Gurugram based Damini used to work as a maid in three houses but she has been laid off because of the lockdown. Despite health concern, she has her energies focussed on how to feed a family of ten in this dire situation. Just like many other maids and house help, she has been struggling with the minimal supplies they've managed to arrange. "These are testing times. My husband and I have a big family to look after. We're a total of ten people living in this house and now we are hand-to-mouth. I asked one of my employers to give me money but she has been making excuses. She said that I was paid for my work and that now she won't give me any money since I wasn't working for them anymore. She has not even agreed to pay half of what I was earlier getting which could have helped considerably right now."
Damini's husband has a Jan Dhan account but she says that they have not received any compensation from the government and have no idea what to do or who to ask about it. "The only assistance I have received in feeding the family is some amount of ration provided by my landlord. We are skipping meals so that our kids can eat. I really hope things get back to normal as soon as possible."
SheThePeople spoke to house helps regarding their struggle during the coronavirus lockdown. Not only are they managing with minimal food supplies but are also unaware of where they can seek monetary help. The conversations are translated from Hindi.
The only assistance I have received in feeding the family is some amount of ration provided by my landlord. We are skipping meals so that our kids can eat.
Kamla, a masseuse who also lives in Gurugram with four kids and her husband used to work for people living in posh societies of the city before the lockdown. She said, "I had eight-nine clients across the posh societies of the city. While some called me weekly others called me for massages twice a week. Even though the income wasn't very stable but we were at least fulfilling our basic needs. It's been two months now since the lockdown was announced and we hardly have enough money to keep ourselves afloat. One of my employers lent me some money a while back, that's all. Also, the library nearby is providing ration kits every two weeks which is of great help. We are avoiding items like milk so that we can buy more of essential food items."
For a person who cannot afford essential food items, it is a struggle to secure items like masks and gloves that are essential in protection against COVID-19. "I've made masks with scrapped clothes to keep my kids safe. Some of my clients aren't picking up my calls because they will have to pay me if they do. One of them said that they have given a lot but that was in return for the work I did. She is turning her back on me when I need her help the most." Kamala doubts that the situation would improve for her even when the lockdown is lifted. " I'm not even sure if my regular clients would accept my services once things get back to normal. My husband too was an auto driver and he has nobody to go to for seeking financial assistance. Honestly, I do not expect anything from the government too, at this point."
Noida-based middle-aged maid, Sarita, is stuck in the city with her husband, while her son is in Bihar with her daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. "I'm concerned about them. They recently informed me that someone near their home has tested positive for the coronavirus. We are regularly talking to them but I'm tensed even more about their health now. My employers have been paying me since the lockdown started, so atleast we are able to afford food to eat."
We're a total of ten people living in this house and now we are hand-to-mouth. I asked one of my employers to give me money but she has been making excuses.
Like Sarita many maids are being supported by their employers, who are paying their monthly salary, despite not availing their services due to strict lockdown measures. A colleague based in Pune said, "Even before the lockdown was announced we asked our maids to not come to work as it was hazardous to their health as much as ours. I have paid their full salaries so far under the lockdown, and intend to do so as long as I can afford it until the crisis is fully over. While lockdown had been eased in our suburb, I still feel it is too soon to call maids back to work. When they called me this morning to know when they can come back to work, I told them that they should wait till at least the end of this month, assuring them that their salaries will be paid."
An editor based in Mumbai shared that she has been paying her two household helps their full salaries throughout the lockdown as well, "We have been paying both our house helps full salaries during this period and we plan to do so in the future as well. We also paid money to the presswala. My maid is a young girl who has her kids staying in her village in Bengal, and she is really missing them. So I keep calling and speaking to her whenever possible."
But not every maid is lucky enough to have the support of her employers. Most are left chasing pending payments or requesting for help only to be turned down because they aren't working for their employers right now. In this unprecedented situation, the least that can be done is to stand with each other and lend a helping hand to those who are suffering the most. We need to empathise with the underprivileged because the truth is that we are interdependent. Isn't it then our duty to care for those who take care of us?
Names have been changed on request.
Saavriti is an intern at SheThePeople.TV