Mumbai, Jan. 9: It would be hard to find a corporate sponsor for this day.
Household workers across 21 states in the country came together to celebrate Domestic Workers’ Day, instituted for the first time in the country to demand recognition of the work that is not considered work.
It started with a protest. In Mumbai, the “kaamwaali bais” observed “kaam bandh”. About 3,000 angry women marched in from the morning to Azad Maidan in the city, some with black bands across their mouths.
On the stage, there were the usual “meeting” performances ' a dance from Haryana, music, speeches from NGO activists (Medha Patkar’s Narmada Bachao Andolan supports this) ' but the women were focused on their demand: a better life for a profession that employs millions of women and children but remains overlooked.
“Don’t take us for granted,” shouted a woman, with the customary “Hum sab ek hain, awaaz do!”
Some erupted in fury. One woman raged against the pittance they were paid. Another said: “We go house to house working, just give us something for lunch. It does not have to be non-veg.”
“We want our work to be recognised as labour,” said Selvyn Mary, who organised the event on behalf of the National Domestic Workers’ Movement. “We want the Maharashtra government to pass the Domestic Workers’ Bill, which has been pending before the Assembly for almost a decade,” she said.
The bill was tabled in 1998. “It’s not as if anyone is opposed to the bill,” she said. “But there is no will to take it forward.”
But at the moment, Mary is optimistic. She missed some of the cultural programme, as she was in Mantralaya to meet deputy chief minister R.R. Patil, but the visit was worth it. “We didn’t have only recreation ' we could give the workers some good news,” she said.
“The minister promised that he would meet the chief minister, the labour minister and NGOs next month. He sounded serious, unlike the labour minister we met last year,” she said.
The women know the bill will only go a small distance in earning them basic rights like minimum wages. But minimum wages mean a monthly salary of around Rs 3,200 and this will affect only a tiny fraction, as only 1 per cent are members of any organisation.