Let's cut down our grocery list. We can't afford all this."
"The vegetables are so expensive, Oh my God!"
"I went to get the breakfast from the bakery and parted away with 300 bucks. Can you believe that? Just the breakfast."
"The schools' fees are so high I can't even get my daughter admitted in any decent school. I am so worried."
That's what all of us do now. Crib and whine. And, we can't be really blamed for it. For an average person, with an average income, living in Pakistan has definitely become difficult. Oh! In fact, not just an average income person but people who are earning quite an impressive amount are hand to mouth when it comes to supporting their families. As a result, we have become frustrated and depressed. Life in our country is amazing... but only for the ones who have their pockets full. You and I, belong to upper middle class of the society. And most of us are still reliant on money to fulfil our needs, forget wishes and desires. Amongst this all, we never think about the people who are extremely close to us, with whom we spend so much time, the ones who take care of our mess and the ones without whom our lives would be much tougher. The janitorial staff or our house help. If inflation has made our lives so rough, just take out a minute and think about their lives.
I often wonder how our lives would be if we didn't have a domestic worker/maid doing all our household chores for us or what it would be like if we have to pick up all the bandages after a dressing in a surgery room and clean the place of our mess. In our part of the world, it has become quite common to employ women as maids. All of us have become so dependent on them that our lives come to a halt if our maids ask for a day or two off. We get angry and complain to everyone about all the work we have to do when she is unable to come to work due to the bad conditions of the city.
Even with all this, when it comes to giving them their salaries we think that we are paying them way too much. But the fact is that these maids are usually over worked and underpaid. Their day starts as early as five or six in the morning and ends when their 'masters' go to bed. It's a constant struggle of making their and their employers' lives easier. In this regard, You! talks to a few janitresses and housemaids who share their stories...
"This is my first job as a janitress and I think that there is a lot of work and very less pay. I am working because my family is going through a financial crisis. I get around Rs.7000 a month which is not sufficient in today's time," shares Rida, a 35-year-old janitress at a posh mall in Karachi. "All day long we have to be on our toes to make sure that the bathrooms are clean but we are looked down upon just because we are the janitorial staff. Often we have to bear the dirty looks of begmaats who think of themselves as 'Brahmins' (superior class) and us as 'Shudras' (inferior class)," adds Rida.
To make matters worse, some women even misbehave with them when the bathrooms are wet. They don't realise that these poor souls are human beings and can make mistakes, too. People should be forgiving towards them.
However, Inayat Bibi shares a different story. She is around 50 years of age and works as a housemaid and a janitress at one of the malls in Gulshan-e-Iqbal. Inayat Bibi works in two houses in the morning where she only washes the dishes and then from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. she works as a janitress. "The pay scales of maids have always been meagre and will remain to be so. I have worked in various houses and was always underpaid in spite the hard work I used to do. The amount I used to get was not enough to pay for the basic commodities and also to feed my growing boys," she explains. "But now my job as a janitress is way better as I don't have to do a lot and still tend to get a good pay. Also the good part is that there is no baji who would yell at me if a chore is not done properly. However, the negative aspect is that we get our pays very late and have to work on Sundays too. No matter what the situation of the city may be we have be on our duties on time," concludes Inayat Bibi.
The situation of maids is even worse as they have to listen to the rants of their employers and have to be on their toes all the time. There's no denying the fact that maids work a lot. If they are not around even for one day, and we have to step into their shoes, we realise what these women go through everyday.
Zubeda, a 55-year-old woman, resident of Hazara goth, Karachi has been working in the area of Gulistan-e-Johar, as a maid for more than 20 years now. She hails from Punjab and is the second wife of her husband who is almost 25 years elder than her. Zubeda has four daughters and five sons out of which two daughters and four sons are married. Her husband worked as a gatekeeper when they got married and she was assured that he would provide for the family. But Zubeda was forced to become a maid when she saw that her husband had to support his nine sons and four daughters from his deceased wife and they were left with nothing.
It has been almost nine years that Zubeda's husband is unemployed due to his illness and old age, and she has to work to make both ends meet. "My youngest daughter and I work at three houses and earn around Rs.5500 a month which is not enough to feed my children, pay the rent and pay off the debt that I took from one of my employers for my daughter's wedding. Even though my sons are working but still I have to pay for the basic necessities," says Zubeda.
About the employers that she has been working with Zubeda shares, "I have been lucky in the sense that I always had really good employers. At times, one of my bajis would leave the whole house to me and in my entire twenty years, I have never been accused of theft or robbery. The only complain I have against my bajis is that they do not pay me and my daughter what we deserve. They give us food and clothing but still the amount we are earning is nothing compared to our expenses."
Another similar story is of Shabana, a resident of Jamal goth, who is 45-years-old and has been working as a maid in North Nazimabad since she was eight. As a child she used to accompany her mother and help her with the chores. After her marriage she didn't quit and continued her work. "My husband and son both are employed and contribute their fair shares but because I am educating all six kids of mine - two daughters and four sons - I am responsible for their school fees, course books, uniforms, bags, shoes etc.," she tells. "I have three houses at the moment and all I get at the end of the month is around Rs5000. This amount is nothing as compared to the work I do. And, with the constant price hikes of petrol and diesel, the bus fares have gone high as well. Most of my salary is spent on the fares and at the end of the month I am left with nothing."
Regarding the behaviour of her employers, Shabana shares, "From cooking to cleaning, I have to do everything but still one of my employers is always unhappy with me and keeps on complaining. She often says that if you are going to work like that I will deduct your salary or kick you out soon. And at times I feel like quitting but then I think how will I pay for the education of my children. I wish they would understand that maids are also human beings with feelings and with rights."
We treat maids and janitresses as if we own them. We can't function without them and need them at every step of the way. From taking care of our children and elderly dependents to cleaning and household maintenance like cooking, doing the laundry, ironing, cleaning the bathrooms etc. - they do it all. However, we can't disagree with the fact that we have given ourselves the liberty to take as much work as we want from them and pay them inadequate wages. We don't even thank them for their jobs in hospitals, malls, colleges and universities and take them for granted.
In foreign countries it is almost impossible for many stable families to afford maids, but we are lucky to have them around. All that this working class asks for is a little respect and a salary that can fulfil their everyday needs. Can't we just try doing that? Think about it!