Why Does the House Help Need to Eat In Separate Dishes?

It’s a New Year. And as corny as it sounds, New Year, New You, right? In that spirit, it’s time to single out one particular thing that really needs newness: the fact that most households in Pakistan keep separate dinnerware for the house help. I myself grew up seeing this in my own home. My mother has always had an assigned cupboard where the help kept their dishes, mugs, glasses, you name it. Don’t get me wrong, the crockery was always pristine. She would buy some plain plates and mugs from the same store she bought ones for her own use, but that still doesn’t answer the question, why is there a need for separate dishes to begin with?

The strangest part is, when we lived abroad, and the house help wasn’t desi, ( we had an African American woman named Ayesha who was the best) there was no concept of separate plates and glasses. So what is it about desi housekeepers and drivers that make use feel the need to ostracise their bartan, and in turn ostracise them?

Some say it comes down to hygiene. While that’s understandable because we are incredibly blinded by privilege, who amongst us ever hires someone who isn’t clean or doesn’t look clean at least? When we’re buying samosay off a street vendor who literally scratched his balls two seconds before packing your samosas in a brown bag, hygeine isn’t a factor? When the Subway sandwich artist can barely catch his breath in between sneezes, hygiene is not a factor? When the same kaam wali’s who aren’t clean enough to eat in your plates slave away over the stove, cooking your food, hygeine is not a factor?

Now, I’m not singling out people who are incredibly organized. I know some aunties who have seperate dishes for every member of the family, so this is not about that. It’s about those of us who won’t leave any stone unturned to make someone feel lesser than themselves. For instance, my best friend had a Christian housekeeper. He was pretty groomed: well kept hair, short nails, never seen without his shirt untucked. But one day her brother saw this housekeeper using the same drinking glass as everyone else in the family, and he flipped his lid. Shouting and badmouthing ensued , and even as a child I was baffled at his behaviour.

Indians follow a caste system, so when they treat certain people like they’re ‘achoot’, atleast there’s hundreds of years of miseducation and what they call ‘tradition’ behind it. What’s our excuse? The same people who call out couples for copying Indian traditions by having Mehndis and Sangeets , don’t even consider their own hypocrisy when it comes to how they treat their kaam walas and kaam walis.

For this year’s shiny new year’s resolution, I promise to bring about tabdeeli, at least in my own household. Among a plethora of resolutions about hitting the gym, eating clean and being unapologetic, try incorporating this small but impactful change in your homes too.

( We will discuss saying no to hiring 10 13 15 year old girls and boys another time)

Happy New Year!

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