Monday, 27 February 2017

'Helpmate' not 'Servant'

' Sorry, I can't meet you today. My helpmate  hasn't come,' phoned a friend of mine. The egalitarian use of the word ' helpmate ' pleased my ears and gladdened my soul. She didn't say that my servant  or, even far better-sounding, maid  hasn't come. This is something we all must learn while treating our helpmates. ' No one is a servant any longer,' stated a famous columnist in her social etiquette column in The Reader's Digest  a few years back. 

In fact, the very term 'servant' is so demeaning to a person who works at your place. He/ she's paid for the duties discharged. S/he's not an ' indentured labourer', who was actually called a 'servant' or even worse, 'a slave' till Victorian era. The literal meaning of a servant is 'one who serves.' But mind you, who serves is not at your beck and call. He too has dignity. I read long back that when General Bewoor was the General of Indian Army, he heard a Brigadier's wife say in an army party, " My orderly is not very punctual." Gen Bewoor politely told her that he was not her 'orderly'.


He was her husband's sahayak(assistant). He was a companion, a helpmate to her husband and even her husband had no right to talk disparagingly of him, much less the lady. General drove home his point. Every individual has a sense of dignity and importance. One could be a sweeper. But he too has his individuality. In 2007, the panel of lexicographers at Oxford Dictionary House, London, decided to retain the word 'servant' but stating that it was a condescending word, if not highly objectionable terms like 'nigger' and 'slave'. We tend to treat those, who work at our place as if they're gentiles or pariahs. We don't treat them on a par with our 'respectable' friends and guests. 'Naukrani', 'kaamwali', 'mahari' and 'bai'  are the terms, we so nonchalantly use for them.


It's strange that the word mahari  is actually associated with a migrated Maharashtrian community (Mahar) based in Malwa, Mhow and Indore. This was fallaciously considered to be a socially low community as its poor women used to work at homes. Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar belonged to this community and when Rahul Sankrityayan objected to the rampant and inconsiderate use of the word mahari  indicating the associated social group, people criticised him for being a false sympathiser. He wasn't. What he objected then is still relevant. Why should we call all maids 'mahari' ? This is not just derogatory, but highly discriminating as well.


Until we give utmost respect to work of any kind, we'll continue to treat people on presumed premises of higher and lower hierarchy. We must change our attitude towards those who work at our places and treat them as independent individuals, if not members of our families.         
                                           
                                                  -----Sumit Paul

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