The Devyani Khobragade arrest is bringing attention to the problem of exploited domestic workers, both in the United States and in India.
The BBC had this report over the weekend, New York maids protest at Indian consulate:
Domestic workers who were exploited and abused in the US by foreign diplomats have held a rally outside the Indian consulate in New York.
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The protestors outside the Indian consulate said they wanted to highlight the plight of the maid in the case. They are calling for all countries to agree minimum legal standards of work.
The Hindustani Times also covered the New York protest (here), and had more quotes than the BBC did from domestic employee labor unions and victim assistance groups.
For how this matter is perceived within India, see this most interesting Agence France-Presse story that explains why India's government and society seem to think that it is Devyani Khobragade who is the victim here, and not her domestic employee: plight of Indian maid in U.S. brings little concern back home.
That AFP story quotes a report that describes India as the world's largest exploiter of bonded domestic labor:
According to the Global Slavery Index report released in October: "an estimated 13.95 million people in India are victims of forced labor — almost half of the world’s slave population. Domestic service is a key area of concern."
“The central government has completely ignored the conditions of domestic workers,” said Anannya Bhattacharjee, executive council member of the New Trade Union Initiative, who is based in northern Haryana state.
“It’s part of Indian feudal tradition. There’s always talk of domestic workers being ‘part of the family,’ but they want to be treated as workers,” she said.
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Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, points out that millions of mostly women and girls perform crucial jobs around the world as domestic helpers, often enabling employers to pursue careers.
But she said that in India and elsewhere, they remain “among the most exploited” despite a new international treaty adopted in 2011 to improve their rights.
“India should sign the Domestic Workers Convention, encourage domestic workers to organize, and ensure that their complaints of abuse, including sexual abuse, are promptly addressed,” Ganguly said.
The Global Slavery Index is a product of the Walk Free Foundation. Its 2013 country report on India was summarized as follows:
The country with the largest estimated number of people in modern slavery is India, which is estimated to have between 13,300,000 and 14,700,000 people enslaved. The India country study suggests that while this involves the exploitation of some foreign nationals, by far the largest proportion of this problem is the exploitation of Indians citizens within India itself, particularly through debt bondage and bonded labour.
The entire India country report is here.
The term "modern slavery" shouldn't be used without real cause, but the exploitation of domestic workers in India is so severe, and so immune from legal consequence, that it may legitimately be described as slavery.