Maid in Dhaka: Her own, private prison

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House maid in Dhaka gathered to take part in a female empowerment campaign in front the Dhaka Press Club ahead of 2015 International Women’s Day in Bangladesh. Credit: ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo

Maids have become an essential component in the upper-class, middle class & even lower middle class families in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh. And in true sense this trend is also evident in all through Bangladesh. Maids as domestic-help have the contribution to the smooth running of a family. But in many cases they are not getting due respect, dignity in their workplace. And as well as they face many difficult situation in their places to work but in few occasions they express their grievances. Generally 2/3 types of maids are working in Dhaka city. The types are as follows:

a. Full time maids;

b. Work-basis maids;

c. Tender aged girl (full time)

Those who work as full time maids in a house maybe they are lucky or unlucky. Lucky in the sense that they don’t need to think their accommodation, dress etc. They stay in the masters’ house but the disadvantages from their side are many. They cannot go out of their workplace without intimating landlady or master. Relatives and others who are acquainted with them have some sort of restrictions to come to them or see them. Sometimes this situation creates some unwanted situation. And the kids and teen agers are not sufficiently considerate to the maids. Sometimes they try to create troubles for them. In the middle classes’ residence maids have no dedicated area for their privacy. In many cases they keep their belongings under the cots, corner of the kitchen side and in the rear side verandah. It is a big problem for the women. But the maids who work in the comparatively well-off family are in convenient position. There they have separate rooms called servant room and separate toilet. In Dhaka few families have the accommodations with separate washrooms and toilets for maids.

Maids have constraints of recreation in the house they stay because they are not allowed enjoying television programs with the family members. So it is a great problem for them. Maids who work as full time are always on the run. In addition of their fixed or assigned work they have to everything instructed by the homemaker or other members of that particular family. Everything she has to do and always keeps herself ready to follow the order of the house-maker. For that reason they have no fixed leisure time or recreational time. Every member of the family is fully dependent on her. Long time she has to stay into the kitchen and in no way she does not feel herself as free person. Once in a year or twice in a year she is allowed to go home in the country side. Homemaker or other members of the family may not be happy if someone from her relations comes to see her. Generally homemakers do not encourage this sort of visits.

But the work based maids are somewhat independent. They work 3-4 houses in a day and on contract basis work they do. Suppose one maid is meant for three types of work and those are maybe washing floor, washing utensils, cutting vegetables for curries and preparing hand-made rote etc. In an hour and half she has to do all these work and after that she goes to another house for work. In this way, before lunch she has to finish all her work in different houses. After that she goes to her residence in slum areas located nearby. There she usually does their cooking for children & husband. In this case, generally husband and wife both work for their livelihood. Many maids living in slum areas send their kids to the low cost schools or government primary schools located in that area.

In slum areas taking bath and toilet facilities are big challenges the slum dwellers encountering. Each and every person faces these sorts of challenges. About fifty people use one toilet and bath-area. By any consideration it is not normal environment. In addition the slum dwellers encounter challenges of uninterrupted power supply, water supply and gas supply. Groups of local influential, in connivance of some people of the authority concerned keep all these unauthorized connections. Sometimes the understanding among different parties does not function properly. So for that reason intermittently these facilities might be stopped as the authority disconnects these unauthorized lines. These are the challenges the slum dwellers facing in their everyday life in Dhaka.

Maids in Dhaka who live in slum area consider afternoon &evening are their recreational time. Many of them have TV sets with cable line and they enjoy drama serials in different TV channels. In the slum areas most of them live in rented house. The influential of that area are the informal regulatory authority of that area. Some maids’ family has built their own house paying handsome amount of cash to the local influential. But slum dwellers always apprehend the situation that police or law enforcing agency any time dismantle their house. In the Bengali Month of Falgun, Chaitra & Baishakh are the time of setting fire in slum areas in Dhaka. Generally everything is lost if fire starts in slum areas. The dilapidated house are so congested that once fire starts within very short time the total slum area catches fire. The World Vision NGO is trying to make conscious slum dwellers regarding setting fire in Dhaka. In this regard they have some projects a couple of years back and it is assumed that some of the initiatives of those projects are still ongoing. Actually those are the real challenges facing by the maids and their families residing in Dhaka.

In addition lack of medical facilities and sanitations are also the big challenges they are facing in Dhaka, Maids staying with their families in slums are truly working lady. Almost round the clock they pass busy time; only evening is their leisure time. And at night with huge tiredness they go to bed & fall asleep very quickly. Next day morning after preparing food for their kids &other family members they have to go out from their den for their daily work. This is generally happening in Dhaka round the year with few exceptions.

Tender aged girl working as domestic support is not uncommon in Dhaka. These girls generally do work staying in the flats (their working place). Most of them are teenager. This age is the time of their puberty. So they need privacy in their working place. But in maximum cases, the apartments in Dhaka do not have servant room. So maintaining privacy is a severe problem for them. In addition they are always on the run out of their scheduled work. In practice they have no fixed work. Everything they have to do according to the wish of house maker and other members of the family concerned. As most of the cases there is lack of servant rooms in the maximum apartments in Dhaka, these girls have no fixed area to take rest or sleep. In most cases they take rest in common spaces, drawing rooms & kitchens at night. When relatives come and take 2/3 night halts the tender aged working girl face acute shortages space for their movement. And ultimately it will become a problem of both sides.

Minor children as domestic support work in many houses in Dhaka. Most of the cases their age is in between 9-12. They have no fixed work. Just they obey the instructions of house maker & other family members. Sometimes they also perform as playmate of children of that particular family. But the children worker fairly understands the difference of their status from the children of that particular family. Sometimes these workers do not get fair treatment from the family members. And they have no place to lodge their mistreatment in that house. Everything of them is completely dependent upon house maker & family head of that family. It is true that child workers are not free to express their grievances & mistreatment. In some exceptional cases some children pass their days a bit better than those children mentioned earlier. Generally in his/her age group children have to go to schools, play with their friends in the courtyard or fields with their friends. It is very much shocking that these children have lost their chances of education for their poverty in the villages as well as in the town. This is the hard reality ongoing in present day Bangladesh.

To enhance the status & position of maids in Dhaka, appropriate authority can take some steps and those are as following:

a. An integrated survey should be done in different slum areas to get the credible numbers of maids in Dhaka;

b. Base line survey should also be done in different houses in Dhaka for extracting the real condition of maids;

c. Government has to declare this profession as a scheduled profession of the country so that maids will get their due respect & dignity;

d. Children working as domestic help should be banned and proper monitoring should be organized by the appropriate authority.

Already some NGOs are working on this issue. Every one of us should try to make this profession formal. So that security of their service can be ensured or secured. Time is running fast. If we can do so the discrimination prevailing in our society might be somewhat reduced & definitely our society will turn to the path of equality.

Dr. Syed Nesar Ahmad Rumy, Retired Civil Servant, Dhaka.

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