It’s 4 am and Vasanthi B is already up. After years, it’s now a habit, and she doesn’t need an alarm to wake up to get her daughters Shweta, Shilpa and Shobha, aged 11, 9 and 7 respectively, ready for school. By the time they leave at 7.30 am, her husband Babu is ready to head out for his job as a daily wage labourer at a nearby food processing factory. Vasanthi now has only about 15 minutes left to get ready herself, have her breakfast and walk to her employer’s house, which is about half a kilometre away. Conscious that any delay will ensure a scolding, she chooses to mostly skip breakfast. This proves to be a lucky day, with her employer being “kind” enough to offer her breakfast, of upma and coconut chutney. On better days, she may also get a hot cup of coffee.
Vasanthi, 32, is a domestic help in Bangalore, a city she made her home eight years ago after getting married and moving from Virajpet in Madikeri, 250 km away. The first stop she makes is just one of the four houses she works in daily to make Rs 3,000-4,000 on an average a month. From 8 am to 4 pm, Vasanthi shuttles between the houses, with a meal in between at one of the houses that she works in. While the money is tempting, she refuses to work beyond this as she prefers to be home when her daughters return from school.
As the case of Devyani Khobragade and her domestic help roils relations between India and the US, Vasanthi works in a state that became India’s first to implement provisions of the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, passed by the Centre. Since 2009, six lakh domestic workers like Vasanthi are technically covered by the provisions of the Karnataka State Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Board. The provisions promise a minimum wage of about Rs 5,000 a month for a daily work schedule of eight hours, an identity card, healthcare benefits, life insurance and children’s scholarships, among other things. Needless to say, the provisions remain on paper.
Vasanthi is even part of a 3,000-member domestic workers’ organisation called the Karuna Domestic Workers’ Welfare Trust, and was recently elected its president. She hopes to use the post to create awareness among domestic workers about their rights and to help them gain their salaries as per the Karnataka Minimum Wages Act.
However, the prospects, she admits, are not too promising. Her earlier employer rarely paid her on time, and she had to request for her money, Vasanthi says. “Only few employers appreciate the work of a continued…