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 bookmybai.com 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 bookmybai.com.

“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 maidservices.in allows people to select the preferred religion of domestic workers.