Migration Narratives: The SHRAM Blog

The ‘Invisible’ migrant worker

Household work has never been considered work in India. It has always been the duty of the woman: wife, mother, daughter or sister to do the chores and expect no pay. No wonder then that the domestic worker is so blatantly underpaid and exploited.

Almost 400 million, or 85% of the workforce of the country is in the unorganized sector, mostly comprising of women. These mainly includes migrants coming from tribal areas in search of employment and livelihood. According to United Nations Development Program (UNDP), about 20 million people (mainly women and girls) migrate to Urban Agglomerations (UA) of Mumbai, Delhi and other large cities from the eastern states of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Assam and Mizoram (Akter and Deshingkar, 2009).

As the unorganized sector remains outside the ambit of laws and regulations, exploitation of women at their workplaces is blatant. Belonging to the unorganized sector means that in case of a dispute with the employer, the worker cannot go to a labour court, as she is not technically recognized as a ‘worker’.

Various organizations working to provide support to these migrant women report that contractors hire women and girls for a fixed pay, around Rs 5000 per month albeit without any benefits. Domestic workers are made to do all types of works in the houses, which could also take the form of sexual favours for their master. Fear of incrimination, shame and abandonment holds the silence of these domestic workers.

Kundu (2005) has elaborated as to how domestic work remains an unrecognized form of economic activity. He has also revealed that young married women with many mouths to feed in the family look for part-time domestic work to supplement their household income. These women come from distant tribal areas, moving with their families with an uncertainty.   What we’re staring at here is a disguised form of human trafficking. Women meant to be hired as domestic helps end up in brothels and massage parlors. If not, their workplaces suffice to cause deterioration in their physical and mental health.

Although domestic work is the easiest occupation to acquire by the migrants, it is also the most exploitative job. Women from low socio-economic background, with little or low education are at the mercy of the agencies who hire them for domestic work. Victimized and abused, they remain invisible in the census reports and outside the shelter of legislation and social infrastructure.

Aritra Chakrabarty

Aritra Chakrabarty

Anchor, SHRAM (Till Dec 31st, 2014)

As a social researcher, I believe in knowledge-based policy action. With a postgraduate degree in Development Studies, I've been associated with social issues in my professional space. As a part of SHRAMIC initiative, was involved with data creation, sourcing of resources that will become the knowledge bank of this project.
Aritra Chakrabarty

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