Nagaland has come a long way since it attained statehood 55 years ago. Literacy rate of the state has increased significantly and the standard of living of many people has improved drastically over the last few decades but the ever-widening income disparity, especially between those from the urban and rural areas has led to new social and economic problems. The haves, who usually live in cities and towns, lead a comfortable life while the have-nots, who form the majority of the population and usually live in the villages, continue to struggle to get the basic necessities of life. This growing gap has caused a steep rise in the number of domestic workers, and today, many will find difficult to run their families without them.
According to the National Domestic Workers’ Movement (NDWM) that has been at the forefront of championing the rights of domestic workers for more than three decades, the official estimates of domestic workers in India is 42 lakh, while the unofficial estimates stand at more than five crore. It said girls and women make up the significant majority of domestic workers, accounting for 75% of the increase in the number between 2000 and 2010, and that most employment takes place in the urban areas. It also said that 1,85,595 children are employed as domestic helpers. The state unit of the organisation has said that a total of 1,750 people have registered with it and the Nagaland Domestic Workers’ Union (ANDWU) but there can be hundreds of unregistered workforce as the concept is relatively new; besides most of them are illiterate and ignorant of their basic rights. The recent report of a minor girl, who worked as a domestic helper, being reportedly assaulted by her Kohima-based employers caused ripples among the general public and several civil society organisations have come forward to condemn the alleged brutal act, demanding a befitting punishment to the accused. Sadly, such clamours against injustice are usually momentary and the plight of the marginalised remains. The incident that happened in the state capital may be just the tip of an iceberg. While law enforcing authorities have done their job by arresting the accused and initiating further investigation, it is necessary to get into the core of the issue to ensure that other domestic workers do not face a similar ordeal in the future. There are many generous Nagas, who treat their domestic helpers like their own family members, but we cannot generalise and be oblivious to the plight of the employees. It is easy for employers to exploit those working in this unorganised sector as most domestic work is informal and remains outside the purview of labour regulations and social protections. The fact is that a vast majority of domestic workers are underpaid, work more than eight hours a day for seven days a week, and they are usually the first to be blamed if something goes missing in the house. With no redressal mechanism and adequate law to protect the workers in this informal sector, abuse and exploitation against them still remain rampant. The state government has recognised the ANDWU earlier this year, a step closer towards the welfare of its members, but more needs to be done to ensure that this vulnerable section of society enjoy basic human rights and social security. There has to be law in place on minimum wage, mandatory number of annual paid leaves, mandatory paid maternity leave, regular payment of salary, mandatory registration etc. for domestic workers. Until such a law is enacted to protect, their plight will remain.