to leave your other task in between, now the question is why do you appoint a domestic worker thn? To hear them saying no for their job? Its like your assistant refusing to bring you coffee because they are tired like you. Its good that they be given human rights but these rights help them and harm the employer, why not make some agreement for both parties. My domestic workers has dragged my patience to the level of madness because I thought they were human, but no they are like a bad relationship, an abusive one. Have you heard something like this before? Well, you know, it happens, these very human people treat their neighbors like animals themselves. I had such bad experience with my ‘naukars’ in past because I treated them well that I am planning to sue the next one for mental harassment. And I am not joking. Recommend