Sometimes I get a feeling that we are still living in a deeply divided and a fractured society where the horrors of discrimination of sorts still abound. The demon of caste system has its ugly head raised, ready to devour what little progress has been made after independence. The demon is not only alive and kicking but thriving in our midst. The marginalized people and those living on the fringes have always been at severe risk of bearing the brunt of these divisive malpractices. At least this is what I feel when I see how some people behave within the four walls of their homes, in society as well as in public at large. The behavior changes from place to place and who it is exhibited with, which I find thoroughly ungentlemanly and uncivilized. The lofty words like ‘equality’ ‘egalitarian’ and ‘democratic’ seem like some farfetched dreams. It makes me wonder if we have achieved anything worthwhile in the last 200 years after great reformer took up cudgels against child marriage, sati and espoused widow remarriage. All the tall achievements that we are so proud of, seem to fade away in the face of low score on the ‘human index’ parameter as brought out by plethora of studies both by national and international agencies. This disturbing thought has been lingering in my head for quite some time now and has been giving me constant headache as well as sleepless nights. You must be wondering why such a regressive thought should ever enter anyone’s head. Well the reason is simply a sight that I witnessed just a few days back. Look at the way we, the society treats the marginalized and the fringe population for example drivers, maids, cooks, cleaners, plumbers, electricians, masons etc. I do not need to elaborate the ways in which they are illtreated.
It should suffice to say that they bear the brunt of our uncouth language and aggressive posturing as if they had no self-respect or rights of any sort. What right do we have to rob them of the basic respect that every individual is entitled to? More often than not, they suffer in silence and yet continue to deliver immaculate service to the household. Open a newspaper and it will be replete with real life events of someone mistreating his or her maid or a driver. What does it tell about us? People of low means are treated as if they did not belong to the human population.
In most households, their day starts quite early and ends only after every member of the household is comfortably lost in sweet dreams or snoring away in glory. They toil throughout the day in fear of attracting any adverse comments or reprimand. They do not get credit for all the tasks they do correctly but get immediate discredit and punishment for what has gone wrong.The whole scenario is made to look as if it was completely their fault and therefore it was they who were responsible for our outburst and contemptuous behavior. As if this was not enough, at the end of the month, the employers deduct their wages for all the things they have messed up or lost or broken. The employers subject their helps to untold misery and hardships beyond imagination as if they have no dignity. The worst part is that children of the household also pick up such inconsiderate and immoral acts though unconsciously. It is quite probable that the children too would indulge in such unbecoming behavior and practice later in their lives.
Can you believe that in most households there are separate utensils for the use by their domestic helps? Not only this, but the utensils are even kept and stacked separately. If it is not untouchability, then what is it? Can you imagine the height of prejudice and discrimination that they have to undergo day in and day out at the hands of their employers?
But how long will this continue? I think the root cause of the problem lies in falsely believing that they are merely servants or slaves. This belief belittles them and undermines their worth. Another belief that fuels this wrong notion is delusions about our own superiority. What makes us superior and others inferior, is again an abstract discussion that might not result in any conclusion for there are no cogent arguments either side. Just because we were born in a particular household of extravagant means, does not mean that we are superior and we have the right to mistreat others who are less fortunate? Think about the important tasks these people perform in our lives and how dependent we are on their services. Ask yourself, if someone metes out similar treatment to you, how would you feel? I believe there is an underlying give and take relationship that is very much at play just like any other kind of job that you and I are engaged in. Just as we offer our professional services and get paid in return, in ‘similar manner, they offer their valuable services around the household and get paid in return. It is a relationship between equals, no one is above the other. Therefore, what might help create a better environment is, repudiating our habit of believing them to be mere servants. Probably this might change a perception that they are meant to wait upon us and obey all your commands no matter how badly mouthed these may be.
We live in a civilized society and the one thing that is symptomatic of the same is treating everyone in a courteous and respectable manner. It is important to treat everyone with equal respect, whether they belong to privileged or underprivileged class irrespective of their caste, color, creed or financial status. It takes ages to build respect and fame, but just one moment to smash it. The real character of a person comes to light when one observes him how he treats an ordinary or a less privileged person away from the eyes of the society.
The society makes a mistake of judging a person by his financial status and material possessions. It is ironical that on one hand, we want people of higher financial status than us to treat us equitably as their equals and on the other, we continue to mistreat those whom we consider below our status. If it is not hypocrisy then what is it? We have different standards for judging ourselves and others. Should one not lead a life of least disharmony, cacophony and conflict? Should we not reduce such conflicting actions and thoughts? Using the same reasoning, then the people superior to us, should have the right to mistreat us? Is this situation acceptable?
It requires no great erudition or acumen to understand that people who are so important to us deserve to be spoken to politely just as we would want others to speak to us. The people may be less resourceful in terms of wealth and material possessions but in no way inferior to us or deserving any less respect than we do. It is even more worrisome when marginalized people looking up at us for support, we only mistreat them. What does it tell about us?
They spend all their time caring for us and providing comfort to us and our family and still get a raw deal. I can only request you to be a little more sensitive and do not undermine or belittle their contribution in your journey of life. Mahatama Gandhi spent his entire lifetime waging war against various evil practices to sensitise the society. It has been decades the lesson was taught to us and we still do not seem to have learnt it well. In all likelihood, it just seems that we might need another century to truly imbibe the words of the Father of the Nation. No amount of coercion can make us learn the lesson unless we open our eyes and ears and let the winds of change touch our hearts.