Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Meet Dharti.

Her mother, Geeta, use to help at my aunt's house (Nishant and Amish's house) and now Geeta's sisters, Dhaksha and Rekha, help at their house. Dharti came over one day with Dhaksha and Rekha (D&R) to play while D&R helped clean the dishes, mop the floor, etc. She was literally bouncing off the walls... singing, dancing, playing, and being silly. My aunt told me how smart Dharti was, and how quick she was to pick up on things... that's when the wheels started turning. I asked my aunt an array of questions, for which she had an answer to every...

Will Dharti go to school?
What will happen to her?
If she is so smart why don't they put her in school?

It turns out that no one in Dharti's family (minus Dhaksha) is even slightly educated. If Dharti goes to school, gov't schooling in Gujarat is so bad, she won't learn anything and will have to go to tutions (after-school tutoring, which is super expensive). If she doesn't go to tutions, she will never pass and move to the next standard (grade level). In addition to tutions, she will also need help/guidance at home, to make sure she does her homework etc., and there is no one around to ensure that. My aunt has spent a lot of time contemplating whether to put her through school (she still has 1 year before she is old enough to enroll), but my aunt spends some of her time in the US. While she is in the US, there will be no one to look after her schooling.

I spent a lot of time thinking about how I could help Dharti and kids like her. There are NGOs that work to help kids get enrolled in schools, but they only help them until they are 14, then they are on their own. Most kids drop out after this point, because they can't afford to continue schooling. If Dharti drops out at 14, the next reasonable thing for her to do, is join her aunts. As for now, Dharti's fate is sealed, like her mother and her aunts, she will also take up being "house-help" as her profession.

Please don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with having your profession be "house-help," if you take pride in what you are doing... but below, I explain why I am concerned. Dharti is lucky, in that her family has been coming to my aunt's house for a long time. If she continued with my family, they would treat her with respect and ensure her general well being, like they do for D&R.

In India, it is common to have "house help." These people usually live below the poverty line (bpl) and live in slums or chawls.

If you are lucky and your family has been working at the same house for generations, you are usually treated with some level of respect and "like" family by your employer (such is the case at my aunt's house), but if you are the type of "house help" that is serving multiple houses a day, you are usually treated as less than a human being. It is quite sad to watch the amount of disrespect that these individuals take on. They are so use to being mistreated and they seem to "brush their shoulders off" so well, you would think they don't realize what's going on (they do).

Sometimes I stop and think how many times I hear people in the US say, I would never "stoop" so low, or get treated in such a way to certain professions in the US (I am guilty myself), but really, these people have no alternative. They need to create a livelihood for themselves, and if that means being mistreated in the process, at least they can put food on the table for their families.

Fun Fact: Dharti (pronounced Duhur thee) in Gujarati/Hindi means Earth.


  1. Aw she's so cute. Hope she can go to school and be successful.

  2. That is some solid photography/storytelling

  3. i agree, strong words..strong picture...