Jeanne P. was an intern at FEDINA in 2012. She was sent by our partner in France – Frères des Hommes – and joined our communication’s team for a couple of months. Her aim was to meet the beneficiaries and the organizers of local groups to understand how Fedina works. Jeanne was able to meet the Karnataka Domestic Workers Union supported by our network : here is the story of her encounter …
The meeting of the Union is usually held at Old Byappanahalli, one of the slums of Bangalore. Within 10 minutes, the group grows and the colored saris multiply: the meeting can begin. A discussion group meets twice a month and gives the women a space to talk about the work they do, their employers and most of all the problems they encounter.
workers slaves !
The women work in private houses in the morning (cleaning, cooking, shopping and looking after children or elderly relatives) and look after their own children and households the rest of the day. On average, they earn 2,500* rupees a month for a 24 hour week, when a decent living wage is estimated at 10,000* rupees : it doesn’t go very far.
Last January, Anarpori came to the meeting in a desperate state: after 27 days’ work in the same house, the man who employed her refused to give her any salary. As she was ill at the time, she didn’t have the strength to fight back alone. 15 of the group’s members got together to get her what was due. Knocking on the door of the culprit, they were welcomed by the same man brandishing a knife in an attempt to intimidate them.
However, they stood strong and eventually the man’s wife appeared with her furious husband and handed over Anarpori’s salary. Struck by kindness, or a little guilt, the man tried to give an extra 50 Rs. tip. The note was handed back to him: ‘we came to get what you owe her. Nothing more.’
Collective organization to support individual fights
The discussion group is supported by Fedina, but self-determined regarding the frequency of meetings and the decisions and acts made.
It gives women greater confidence in themselves and their work, and this confidence is the driving force when voices need to be raised (just a bit) in cases of exploitation (low salaries, non-payment).
When needed, Fedina also provides legal help so that the women can defend themselves, such as the frequent accusations of theft which they suffer.
In India there are over 90 million household workers, a surely underestimated figure due to the lack of visibility of domestic workers. 20% are suspected to be under 14 years old, even if the law forbids this.
Nowadays, thanks to FEDINA’s support, the domestic workers of Bangalore are well-organized and able to defend and claim their rights in front of the employers as well as the public authorities.
* These figures correspond to the period of 2012 and are likely to evolve.