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Saturday, June 19, 2021

Domestic helps relive 2020 nightmare: ‘Most employers have told us to stop coming’

In the last 14 months, Shahana Parveen (27), a domestic help in Noida, went from working in six houses to working in two, and now in just one, where she earns Rs 2,000 a month.

Written by Ashna Butani | New Delhi |
May 18, 2021 8:27:35 pm
The need for relief and support specific to domestic workers can no longer be sidelined. (File)

Like last year, domestic helps in Delhi-NCR are yet again reeling under the pandemic-induced lockdown, with many finding themselves out of jobs. Many The Indian Express spoke to said the impact of the 2020 lockdown was just beginning to fade when Covid cases began rising again and employers asked them to stop coming to work.

And stopped their pay as well.

In the last 14 months, Shahana Parveen (27), a domestic help in Noida, went from working in six houses to working in two, and now in just one, where she earns Rs 2,000 a month. A resident of Sarfabad village in Noida, she used to work in societies nearby and earn Rs 16,000 before last year’s lockdown.

“Last year, most of the people who had hired us locked their houses and left as they were living on rent too,” she said. Her husband, who used to work in a private company as a tailor, was left unemployed too. He now works as a vegetable vendor.

“Now, I only work in one house… Most of our employers tell us not to come because they are scared,” she said.

Most of the domestic helps do not have jobs at the moment.

At Sarfabad village, where several women work in high-rises nearby, most had similar complaints. Almost all said they worried about arranging food for their children and ensuring that their education is not affected.

Mampi Khatun (25), who used to work in three houses till a month ago, now works in just one. “Someone tested positive in the society that I work in. Since then, we have not been allowed inside.” She earns Rs 2,000 a month while her husband is unemployed. She is worried about discontinuing her daughter’s education because her tuition classes cost Rs 600 a month.

Both Mampi and Shahana have to pay Rs 2,500 for rent, Rs 100 for electricity and Rs 800 for gas per month. Unlike last year, they said, nobody has been giving them ration.

Shahana said, “The price of everything is rising but our salaries have not risen in years.” In fact, many of us are getting paid less because so many are unemployed and hardly anyone is hiring.

This concern was echoed by Rita Rakhwar (35), a domestic help in Delhi, who lost her job during the 2020 lockdown and has been unemployed ever since. She lives at Priyanka Gandhi camp in Vasant Vihar.

“A year ago, my employers left their rented apartment in Vasant Vihar and went to their own house in Dwarka. They call me there but I cannot travel so far every day.” She has explored many options — joining a placement agency or working at a lower pay. “Someone offered me a job for Rs 1,600, hoping that I will clean the house twice a day. A payment of Rs 1,600 a month for 3-4 hours a day is not fair. It is becoming very difficult to find jobs these days,” she said.

Meanwhile, outside a government school in Kalyanpuri, women lined up to collect food. Most of them are domestic helps who do not have jobs at the moment.

On Tuesday evening, Rajendri (38) and her daughter, a Class IX student, walked from Trilokpuri, only to learn that the food was over and the school gates were shut. Fewer schools have been distributing food than last year. The two went home empty handed.

Rajendri, originally from Bulandshahr, used to work as a domestic help in Mayur Vihar before Covid cases started going up. Her husband’s painting worker has halted as well. She does not have to pay rent, but is worried about food and her daughter’s online classes. “We managed to get a phone for her to study last year. But an internet refill costs at least Rs 250. The phone is not functioning because we have not recharged since last month, when we both lost our jobs.”

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