Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5. 86, Tuesday, October 6, 2009















Help the help

To people of middle and upward income levels, nothing touches a nerve as much as a discussion of our ethics when it comes to household help. On both sides of the divide, this is an issue that involves most, if not all of us. The fortunate side of the divide is occupied by the financially advantaged and the unfortunate side by those who are financially disadvantaged. This paves the way for a symbiotic relationship, but an examination of our own lives would possibly suggest that all is not fair in our homes.

There are a lot of obviously questionable aspects of this very integral part of all our lives. For example, how do we feel about child labour? Ask any educated person, and he or she would lecture you on the cruelty and unacceptability of child labour. Whatever he or she says, that educated person may well go home to a child under the age of twelve waiting to shine his shoes or wash her clothes.

I am not taking the high road here and suggesting that all those who employ children are villains. We are a poor country, and we have problems which are unique, and which cannot be judged by the same parameters used by the affluent West. And people will say, with some justification, that as long as they are treated well, it's okay. Sadly, because of the lack of a functional system that looks after the underprivileged, the ball is perennially in your court and mine.

On that note, it is very unfortunate that some of us, upstanding members of society included, all too often abuse this position of power. That abuse comes in myriad forms; name-calling, physical abuse, inadequate pay are just the common ones. On Eid day, I went to a dinner at a home where a very sweet young girl of no more than ten works. As we were all enjoying the food, we were suddenly interrupted by really loud and angry shouting.

The small girl had apparently forgotten to refill the water jugs, and was being lambasted mercilessly by her 'respectable' master in front of all the guests. After the shouting session was over, everyone went on their merry way and the party continued. The girl went to the kitchen and brought out a water jug, and vanished into the kitchen again.

This episode brought to light an underlying disease in all of us. We, the fortunate ones, seem to believe that 'they' are somehow inferior to us. How else do we justify behaviour like that witnessed at the aforementioned party? If seen from a detached point of view, far from being inferior, they might be our superiors in the amount of stoic patience they routinely display. The situation does not look like changing anytime soon, so we as individuals have to confront ourselves and face some harsh reality.




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