A picture of a certain signboard prohibiting the travel and entry of maids and ayas beyond a certain point on the premises, reportedly of the Islamabad Club, has been circulating on social media since Saturday. In the outrage it has drawn, the picture has prompted comparisons to the “Whites Only” signs during colonialism. Yet while the outrage has been great, an important aspect related to the sign has gone unnoticed.

The idea of the discriminatory elitist and classist segregation that the sign represents does warrant the outrage and anger it invited, however there needs to be a conversation on the very issue that this sign is based on: carrying maids and domestic helpers to public places.

I may be wrong, and of course, there will be exceptions but I have hardly ever come across people having their maids and helpers accompany them to public places as equals or for their own sake. And there is strong doubt that people who bring their maids to places like Islamabad Club take them there to share a meal with them on the same table.

From departmental stores, markets to restaurants, most of the times I’ve observed these maids, they are underage, poor girls awkwardly carrying the maim sahib’s bags and babies in a space they are clearly out-of-place and unaccustomed to; a space where their presence only reinforces the inequality, divide and deprivation they are a part of. Bringing domestic helpers to places like clubs is an act that exposes them to an existing segregation - between the world they inhabit and the world they cannot inhabit – itself; a segregation that is in no need of a signboard to be known.

It is now a frequent scene to come across helpers sitting at another table from their sahibs and bajis, looking on silently while the family indifferently munches on their lasagnas and smoked chickens.

Neither this practice, nor the sight is uncommon. Both of them have, in fact, become increasingly common in urban cities and public places in the past few years. All maids and helpers may not be underage, but this trend has also furthered the “normalization” of child labor by its blatant public projection.

Therefore, while the offence and furor the signboard has caused is completely justified as the elitist, classist and discriminatory position it comes from is obvious to all, and there should absolutely not be any such demarcation and limitation of space for people of lower socio-economic backgrounds, but, along with this, the practice and manner of carrying maids and ayas to public places, especially places like restaurants and clubs should also be seen critically and its ethics contested.

Clearly, what is problematic here is not just the signboard.