How dare you ask for your meagre wage and fight for your right? How dare you dream?

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By Mansi Kapoor

This is Shilpa’s story…

The eldest of three, born in a small village near the Maharashtra-Karnataka border. Born into a “low” caste of landless farmers. She has grown up in the field of poverty, back breaking toil and perpetual debt. But the story takes a turn from the usual. The twenty-two-year-old is feisty and fiery and determined to build a bright future for her child.

She now works as domestic help…. cleaning, cooking, gardening in our homes so that we can go and work and build better futures for ourselves and our children. Her work meticulous and neat. Shilpa has been with us for three years now. She started when she was carrying the little one in her womb.

As her, father grew older, her kid hungrier, she picked up work in more households.

Here comes the urban twist, knotted in hypocrisy, entitlement, casteism and bigotry. She started working in a flat, one floor beneath ours. A month passed and for reasons best known to her, she informed the “madam” on the first of March that she would not be able to continue. To cut the long story short, the “madam” refused to pay the dues.

For fifteen days, Shilpa would knock on the door and ask for her Rs 1,500. Excuses and then threats. The “madam” who claims to run charities for the poor would not part with the cash. Finally, not knowing what to do, she told her husband, who is also employed as a driver with us to help her get her dues. Well, the husband went. The madam felt disturbed in the morning at 8.30 and felt violated because she had called him at 9. The “madam” was outraged at the guts of these poor people who were “demanding” their dues and felt threatened. A hand-written complaint was sent hurriedly to the chairman, complaining of “harassment”.

The hypocrisy doesn’t end here…

A meeting was convened and to me and my husband’s utter horror, the “chairman” started shouting at Shilpa. “You just clean the dishes and talk like this to the “madam”. “They have too much attitude, he grumbles and starts shouting again. We interject- “Having attitude is no crime”. The madam quips – “No, no these low caste people should know their place. What’s Rs 2,000, I order pizzas for that much in just one evening”, the madam continues with her rant, “What if they bring harm to my child”.

To our utter shock, the society sided with the madam. “The poor should know their place!”

It was decided that the madam should file a police complaint against the husband. The chairman who is himself an ex-police officer made a phone call to the nearest police station to facilitate the madam in filing a complaint. She did so.

I got deeply disturbed as we searched for websites/NGOs where we could register a complaint on their behalf. But you know what, the “atrocity” against them is not heinous enough, as yet to warrant a complaint.

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Here’s where my story starts…

This is how injustice perpetuates and warps into violence.

It is here, that “educated” women and “powerful” elites ensure that a poor person’s spirit remains crushed and not only they don’t dare to dream of a better future but have no guts to even demand what is rightfully theirs. The poor cannot show “attitude” and ask for his/her legitimate hard-earned wage even.

Meanwhile, here’s another thing…

I was a faculty in an “elite” B-school in Pune. Shilpa’s husband  and our driver, Anil had come in for some chore. There in the College Lobby were, huge poster sized photographs of students who had bought laurels to the colleges by getting placed in multinational corporations.

I watched Anil, stand in the centre of the dome, watch each photograph carefully. He seemed transfixed. Later, in the evening while driving me back, he asked about the photographs. I told him the story.

He had a faraway look, distracted. I could see the longing in his eyes. Will his son’s picture ever be on any wall of fame?

I was quite too and started gazing out of the window. In India you need to be born privileged. The game is set.

We keep encouraging them to work harder, his son according to him loves vehicles and can already steer the wheel. I tell him, make him a pilot.

But now, after what happened yesterday, I do not have the courage to make them dream of a better tomorrow.

Me and my husband have nevertheless pledged our support in their fight for dignity. But it’s not heinous enough yet.


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