Quite a few valuable lessons are learnt at home, and discrimination happens to be one of them.
Unlike in other places, urban life in India offers the luxury of hiring a domestic help at an affordable cost. A luxury that most upwardly mobile families choose to avail. There is a demand and then there is plentiful supply. So, all is well from an economic standpoint. A minor detail that's overlooked is the caste factor and its ugly fallout. As is obvious, most of these upwardly mobile families are drawn from the dominant upper castes who have held the upper hand for centuries and hence have had the early mover advantage for ages, in that rat race called life. And the domestic help that is available is mostly drawn from immigrant labour, typically rural poor of lower castes, who came to the city in search of greener pastures, and leading a squatter's life.
So there is this situation of two sets of people, each from different backgrounds and castes, who come in contact with each other to fulfil their respective needs, in a small cozy place that we call home. In these enlightened days, we pride ourselves in public about being progressive, liberal, egalitarian, secular, equal opportunity and what not. However, all that glory and idealism vanishes, once inside the home, sweet home.
Here, age old casteism is on display, in its pristine glory. The employers remind themselves about their upper caste backgrounds, and about the lower caste / unhygenic surroundings / lifestyle of the domestic helpers. Where possible, the domestic help is allowed to enter only through the back door / rear entrance, and this requirement is compromised only in the case of apartments where there is only one way to enter the premises - through the front door. (Apparently, the front door is reserved for Goddess Lakshmi, the Hindu Goddess of wealth, to make her auspicious entry) Once inside, there are areas / quarters which are beyond the reach of the lowly maid, since they are considered too pure, precious, valuable, or plainly just not accessible. Examples include rooms / places of worship, furniture like sofa, chairs, dining table etc. on which the maid is not allowed on, and even rest rooms that are meant for the inmates of the house. So, a maid can sit, but on the floor, and can use separate rest rooms, if need be. Of course, she would be offered some tea / coffee of questionable quality, and an occassional snack, as an act of kindness. But here comes the catch - these things would be served in cups / plates that are separately set aside for them. Typically made of plastic or similar cheap materials, or in cups / plates that have long been discarded by the family, because they have lost their sheen or have developed cracks. And in these days of mineral / ozonized drinking water, the maid should of course settle for the tap water, in case of thirst, however hard it maybe (coz, God knows what kind of water she gets at her place). Often, left-overs would be handed down, with the justification that the maid would also look forward to receiving them (coz it can feed a hungry soul back home). And such gestures are made only when the family decides that the food has become unfit for consumption, by its members.
The sad part is, the maid / domestic help is often unmindful of these discriminations, as the conditions are often worse at her place of residence. She is probably thankful to her employers for providing at least this much. The worrying aspect about this whole thing is that young India gets to learn its baby steps towards practising casteism, by watching these acts of its elders. And the art of discrimination gets passed on to the next generation, like the so many wonderful indigenous arts that were handed down from generation to generation, without a single word being written about them.