Journalists, comedians and actors figured prominently in India’s MeToo movement in 2018, coming out with stories of harassment at the hands of men in power. A recent court verdict, acquitting an accuser in a defamation case, was seen as a victory for women who have spoken out against harassment. While offices and workplaces are gradually improving protections offered to workers, many women in the informal sector remain invisible within the movement in India. DW follows such a worker, who wants to emphasize that time is up.
Bharti Rani is well known in her neighborhood. She stops and talks to other domestic workers who live nearby– many are now friends, but some close their doors. She’s too much of an activist, they say.
She doesn’t mind, though – she wants to make sure that other young women and girls are never afraid, like she was once, to speak out against harassment.
Bharti was only 8 years old when she was sent to work for a rich family, and to live with them without pay. It’s a common arrangement in Indian cities, which activists say amounts to modern slavery.
Harassment and abuse by employers is common too, and domestic workers often say they can’t afford to speak out at the risk of losing their jobs. But Bharti stresses that it is better to lose a job with dignity, than to suffer through one without.
Nandita Bhatt heads a women’s rights NGO. She points out that while MeToo testimonials occupied mostly digital spaces, she found similar reactions amongst Bharti and other domestic workers offline as well. They asked women to share their workplace harassment experiences through art and writing, and stitched it together on a sari, calling it Main Bhi, which means MeToo in Hindi. When they displayed the piece, Bhatt recalls there was a stunned silence.
Bharti Rani says this isn’t just about her – she wants to ensure that her daughter grows up watching her mother live with dignity, knowing that she deserves it too.
Bharti says that she wants her daughter to be unafraid of the rich, to have a big house herself, a comfortable job. She’s confident her daughter can be just like them – but a much, much kinder person.
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