Am I your servant?

Amal Chatterjee
9 min readApr 21, 2018

Synopsis: The term servant taken literally can be demeaning and derogatory to any human being. I look at the master servant relationship under different situations and expose its malevolent nature in this blog.

Am I your servant?

Source : Google photo of a mistreated person

We humans have always demanded others to serve us to meet our daily needs. How we demand has changed over the centuries but the servant master relationship still exists in other forms that I will discuss in this blog today.

The Romans and the Egyptian rulers demanded service from slaves who had no rights of their own and existed only to serve their masters and were often punished with death if the master was not pleased with their service. Young and pretty slave women were kept only to serve the sexual desires of their masters and often mistreated. Romans kept thousands of slaves to build their infrastructure, stadia and aqua ducts etc. and to power their galley ships during the war and chained them to their seats. The poor slaves drowned if the ships went down.

Cleopatra used her slaves to taste her food to see if it was poisoned so many died doing so .The inglorious history of mankind is replete with such abuse of servants by their masters. No one could protest because the slaves as servants had no rights of their own and could be treated anyway the master felt like.

We now come to the modern time and see how this servant master relationship has developed for the better or has it remained the same as before albeit in a different form.

Almost daily we read or hear about the maids being raped or physically mistreated by their masters in the Middle Eastern countries and elsewhere just because they can do it with impunity but once in a while a maid fights back. There was a 16 year girl who stabbed and killed her employer in a Middle Eastern country when he tried to rape her. It was case of self-defense but the poor girl was arrested and given a harsh punishment until a great clamor for her release arose in her home country so finally under tremendous international pressure, she was released to return home.

We always hear of such physical abuse of poor hapless women who only want to earn their honest wages and escape the poverty back home but end up getting raped, beaten and even tortured by their employers with no recourse to their ill treatment. Men who work in the construction jobs there also tell us how badly they are treated by their employers who force them to live like animals in overcrowded hostels under appalling conditions violating all the labor codes as promulgated by the ILO. Repeated complaints to their government serves very little purpose as they make fake promises to improve the conditions of workers but in reality nothing changes.

Someone told me that his brother’s wife in Delhi left her maid locked in her apartment for days or weeks while she went out of town which was so shocking to me that I was speechless for a while. How can anyone treat a maid so heartlessly? Doesn’t she have any rights? I have seen the same thing here in our neighborhood where the employers lock their house for the day so their poor maid sits on the sidewalk the whole day waiting for them to return. Doesn’t she need to eat or go to the bathroom or rest?

One movie actress used hot iron on her maid that burned her badly just because she was angry with the maid for some reason. She was rich and had lawyers who got her out of the legal problems but we hear of such cases again and again because of its tabloid nature and wonder how people still behave like the Romans after all these centuries.

In India a menial servant who cleans your house and polishes your boots is called Naukar. A naukar means a servant but in a derogatory sense because he is just a lowly servant who is prone to be abused by his master. The British took the meaning of a servant to a new level of deprecation because they expected a servant to polish their shoes, tie their shoe laces and bring them cold drinks at any hour of the day. A naukar brought to his master his hookah that he prepared meticulously with glowing charcoal and tobacco and even gave his master a massage when demanded.

So the word naukar has stayed in the Indian vocabulary even today because people will ask you if you have found a naukari meaning a job. When I say that I am no one’s naukar , they say that of course we all are naukars because we serve as servants. Who are the elected officials? Aren’t they called public servants?

This is because they do not have a better word to replace the derogatory word naukar , they keep on using it. I can suggest a better word like employee or a contract worker or a professional or even a consultant which sounds better than naukar but people still use them due to their colonial mentality developed during the long British Raj. It is like a freed slave who is still smarting from his past status and has a hard time coming to terms with his new status.

Once I saw an Algerian movie in Algeria that showed how the poor Algerian women working in the car assembly plant of Renault in France were harassed sexually, mentally and psychologically daily by their supervisors who were white until one day a girl so abused fought back. It galvanized other workers in the factory who then collectively demanded the removal or suspension of the abusive supervisor who had the power to fire anyone he did not like and who complained. I do not remember finally what happened to the girl but I do remember how the Algerians reacted so angrily to this sort of abuse that goes on even today in France.

Once I saw a store keeper in Washington, D.C. shout and yell at his Ethiopian employee in front of me and was terribly shocked at this behavior. The Ethiopian gentleman looked so crestfallen and humiliated that I felt very sorry for him but could do nothing except to walk out in disgust. No one should treat another person this way. It is an abuse of power over a helpless person just like that Algerian girl in the Renault factory.

How many times you have seen in the Hollywood movies the boss asking his secretary to bring him coffee right away with two sugar cubes or buy roses for his mistress? The poor girl is a secretary and not his personal servant at his beck and call all the time. If she complains then she is fired so the poor girl does what the abusive boss asks of her that may even include sex on the sly.

There is a classic story of such abuse in India that is too tempting to overlook so I will mention it here. There was a medical student who was very smart and got good grades in most of her subjects except in one where her teacher demanded sexual favors from her in order to give her good grades.

On the day of the practical exam when an external examiner came to give her a test in her troubled subject, she broke into tears in his presence. The examiner sensing something was wrong asked her abusive teacher to leave the room so that he could learn from the girl what was wrong. The poor girl told him everything and said that this particular teacher was harassing many other girls as well. The examiner was very sympathetic toward the girl and gave her high marks because he found out that the girl was very smart and knew her subject well.

So there are all kinds of situations where an employer abuses his employee or a teacher abuses his students or a housewife locks up her maid in her apartment for days while she goes out of town.

Here in the Philippines, I have noticed how poorly people treat their hired helps be they maids or gardeners or grass cutters. They work very hard under the sun but are not given even a glass of cold water or something to eat and rest. They never invite the laborers, masons and carpenters to their house blessing ceremony so our workers were very surprised when we did so and were very happy. My wife takes care of our hired help by giving them food and water because she is a very kind hearted lady who treats everybody well.

I was once told by an American who took wedding photos how badly he was treated by the rich people who ordered him around like a menial servant and even got angry when they did not like the photos he took. They never offered him food and drinks so now I know that such poor treatments of human beings are more common than one can imagine.

We now see that even today the meaning of servant is taken literally by many who see them nothing more than an uneducated poor fellow who should be grateful for the pittance people throw at them for the services rendered but it is an obsolete and very degenerative mentality that is reprehensible in anyone let alone someone who should know better.

When my wife offered a hot cup of freshly made tea to the poor and shivering maid in India, she was laughed at by the women who said that she was spoiling the maid. They gave them lukewarm left over tea only. They also ridiculed me for giving a beggar five Rupees saying that I was spoiling them. But India still suffers from the colonial mentality so people feel that now they have become the masters, they should treat the servants the same way the British did. May be it is called the reverse psychology but wrong just the same.

The question to ask here is how to educate people so that they can learn to treat other human beings well so that they feel happy. It is a well-known fact that people work harder and become loyal when they are well treated, well paid and looked after than those who are not.

In Japan a factory worker in an assembly plant for cars or other things has the right to stop the assembly if he notices something wrong so the supervisors come over quickly to find out what is wrong, fix the problem so that the assembly can start again. It prevents the shoddy practices and improves the overall quality of cars or other things being assembled so it is no wonder that the Japanese cars are known for their high quality.

They also listen to workers in meetings who may offer new ways to make the product better and are given rewards if their proposals are implemented. But a worker who has no voice and cannot take part in the decision making process in the plant feels just like a cog in the machine that is heartless. When a worker in a Firestone tire plant in the US complained of the poor quality of tires being manufactured, he was summarily dismissed instead of taking his advice to correct the problem and make better quality tires.

So there is a tendency to ignore the employees who may have bright ideas because the employers are afraid of such employees. Who knows what other bright ideas they may come up with like unionizing the workers for better pay and work conditions or better health care or pension plans? The employers tend to come down hard on such workers or choose to ignore them.

They used to hire the goons called the Pinkertons who beat up workers who demanded better pay and good working conditions and tried to unionize to make their demands collective.

I am very disappointed in those who still treat a human being this way today and continue to exploit them due to their own greed and selfishness. Equal treatment for all, better gender equality, better working conditions, better healthcare and pension benefits, better and humane treatment of all can dramatically improve the economic health of any company so it is in their own interest to do so.

A happy person is a hardworking and a loyal worker but he is not your servant. He is certainly not your naukar.

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