Something happened this week that made me so mad I felt compelled to write about it. Of all the things that annoy me about living in India, the thing that makes me most upset is when I see someone with means exploit someone without. In this instance it’s an Australian expat in India. The income disparity between the wealthy and poor is just so large here that it’s almost easy to pretend that they live in completely different worlds.
I was put in touch with an Australian designer who came to India to produce her clothes (at a low-cost of course), let’s call her Preeti. She’s a Fijian born Indian who now calls Sydney home. As another Oz-Indian, my friend thought we may have something in common so gave Preeti my phone number. She started to ring me every few days, every time she needed something actually, to ask for my help. I offered it willingly, knowing how hard it can be to navigate your way through a new city. After finding somewhere to live, she rang me last week to see if I knew someone who could help with cleaning her new apartment.
I suggested a lovely woman (let’s call her Parvati) who used to work for me and I knew was meticulous. But I did warn that she was more expensive than a lot of domestic help here. Preeti advised she really wanted someone who was thorough and didn’t mind paying more for it, after all she earned Australian dollars. So I put her in touch with Parvati and heard nothing more until about a week later.
Parvati rang me quite anxious. She advised that her sister and her had cleaned Preeti’s new apartment on Wednesday. A task that took them 4 hours and left Parvati with hands that ached so much she needed to see a doctor that evening to get painkillers. For their back-breaking work Preeti paid the two of them Rs400 (A$7). Personally I would have expected to pay double that for that service.
I asked Parvati why she didn’t negotiate a rate in advance, and she said that Preeti told her she was a close friend of mine and therefore she assumed that she would be treated with the same generosity I have shown her (I have also referred other friends to Parvati and she’s never had a problem). I felt so bad that Parvati had been taken advantage of like this, but also advised her that she had to negotiate a rate in advance of performing work, to ensure that she was paid an amount she was comfortable with.
But what came next angered me more. Parvati advised that Preeti had asked her sister to come and work for her regularly and they agreed a rate of Rs7,000 (A$124) per month for 5 days a week. This is generally quite a high rate, but Preeti agreed to it and seemed happy when Parvati’s sister turned up the next day. So, according to Parvati, on Thursday, Friday, Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday of the next week Parvati’s sister turned up for work and completed her job. Parvati advised there was no comment or complaint from Preeti. Preeti even offered her sister rickshaw money on three days totalling Rs150 because it was so hot.
Then at 1am on Thursday morning Preeti rang her sister and told her not to turn up anymore and that she would leave her money with the security guard, according to Parvati. When she went to collect her money she was given Rs500 (A$8.90) by the security guard for her 5 days work. Now if I divide Rs7,000 by 20 (assuming 5 days a week for 4 weeks) I get a rate of Rs350 per day. So for 5 days that Rs1,750 (A$31), which is a lot less than Preeti chose to give.
Parvati told me that she rang Preeti several times but she did not respond, so she rang me to see if I could help, assuming that Preeti was a good friend of mine. Of course she isn’t, I’ve never met her in person. So I advised Parvati that I didn’t think there was much I could do, but if I heard from Preeti again I would speak to her.
As luck would have it, Preeti rang me about an hour later, I assume because she wanted something else from me. I was curt and asked her about what happened with Parvati. She ranted over the phone that she was expensive and her flatmate didn’t want to pay that much, so “what was she supposed to do”. She also said that she paid her for the work done on cleaning the apartment and gave her rickshaw money so “what more did she want!”. Um, I’m guessing she wanted to be paid the amount that they had agreed upon for the work completed. I curtly said goodbye to Preeti, well and truly hoping that I never hear from her again.
About an hour later Parvati rang me to advise that she had heard from Preeti, who then proceeded to yell at her over the phone. Eventually Preeti offered to pay a rate of Rs266 ($A4.73) per day for the work completed (although I’m not sure how they came to this rate) and that the money owed (which should be Rs830) would be left with the security guard the next day. When the money was collected Parvati advised that only Rs300 was there, which means Preeti had chosen not to pay Rs530 (A$9.43). If you take away the Rs150 Preeti gave for rickshaw money then she still owes Rs380 (A$6.76).
On top of that, Parvati then received a barrage of text messages and comments over the phone from Preeti. According to Parvati, Preeti told her not to say anything more to me or anyone else because “she didn’t want her reputation amongst her friendship circle affected” and also told Parvati not to come to her building anymore and “make a scene” and that she was not a “Queen” who deserved extra money. I’ve known Parvati for a couple of years, and I can’t imagine her ever “making a scene” or behaving like a “Queen”.
In Parvati’s words to me “This Preeti behaves worse than a third class citizen. She is not a good person.”
What angers me so much is two things:
- The Rs380 that Preeti chose not to pay would have probably fed Parvati’s sister’s family for almost a week. It wouldn’t even have bought Preeti one drink at her local bar. That money is valued so much more to Parvati and her family and yet Preeti has chosen to cheat her of it, despite originally agreeing to the amount. She couldn’t even honour an agreement, and behaved like she was justified in cheating someone of their hard-earned income.
- The way Parvati described how Preeti had spoken to her, and the way Preeti also spoke to me, make me furious. From what I can see, she is in the wrong here, yet she has chosen to be abusive and rude. It’s simply unnecessary.
What also makes me sad is that I am now apprehensive to try to help Parvati and others find more work unless I know the person I am referring them to well.
I’m hoping this particular story is an anomaly. I know from the expat forums that I’m a member of here that usually most expats are accused of paying their staff too much rather than too little. Personally I choose to pay what I value the services at, and what is mutually agreeable. It’s a very personal thing. To me, hiring a maid is less about pampering myself and more about giving employment to someone. I generally don’t give to beggars, so hiring people is my way of helping make someone’s life a little better. But that’s just me.
Regardless, everyone deserves to be treated with respect, paid what they are owed and spoken to politely. In my opinion, there’s no excuse for this kind of behaviour.