The domestic worker in my Mumbai home, Archana, refused to open a savings account for herself at the local bank. She was not confident that she’ll be able to manage banking procedures and personal finances. She also had the fear that her mother-in-law would find out about her account and give her a hard time for not bringing her entire salary home. It took me and my mother months to convince Archana to open a savings account. Getting domestic workers to be financially independent has been an uphill task for many people. My mother, a banker, would come home with tales of female domestic workers who had a tough time opening accounts and managing finances in the bank she works at primarily due to fluctuating wages and lack of financial education.
Indian domestic workers in Kuwait are about to face even more financially difficult times due to removal of a $2,500 bank guarantee recruitment norm by the Indian government provided to them. According to a report, the bank guarantee provided protection and payment against failure of the employer to pay the domestic worker. It was implemented as a welfare measure in 2014 in Kuwait and had to be supplied by a foreign employer bringing an Indian woman as a domestic worker. It primarily protected women’s financial independence and also acted as a fallback for women who were abused by their employers and wanted to return home.
But the Indian government cited cases of misuse to scrap the banking guarantee recruitment. It said that the increasing number of cases of misuse far outweighs the exploitation of female domestic workers in Kuwait. This is like the argument against the misuse of IPC Section 498A. The SC issued a directive diluting the 498A that protects women from domestic abuse, citing increasing number of cases of misuse of the law. This line of argument protects the abuser and not the abused. What will it take for governments to know that?
The bank guarantee is provided in Oman, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain. The report further suggests that there are over 6 lakh immigrant women employed as domestic workers in Kuwait. But it is only Indian women, who are substantial in number, who will be denied financial independence to fall back on in case of abuse or refusal of the employer to pay them. Since a lot of Indian women enter the Kuwait through unofficial agents, they are not guaranteed payment for their work by their employers. This banking guarantee ensured that Indian domestic workers were paid the minimum wage of $200 per month in case of failure of payment. But now, with this gone (and Oman considering following suit), the plight of Indian women making a living in Kuwait has hit murkier ground.