As high-rises replace smokestacks in Parel, locals receive windfall in domestic work

Written By Unknown on Rabu, 11 Maret 2015 | 22.23

Six years ago, Geeta Rajput stood tentatively outside the new gated apartment complex in her neighbourhood, hoping to find work as a part-time cook. It was 2009 and only two of the four high-rises of the Ashok Towers complex had opened. A friend had referred Geeta to a couple moving in. After a short interview under the watchful eyes of security guards, she got the job. From that day, Geeta's fortunes turned. Her earlier job earned her Rs 6,000 cooking for KEM Hospital's doctors. She now earns Rs 25,000 a month cooking in different homes in Ashok Towers. She starts her day at 6am and is done only by 9pm, with one afternoon break. But it's worth it. "Earlier, I barely saved anything. Now I put away at least Rs 10,000 a month," says Geeta, who is in her forties. It's not just the money that holds her. She gets Sundays off and one of her employers has even started a pension scheme for her. "There are so many flats in the towers that people want to keep their maids happy. They know we can easily find another job," she says.
Ashok Towers stands on what used to be Morarjee Mill in central Mumbai, home to the city's textile industry. Known as Girangaon, or village of mills, the area has transformed in the past decade as mills have been replaced by offices and luxury apartments. Once the biggest employer in Mumbai, the industry withered away after the mill strike in the 1980s. As new residential towers have come up, factory jobs have been replaced by a boom in domestic service jobs, spurring a flood of new opportunities.
Ashok Towers, for example, has spun a cottage industry of maids, drivers, liftmen and dhobis. The four towers have 1,100 flats, but with two flats often combined, there are 500-600 households. The towers employ 2,400 maids and drivers, according to the property manager. Another 195 people are engaged to maintain the building and its sprawling grounds, including a football field, a swimming pool and a club house. The on-site team has cleaners, security guards, gardeners, engineers and even some plumbers and electricians.
For some mill workers edged out of the workforce, the enclave offers a second chance. Sudarshan Kokkula (56) lost his job in 2006 when Century Mills shut down. But he managed to find a job at Ashok Towers as a gardener making Rs 6,000 a month. "Where else would I get regular work at my age?" he asks.
Women have benefited the most from the new opportunities. High demand has also enabled informal unionization. Salaries at Ashok Towers and other new complexes are standardized and higher than at places in the surrounding area. Most maids get two days off a month and part-timers charge extra to come in twice a day. "I heard of a maid who charged Rs 1,000 to wash utensils and demanded Rs 500 more if she had to dry them and put them away," says a flat owner.
Many employees are not locals. The new complexes draw maids and drivers from far-flung Virar and Ghatkopar; many live-in staff are from rural Maharashtra, the northeast, Orissa and West Bengal. The nearby Regina Pacis Convent helps place migrants—mainly Christian women from Bihar and Jharkhand—as domestic help.
Ancillary businesses are enjoying a new and captive market. Local grocers Janata Oil Depot have seen business go up one-and-a-half times since Ashok Towers was built. The 30-year-old store used to sell loose oil and soap. Today it stocks cheese, juice, biscuits, and washing machine powder. "We make nearly 30 deliveries a day," says shopkeeper Chetan Gala. The savoury store next door has made place for butter cookies, cornflakes and cake mixes.
Nevertheless, mill union leader Datta Ishwalkar raises important questions about the new service economy. "Two and a half lakh mill workers lost their jobs. Have so many jobs been created here?" asks Ishwalkar, who heads the Girni Kamgar Sangharsh Samiti. He says Morarjee Mill once employed 6,000 workers; Ashok Towers employs a third of that figure as domestic staff.
With residential towers outnumbering malls and offices, the new jobs are mostly menial, without job security or benefits, notes Ishwalkar. And younger, educated locals don't want domestic work. One of the two sons of Varsha Babrekar, whose husband was a mill worker, works at a Hero Honda outlet earning Rs 8,500 a month, which is less than what some maids at Ashok Towers earn. "There is no dignity in domestic work. Why should an educated person do it?" she asks.
Security at the gated communities also makes it difficult for those without connections to enter these enclaves to scout for work. Traditional door-to-door vegetable and fruit-sellers are excluded in favour of select delivery services.
Yet the harshest part of Parel's gentrification has been the rise in real estate prices. Geeta earns more than she ever did, but she cannot dream of owning a home in the neighbourhood she has lived in for 20 years. Geeta, who lives in her brother-in-law's home, is now looking for a room in the distant suburbs. "It costs more than Rs 25 lakh for buying just one room here. Eventually, we'll have to move," she says ruefully.,parel,Neighbourhood,Girangaon,changing

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