Stop public shaming this woman on Facebook – you don’t even know her story!

Published: March 7, 2016
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Surprisingly, the people commenting on this photo were highly likely from the same class that employs these maids and servants themselves. PHOTO: FACEBOOK

After a funny period of memes, a sentimental phase of “Keep Calm” and “Happiness Is” photos, there is a new category of pictures on Facebook: pictures that provoke public-shaming. An image is posted, showing the affluent and poor in a societal setup that does not favour the poor and soon after, it is shared countless times leading to public shaming of the rich.

Recently, my friend shared a photo of a woman shopping at a designer outlet with a man towing behind her carrying her shopping bags. The caption of this photo reads:

“I was appalled. Is it that difficult to carry your own bags at the mall? If this is how the educated, privileged part of Pakistani society behaves, nothing is ever going to change.”

Photo: Facebook

What ensued was a heated discussion revolving around how humanity had died and everyone was quick to blame the woman. The photo went viral along with comments maligning the woman who was probably unaware of her “crime”.

Surprisingly, the people commenting on this photo were highly likely from the same class that employs these maids and servants themselves. Commenting on such posts merely implies that they have access to the internet, a facility which only 11 per cent of the Pakistani population enjoys, and are literate enough to converse in English, the language of the alleged “privileged and elite”.

Photo: Screenshot

Photo: Screenshot

Photo: Screenshot

Instead of publicly humiliating the woman on Facebook, she should have been asked to clarify her situation. For instance, while grocery shopping, my houseboy moves the trolley forward while I shop. This is neither due to my elitist mind-set nor because I find the act of pushing trolleys beneath me. I started this practice last year when I began expecting and the custom continues as now he pushes the baby pram while I push the trolley.

Secondly, though unfortunate, this is the way the Pakistani system works. In a country where over half of the population lives below the poverty line, working a job of one’s own choosing is a luxury not everybody can afford. The man carrying those bags belongs to that unfortunate percentage of the population. At a time when even the educated are barely earning enough to make ends meet, the survival of the uneducated becomes a herculean task. I do not mean to be disrespectful to anyone, but is it not better to see the man working with someone than begging on the streets?

Coming from small rural areas, where basic necessities are unavailable, these men and women struggle and work hard to improve their living and financial conditions. The houseboy at my home says that he works two shifts because he wants to educate his children so they are not compelled to work in homes when they grow up and can work in offices. Upon hearing this, I realised that by employing him, I was indirectly helping him pay for his children’s school fees and books.

In short, hiring a person to carry your bags is not an issue as long as they are not being exploited. The main issues are: The lack of a regulatory system to check if domestic workers are actually being paid fairly by employers. There is not fixed rate that an employer is to pay the employee, it can be anything the sahib thinks is feasible. My previous maid came all the way to DHA from Natha Khan and said:

Baray bangley waley zaada pesay detay hayn

(The employers living in large bungalows pay more).

After graduating from university as an engineer, I was hired at ten thousand rupees per month, due to the non-fixation of salaries. Domestic workers in Pakistan are not paid by the hour, but instead are paid on a monthly basis. It so happens that maids are often expected to stay late in case of a party to clean up after the guests leave or help with children, without the glory of a little extra money.

A common practice in Pakistan is to employ children, especially to babysit other children. This practice should be put to an end to immediately and anybody employing children under eighteen as domestic workers should be punishable by law.

There is no organisation in the country that caters to the reporting of abuse and negligence meted out to these workers. Several incidents have been reported in the news, but what happens after it makes headlines? Only God knows.

Pakistanis, in general, are being exploited in one way or the other. In a country, where cheap labour is readily available, instead of criticising the people who employ domestic help, we should try to build a nation where no person will be available to carry our bags the next time we go looking for one because everyone is employed.

Raiya Masroor Hashmi

Raiya Sohail Hashmi

The author is an engineer by profession and a writer by passion. She was a columnist for the youth supplement of Saudi Gazette and has written for Teenstuff, Young Times, Chowk.com and Spider Magazine. A winner of Oxford Short Story Competition 2012. She tweets @raiyatweets and blogs at www.raiyawrites.wordpress.com

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