Monday, September 15, 2008

The Life And Times Of Another Indian Homemaker.

A maid of mine was very worried when she and around thirty other residents were told to vacate a plot they occupied . She spent sleepless nights; all her belongings were packed in case they had to leave. Fearing everyday would be the last day she had a home, a job and her dhobi shop.

I told her not to worry; nobody could evict her if she had her papers. Didn't she say her mother was given the land by a visiting political leader? She told me; only ten huts were given with proper papers to ten women. Her mother was one of them. It was a small village, no electricity, far from even the outskirts of the city. That land had no value at that time.

Now, a few years ago, new construction started in that area, a residential complex, a school and some shops opened. Middle class families moved into the area. Suddenly new jobs were created for maids, dhobi, raddiwala, grocery store delivery boys, car cleaners etc. Some of the local people got sheets of tin and tarpaulin and put up shabby sheds and rented them to these workers who came from nearby villages. Where did they put up these sheds? On the same plot my maid also illegally occupied. The land did not belong to any of them! They charged extra if the tenant took an electricity connection. Where did this electric connection come from? They all had TVs!

My maid needed to stay here, because here, close to her mother, she felt safer. Her husband lay, all day, in a drunken stupor. She had found work. Her three children were going to a local school; she knew she could turn to us if she needed urgent cash. She had bought an old colour TV from an employer, a mixer grinder and an old gas stove from another. She had a 'godrej' cupboard to protect her belongings. (There was no way to lock the 'house' which was made up of some sheets of tin, tarpaulin, used car covers etc.) And I was happy hearing the progress she was making in life, all on her own. And then she made another shed – on public land, and rented it for Rs 500/- to a young boy who worked in a restaurant.

Life wasn’t easy here. Liquor became readily available. Her husband remained drunk all day. His creepy friends visited them and she worried about her young daughters. She was beaten almost every evening for little things she did wrong. When her mother tried to intervene, she was pushed and she fell so hard she cut her chin. The whole neighborhood was the same. Most of the men and young boys were addicted to alcohol and evenings were always noisy. Women screaming, children howling, men yelling, she said she wished he would die.*

“If it’s such a sad situation why don’t you just leave him?” But of course he won’t leave her. I had seen enough such cases to know leaving him was not an option. He used to follow her to make sure she was not spending the money she earned on some other man! And one evening he persuaded her to come to a pond where women washed clothes in the mornings, once there, he tried to drown her, saying he knew she had a lover.

The slum grew. She had been there for two years when the talk of encroachment and eviction started. The ten small huts had become a slum of thirty by now. She considered her options.
She could not go back to her husband's village because her husband had got into some brawl there, in which a man had died of stabbing. She said she had paid the police in her village, Rs 5000/- (Bail? Bribe? ), she had sold everything they had, to get her husband out and brought him to this place. Now where would she go if they were evicted from here?

I had seen such things in movies and was really worried about her, although I disapproved of their encroachment and her husband’s criminal background. And then suddenly without explaining much, she took four days off to run around and 'regularise' her house. Some paperwork, some signatures, some bribing and her shed cum shop, now belonged to her. A local political group was helping them.

Did the people living there benefit from this move? NO. Just a few tough families, got most of the shanties registered in their own or their family members' names. The actual slum dwellers remained tenants of some local bullies who had built these make-shift sheds and rented them to those poorer than themselves, for Rs. 500/- to 2000/- depending on electric connection and the amount of space etc. SOME comparatively RICHER locals got further RICH! Some politician got some more confirmed votes. And the poorest had to pay higher rent because now the plot legally belonged to the owner!

Nothing came to most of the people who were actually living there.

And so today there are around 350 bricks and tin houses/sheds. There are grocery shops, paan shops, biscuit and vada pau shops, a cobbler, bicycle repair shop, vegetable and fish vendors to cater to these 350 families. The area is dirty (only ten toilets for all 350 odd houses, most people prefer the road side for nature’s call), many including my maid's husband are petty criminals, there are drunken brawls, life is noisy, violent and unsafe. She has had her hair pulled, she has scratched and been scratched, there is pushing and kicking, fights over drinking water are a matter of survival, flies and mosquitoes keep the children ill all the time. It’s unsafe for young maids to walk home late from work. One young mother was chased by a drunk when she had to take her child to the public toilet at 11 PM, luckily the child howled, and other people woke up. One young man got inside a shed when a maid’s nine year old daughter was alone at 'home', the child managed to scream, despite the threatening knife.

A political group has put up their board over there. They don’t care to get the place cleaned, but free liquor is distributed on all festivals. One thing I am sure of, if someone truly banned liquor here, they will get all the women’s votes.

* She will never get a role in Ekta Kapoor’s serials.

Edited to add: The above post had started as a comment to Corinne Rodrigue's post 'I didn't speak up'.


Mampi said...

It is,unfortunately, the reality of many-a-woman. While the so-called social workers get awarded for the same fights that your maid has put up, this woman will go down unsung.
My salute to the spirit of this woman of grit.
The issue of illegal land apart, what emerged most brilliantly was her never-say-die attitude. Please convey my wishes to her. May her strength increase with every passing day.

Monika,Ansh said...

What a sad state of affairs. I feel their helplessness but all we can do is express concern!! How many of us can truly take up a cause..we are all busy people, busy with our work,families and our social lives.
I feel so "small" sometimes & try to do the "little" things in a country which needs "big" changes.

Imp's Mom said...

Grit and never say die attitude...Amazing lady and what got me was that though her husband does nothing but lie drunk she still paid for his bail or bribe in the village...

but the reality is what ours is a country with sorry state of affairs. The rich exploit the poor, the leaders of our country...the lesser said about them the better.

Corinne Rodrigues said...

Hello - am enjoying reading your posts - the kind of stuff that really makes one think - thank you. I've been dropping by but keep getting disconnected when trying to comment. I've blogrolled you and become a 'follower'.
Keep up the great stuff.....


Indian Home Maker said...

@Mampi Yeah. She is tough:)

@Monika,Ansh I also do whatever little I can, you are right BIG changes are needed!

@Imp's Mom They think all husbands are like this, you just put up with she lives in this fear that he might get into trouble here also.

Indian Home Maker said...

@Corinne Welcome :) Now I am on your 'followers' list too :)

S.A.M.B.I.T said...

Nice to see your your poetic comment..
Thank u for giving..your valuable moment..

Lets be Blogging Frndz...

I love Lucy said...

This seems to be the story of almost all women belonging to that strata of society.The things that these women have to endure just to keep the sham of a marriage going, is unbelievable.And in almost all cases alcohol and infidelity seem to be the prime culprits.Sad really and very frustrating as well.
My first comment here though I read your blog quite often!

Nimmy said...

This is very depressing..Especially,

"It’s unsafe for young maids to walk home late from work. One young mother was chased by a drunk when she had to take her child to the public toilet at 11 PM, ... One young man got inside a shed when a maid’s nine year old daughter was alone at 'home'..."

I also have a baby girl..and i know how those mothers would have felt..What a world around us..

IHM,i believe this is a moment for all of us to remind oursleves that life is easier to all of us who sit and blog,simply bcoz we have money..Once the money factor is gone,we too may have to live a life as described above,without any exxageration..So,i think it is very important on our part tp feel empathy and compassionate and help in some way,for we may not find anybody to help us otherwise,in case we are in such a situation..

Thanks for sharing..I relaize how unstable life is..


Pinku said...

hmmm...sets one thinking...such a vicious circle that cant even decide which part needs to be mended first.

and the powers that be dont do anything. Its so sad. In delhi the slum dwellers get relocated from time to time. Instead of their shanties they get small but well built homes in the outskirts of the city. these guys propmtly sell those and come back and make more slums dwellings in the main city. Their view:
a) they cant find work close to where they have been relocated
b) having lived in the slum they find it difficult to stay in confined homes. also the money from the sale comes in handy.

What does one do?

D said...

The condition of the poor in our country remains the same irrespective of which part of the country they are in. And the women suffer double discrimination: a). on account of their gender and b). on account of their economic weakness.

What's ironical however, is that, these women are the bread winners of their families. Most of them are married to unemployed men, who get drunk on whatever little they may earn and come hom eto beat up their wives. Yet, they are dependent on the social security that comes with having a husband around. What could be worse?

my space said...

It is really depressing.
Women are definitely stronger than men..your post once again brings the bitter truth that men unfortunately have a upper hand in the relationship and thus exploit their women to the core..
As for these so called welfare parties -the only welfare they care about is their own!

Mama - Mia said...

brilliant post yet again.

the world works in ways we just cant seem to fathom.

and i am always amazed at people's ability to be totally self centred and not thinking twice before cheating a poor person of his /her hardearned money...



Anonymous said...

The imagery I get in my brain is that of men as predators and women as preys in this kind of set up. Its painful and depressing

PARRY said...

It reminds me of the maid who is working in my parental home. She often sees so many odds in her life. Her husband's premature death. her three young daughters, her fighting court cases and moreover her son being a petty criminal whom she always bail out! with her hard earned and saved money. Hats off to her! and to women like her.
And you remind me of my hindi school teacher who was as good in english as in hindi. :)

Dusty Fog said...

happened upon your space by chance. Two things. I love the matter of fact way in which this piece has been penned.And the "About Me" - what can I say....10/10...: )

Monika said...

I am writing the post as i said... i am linking ur post to mine.. hope that is fine :)

Indian Home Maker said...

@I Love Lucy - Welcome :)Alcohol seems to be causing this rot...families are ruined. The effects are exactly like Drug addiction.

@Nimmy It's the attitude not money. They are the bread winners. The trouble is they believe that this is just the way life is. All around they face the same misery, and they have seen their mothers, sisters, friends all living the same life.

@Pinku I have seen this happen in Delhi. I don't think relocation or charity is the solution..but what is the solution?
Okay one thing I have seen working here in Maharashtra. They love to see their kids go to reasonably decent, ENGLISH MEDIUM schools, where they get milk, lunch, books, bags and uniform. If the relocated homes have schools and a medical a small township, with a police station, and post office and a bus service to their place of work. That's like asking for the moon, I guess.

@D If only we could change this attitude, this total belief that they were only safe with a man by their side and unsafe without him. That marriage is forever. That they must confirm. How do widows fare? Do you know they are healthier and better off financially. Should do a post on this.

@my space The men are also victims, of alcohol addiction.

@phoenixritu Actually the men are also victims, it isn't as if they are any happier then the women:(

@Parry Terrible situation, sometimes can be saved by some show of strength..maybe by not bailing out her son next time. But will they even consider that?
And ... Thanks:)

@Dusty Fog Thanks:)
And welcome to my Blog! Hope to see you here again:)

@Monika I read it, it made me feel so helpless:(

Indian Home Maker said...

@mama mia Yeah it is like robbing a beggar!