THE NUMBER of female domestic servants has increased manifold in Faisalabad, as elsewhere, due to a variety of reasons, including the spread of heroin culture and increasing unemployment. Taking advantage of the situation, the employers fully exploit the job-seekers, asking them to agree on nominal salary and fringe benefits.
Domestic servants have various categories. Some work on a daily-basis from eight to 10 hours, and are paid every week. Others work on a monthly basis. The third category belongs to those who are provided shelter in servant quarters in lieu of work.
Another type of servants gets paltry remuneration for discharging specific duties like sweeping, washing and ironing, cooking, baby sitting and stitching. House servants in this category normally work two to three hours for earning their livelihood. Yet another category is of those who have been working as domestic servants for decades. Generations of such servants are provided necessities of life by their employers such as shelter, food and clothing. This category is bound to remain house servants and dare not send their kids to schools or work without the permission of their masters.
It was noticed that domestic servants were neither paid salaries according to working hours nor given the required food. Majority of them look weak and pale due to poor nutrition. During the last many years, wages of female workers have not been increased despite the price escalation.
It has been revealed that maid servants are also maltreated. Although the government has taken stringent steps for the welfare of women, the labour laws do not cover the domestic sector which is not in a position to voice its grievances at any forum.
This correspondent had a talk with one, Hameeda Bibi, 45, who has been working at various places as a maid servant. Her husband died in a road accident 13 years ago. She sold the property and gold ornaments for his treatment. Presently, she is not in a position to arrange marriage of her two daughters. Her children play in streets and have become urchins because of poverty.
Kaneez Akhtar, after the death of her husband, was married to an addict who beats her and her six children to satisfy his chauvinistic instinct. She failed to get any domestic job in the city and apprehended that her addict husband might sell her children, having disposed of the household articles already.
A widow, Safia Bibi, said she was paid a meagre salary of Rs600 a month after working round-the-clock. She cannot even properly feed her five children. She said she could not even think of getting her children admitted to an educational institution. In sheer frustration, she got them employed in the houses of moneyed people by getting advances to meet her daily expenses. Whenever any family member falls sick, there is no money for medical treatment.
Rehana, 13, said her mother was divorced by her father without any reason. Her mother sent her to work from 7am to 11pm daily for only Rs700 per month which she gave to her mother. She said she had a keen desire for education but her dream could not materialize due to poverty.
Shahnaz Bibi, with tears in her eyes, said she had been working in the houses of rich people, but she did not have a place of her own to live. She said she never sent her three young daughters for work because they would be unsafe in the houses of the rich. She proposed that the government should set up industrial schools for the poor and give financial assistance to their daughters so that they could spend their lives with dignity and honour.
Naseema Sadique said she had seven children. Her husband was a cobbler and earned only a few rupees a day which were hardly enough to run the house. To supplement the income, she had been washing clothes and utensils in three houses. But she and her husband were still unable to properly feed and clothe their children. After payment of rent, they were hand to mouth and could not even provide medical treatment to the ailing family members.
An old woman, Fatima, said she migrated from Haroonabad to Faisalabad in search of a job but failed to do so. However, a God-fearing woman engaged her for two meals a day.
Another old woman, Sughran Bibi, said she had been serving in three houses and getting only Rs700 a month. Her three grown-up sons were jobless while her two daughters helped her in domestic chores. They had only one tent to live in even during the scorching heat.
However, Naseema Bibi said the rich people contributed a lot to their survival, otherwise they would die of starvation. She said her husband was a daily wage earner and used to come back home in sheer frustration, not getting any work. Her children had become psychic witnessing the hobbies of the sons and daughters of the rich. They demanded schooling and new clothing she could not afford.
She demanded that the government should set up colonies for the poor and arrange some work for their children, or else provide unemployment allowance to them.
Now some words for a woman of a rural area who though not a servant was working hard round-the-clock.
Basheeran Bibi of Chak Jhumra says her husband owns one-and-a-half acres of land. She has seven daughters and three sons. All live in a joint family system with the parents of her spouse. She says she is required to wake up at 4:30am daily. She prepares fodder for the animals, milks the buffaloes and walks three kilometres to deliver the milk at the sale-point of a multinational company.
On return, she is supposed to make butter and lassi. Afterwards she is required to prepare breakfast for 15 members of the family. Then she has to send her four daughters to school and help her husband in the field. In-between she has to rush home to cook lunch for the whole family and do other works. These are her permanent duties she cannot afford to ignore.
Complaints of sexual violence against women working in the houses are also being heard which is a matter of shame for our society. NGOs fighting for the rights of women are working for creating awareness among the womenfolk but there is hardly any worthwhile activity to protect maid servants from the ill-treatment of their employers.