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This online company provides maids – and lets you pick them by religion and region

While activists say this encourages discrimination, the company argues that this information helps clients feel more secure.

On Monday, a newspaper ad for a website offering to provide domestic workers drew criticism on Twitter for claiming that “diamonds are useless” so men should gift their wives a maid instead.  Many lampooned the sexist assumption that women were responsible for housework.

The ad, the company said, was being misread by some people. “The campaign was extremely light hearted and we don't mean to stereotype or discriminate women,” said Anupam Sinhal, co founder of bookmybai. “We would never dream of doing that since women are the reason we exist. Ninety nine percent of domestic helps are women. It completely depends on the mindset of the person reading the advertisement.”

The site claims that it has more than 10,000 verified candidates in Mumbai and Pune who can carry out services ranging from cleaning, cooking to child and elderly care.  Clients pay a fee to use the site. The company sources workers through maids' bureaus operating across the country by bringing them on a common platform.

But the apparently sexist tone of the advertisement wasn't the only thing about the service that attracted attention. What also stands out are the precise profiles of the domestic workers, which allows clients to shortlist candidates very precisely.

Not only do these profiles list the experience and expectations of the domestic workers but also their religious, linguistic and places of birth. For instance, a custom search pre-defined on the website allows clients to locate a “Buddhist Marathi Non Veg cook” in Mumbai or a “Hindu bhojpuri speaking part time gujarati non-veg female cook” in Surat.

A sample of the listings on the website.

While the specificity of these profiles is an indicator of expectations of clients who select domestic workers on the basis of largely irrelevant factors such as their ethnicity and religion, commentators say that the trend is worrying.

“We have already seen how Muslim women have to change their names and identities to be able to work at Hindu-dominated areas and this blatant advertising of someone’s antecedents is likely to only enforce it further,” said Kavita Krishnan, Secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association.

Listings such as these are not just the agency’s fault but also point to the lack of embarrassment with which many Indians have internalised social prejudices. Such discrimination is already enforced through informal mechanisms, she said, but will become even more entrenched if it is validated by corporations such as

“While one is allowed to choose a maid who is comfortable with their living patterns like cooking non-vegetarian food, it is not fine to not employ someone who is from a certain district or a religion,” Krishnan said. “The company shouldn’t be allow to get away by saying that they are just pandering to their client’s preferences. The only data that should be given out is what’s relevant to the job. Discrimination on the basis of religion and caste is against the International Labour Organisation’s regulations for workers which India has not adopted yet.”

The company, on its part, says that these details are put up only for “security purposes”.

“Due to the increasing number of criminal activities relating to domestic helps, we try and give as much information as we have about a person,” Sinhal said. “Having said that we have never and will never discriminate against a person on the basis of caste, religion or colour. We offer a choice to the employer and always insist that an employer does not discriminate a person on the basis of any irrelevant information like religion.”

To be sure, other online services also offer the same feature. For instance, the website allows people to select the preferred religion of domestic workers.

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Removing the layers of complexity that weigh down mental health in rural India

Patients in rural areas of the country face several obstacles to get to treatment.

Two individuals, with sombre faces, are immersed in conversation in a sunlit classroom. This image is the theme across WHO’s 2017 campaign ‘Depression: let’s talk’ that aims to encourage people suffering from depression or anxiety to seek help and get assistance. The fact that depression is the theme of World Health Day 2017 indicates the growing global awareness of mental health. This intensification of the discourse on mental health unfortunately coincides with the global rise in mental illness. According to the latest estimates from WHO, more than 300 million people across the globe are suffering from depression, an increase of 18% between 2005 and 2015.

In India, the National Mental Health Survey of India, 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) revealed the prevalence of mental disorders in 13.7% of the surveyed population. The survey also highlighted that common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. Perhaps the most crucial finding from this survey is the disclosure of a huge treatment gap that remains very high in our country and even worse in rural areas.

According to the National Mental Health Programme, basic psychiatric care is mandated to be provided in every primary health centre – the state run rural healthcare clinics that are the most basic units of India’s public health system. The government provides basic training for all primary health centre doctors, and pays for psychiatric medication to be stocked and available to patients. Despite this mandate, the implementation of mental health services in rural parts of the country continues to be riddled with difficulties:

Attitudinal barriers

In some rural parts of the country, a heavy social stigma exists against mental illness – this has been documented in many studies including the NIMHANS study mentioned earlier. Mental illness is considered to be the “possession of an evil spirit in an individual”. To rid the individual of this evil spirit, patients or family members rely on traditional healers or religious practitioners. Lack of awareness on mental disorders has led to further strengthening of this stigma. Most families refuse to acknowledge the presence of a mental disorder to save themselves from the discrimination in the community.

Lack of healthcare services

The average national deficit of trained psychiatrists in India is estimated to be 77% (0.2 psychiatrists per 1,00,000 population) – this shows the scale of the problem across rural and urban India. The absence of mental healthcare infrastructure compounds the public health problem as many individuals living with mental disorders remain untreated.

Economic burden

The scarcity of healthcare services also means that poor families have to travel great distances to get good mental healthcare. They are often unable to afford the cost of transportation to medical centres that provide treatment.

After focussed efforts towards awareness building on mental health in India, The Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLLF), founded by Deepika Padukone, is steering its cause towards understanding mental health of rural India. TLLLF has joined forces with The Association of People with Disability (APD), a non-governmental organisation working in the field of disability for the last 57 years to work towards ensuring quality treatment for the rural population living with mental disorders.

APD’s intervention strategy starts with surveys to identify individuals suffering from mental illnesses. The identified individuals and families are then directed to the local Primary Healthcare Centres. In the background, APD capacity building programs work simultaneously to create awareness about mental illnesses amongst community workers (ASHA workers, Village Rehabilitation Workers and General Physicians) in the area. The whole complex process involves creating the social acceptance of mental health conditions and motivating them to approach healthcare specialists.

Participants of the program.
Participants of the program.

When mental health patients are finally free of social barriers and seeking help, APD also mobilises its network to make treatments accessible and affordable. The organisation coordinates psychiatrists’ visits to camps and local healthcare centres and ensures that the necessary medicines are well stocked and free medicines are available to the patients.

We spent a lot of money for treatment and travel. We visited Shivamogha Manasa and Dharwad Hospital for getting treatment. We were not able to continue the treatment for long as we are poor. We suffered economic burden because of the long- distance travel required for the treatment. Now we are getting quality psychiatric service near our village. We are getting free medication in taluk and Primary Healthcare Centres resulting in less economic stress.

— A parent's experience at an APD treatment camp.

In the two years TLLLF has partnered with APD, 892 and individuals with mental health concerns have been treated in the districts of Kolar, Davangere, Chikkaballapur and Bijapur in Karnataka. Over 4620 students participated in awareness building sessions. TLLLF and APD have also secured the participation of 810 community health workers including ASHA workers in the mental health awareness projects - a crucial victory as these workers play an important role in spreading awareness about health. Post treatment, 155 patients have resumed their previous occupations.

To mark World Mental Health Day, 2017, a team from TLLLF lead by Deepika Padukone visited program participants in the Davengere district.

Sessions on World Mental Health Day, 2017.
Sessions on World Mental Health Day, 2017.

In the face of a mental health crisis, it is essential to overcome the treatment gap present across the country, rural and urban. While awareness campaigns attempt to destigmatise mental disorders, policymakers need to make treatment accessible and cost effective. Until then, organisations like TLLLF and APD are doing what they can to create an environment that acknowledges and supports people who live with mental disorders. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.