‘Sahab Ne Maara Kya?’ Intimate Partner Violence Haunts Many Of Our Domestic Helpers

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Domestic violence is a pervasive presence in many households the world over. Not just in India, but behind closed doors everywhere, gender-based violence playing out between intimate partners remains an open secret. Given patriarchal predominance, the phenomenon, of course, affects women disproportionately.

Domestic workers, central to Indian society, would fall within the bracket of the group that is thought to be most affected by this plague. A large chunk of domestic helpers tasked with cleaning, brooming, washing and dusting are women. So besides navigating oppressive behaviours they may be facing in the homes of their employers, many female domestic helpers are also burdened with living within abusive environments in their own homes.

A tweet related to the issue is doing rounds on the internet. “Wife got her wisdom tooth extracted and my maid is asking her again and again bhaiya ne mara kya didi,” verified Twitter user Chirag Barjatya wrote.

Many called out the flimsy tone of the tweet, especially given the subject it concerns. Does it appear to make light of a terrifying reality that many women have to live with everyday? The tweet made only a few people laugh. Meanwhile, others flagged the urgent context of domestic and intimate partner violence behind the tweet.

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House Help Facing Domestic Violence: An Ugly Reality

As per latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, 3,71,503 cases of crime against women were recorded in 2020. The largest chunk of cases was listed under the section of ‘Cruelty by Husband or his Relatives’ at 30.2 percent. Numbers consistent across studies showed a spike in domestic violence cases following the lockdown induced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

So it’s no joke that a domestic helper asked her employer if she was beaten by her husband because this concern and fear, for her, could be coming from common truth. Something she is seeing around her, or worse, experiencing herself. In the absence of resources or due knowledge of laws, she or other women working in domestic services often have no way out of their toxic marriages.

Is your household worker safe inside her own home? So is this something we can afford to trivialise at all?

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It would also be ignorant not to view domestic violence in the purview of the ongoing conversation in India about marital rape. Even as many men on social media rushed to defend their gender, even going the mile to ‘boycott marriage’ to protest the introduction of a law against this crime, it remains an irrefutable fact that in our country, marriage is seen as a license for unlimited, non-consensual sex.

Again, given society’s male-dominant sexual arrangements, it is not difficult to decode who suffers the most in this dynamic.

Researcher Dr Shivangi Narayan, speaking to SheThePeople on the subject last month, narrated the ordeal of her domestic worker who, she said, had to keep seeking consecutive abortions since her husband impregnated her with alarming frequency without intentions of expanding their family. Read here.

There is no disaggregated data for the gender violence committed against vulnerable social groups like domestic workers. But we can perhaps give it the attention it needs by sensitising public consciousness to this reality staring us in the face.

Views expressed are the author’s own. 

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