NEW DELHI: Estimates say there are over 50 million of them in the country. Yet, domestic workers remain unrecognized and unaccounted for in the legal framework. Their demand for a legislation to recognize and regulate domestic work isn’t new. But as India heads to the polls yet again, hardly any party raises their issues. Mostly women, domestic workers refuse to be drowned in the overarching definition “marginalized”, for fears of violence, abuse and trafficking stalk them like never before.
“We domestic workers of India, a large number of us women hailing from dalit, backward and tribal communities, petition parliament through you to enact an appropriate law for our protection,” this is from a petition 1 lakh domestic workers submitted to MPs last year after a public rally. The petition said they were part of the National Platform of Domestic Workers an umbrella formation of over 20 organisations representing workers across 15 states. Delhi alone has an estimated 10 lakh workers. With their families, they account for 30 lakh national Capital voters. To reinforce their vulnerability, the petition cites the fact that till date there is no precise data on their numbers.
“Our estimated numbers vary from 4.75 million (NSSO 2005) to over 90 million. The former is a gross under estimation, the latter may be exaggerated. It can be safely estimated that we number more than 50 million,” it says.
The network’s national convenor, Subhash Bhatnagar, says beginning with the Domestic Workers (Conditions of Employment) Bill, 1959, there’ve been many attempts to legislate for this sector, without success — the most recent being the Domestic Workers (Conditions of Service) Bill, 2009.
But there still isn’t an Act of parliament to protect the largest and fastest-growing sector of employment for women in urban areas. Rishi kant from NGO Shakti Vahini talks of the rising cases of traffi cking. Due to uneven development in many states with substantial tribal population such as Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bengal, Assam and Orissa, the migration of women to the big cities has been on the rise.
“The migration happens through unregulated placement agencies that often indulge in human trafficking,” Rishikant says. NGOs working with domestic workers say traffi cking in Delhi /NCR has grown over 10 years. “Many girls end up in exploitative circumstances and are treated as slaves. Placement agencies make huge profi ts and human traffi cking victims never get salaries for their back- breaking work,” he says.