Sometimes people who come to India have many questions about the way people work here. In India it is usual to have employees who work as servants in your home. I have heard that the word ‘servant’ has a negative connotation for some people but this work is actually not seen as something negative, it is a normal job.
What actually do such employees do? They work in your home and they do those things that you could actually do yourself but which you often don’t have the time for because you are working. They clean, sometimes they cook, they go for shopping, bring you what you need, they rearrange things in the house when you ask them to and maybe they even do some garden work, too.
Especially foreigners from countries where it is not usual to have employees in your home can find this strange and ask whether you could not actually do this on your own. The answer is yes, of course you could. But if you did it yourself, the other one would not have this work! There are many people who earn their living with this work in someone’s home. They are not forced into this work, they like it and they get a salary for doing it. It is honest work which is not humiliating them in any way.
If they had the feeling that their work would humiliate them, they would simply leave their job. They are free to do that and they change their job or place of employment when they don’t like it anymore. It can actually be quite a task for an employer to keep them working over a longer period of time because they are free to change and whenever they find an opportunity where they get a better payment, they simply leave and work somewhere else. They may have a lower level of education and are aware that they are not managers or doctors but they are still proud of their work and happy about their job and their flexibility.
Those who feel strange about these jobs, be that the cleaning, the gardening or even the driving of someone’s car, are usually people who grew up in the middle class in the west. They cannot afford to have a driver there and they are not aware of it that this actually also exists in the west. It is usual already for many people to have someone come to your home to clean. Others have gardeners and maybe also a cook. But you don’t even need to go that far to compare. When young people in the west work in a restaurant as waiter or bartender, isn’t that the same thing? They earn their money by bringing others what they want, making them feel good and happy. It is more frequent to see those jobs in India in private homes, too, probably because of the way that culture developed here. In India people like to eat at home rather than outside and they spend a lot of time in their homes. So they would rather pay for someone working there than going to a restaurant and pay a waitress.
Our employees, whom we usually call ‘the boys’, because they are for us a part of the Ashram family, don’t only work for us, they also sleep here at the Ashram, eat the same food that we eat and care for us the way we care for them. They get their salary every month and as they have everything they need at the Ashram, they often spend only a very little bit of this money and send the rest to their families to support them there. Their work thus not only feeds themselves but also their parents and siblings. They are happy to be with us and we are happy to have them here. In this way, they don’t only do their duty, they really care. And we care for them. In a way I see it as a kind of exchange. They do work for us which saves us the time to do work they could not do, for example at the computer, and with which we are able to pay their salary. So we actually work for each other.
If you come and spend some time here at the Ashram I am sure you will notice how important their work is, how much they are valued for their work and how free they are in their life and work.