THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The pandemic outbreak and the lockdown have plunged lakhs of domestic workers and their families in the state into extreme poverty. With a majority of the households and apartments barring the entry of maids and workers, the domestic helper community in the state is struggling with no means to survive the lockdown. Uncertainties are looming large over their families, children’s education, and the medical care of their near and dear ones.
Overnight loss of income has landed the family of Vijayarekha, a domestic helper in the capital city, in acute poverty. “My father is a cancer patient and he is currently undergoing chemotherapy. There is no bed available for him at the hospital. So I have to take him to the hospital for the chemotherapy session every week. There is no public transportation and I hire an auto which costs around `1,500,” says 41-year-old Vijayarekha, who is the sole breadwinner of her family.
She has been contacting her agency repeatedly requesting for a cleaning job even amid the lockdown. Unfortunately, opportunities are almost nil because the employers are not ready to hire help owing to the social distancing norms.“I have to take care of my son and my parents. I have been out of work ever since the lockdown was declared and we are surviving on free ration and the food kit we got from the government. I had to take up this job to raise my son.
Now I am unable to support him. He completed Class XII but is unable to pursue his studies because of our financial situation,” laments Vijayarekha, whose life sums up the daily struggle of over eight lakh domestic workers in the state during the lockdown.A few domestic workers who lost their jobs have found other ways to earn their living. Latha B, who used to be a household help, has now set up a small vegetable stall in a space attached to her house to ensure that her family doesn’t starve.
“I live in a rented home with my husband, who is unable to work due to a problem with his vision. So I set up this small vegetable stall,” says Latha, who lives at Ukkodu near Vellayani.Forty-eight-year-old Vijila Kumari, another domestic help hailing from Kattakada, is struggling to make both ends meet amid the lockdown. “I have loans to pay and two children to support. I am the only earning member of my family. It’s been hard and the employers are not ready to have us back. My debt is increasing with each passing day,” says Vijila.
Many of the workers are unable to cover their healthcare or buy medicines. Forty-one-year-old Joby B, who used to work at a household, says her family is struggling to raise money to buy her medicines. “I have severe leg pain and every week I need `450 worth of medicines. My husband is a fisherman and he is unable to work. Now we both are unable to raise money for the family,” says Joby, who has been a domestic help for the past five years. Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) secretary Sonia George said that the association has launched a campaign urging employers to provide compensation for domestic helpers during the lockdown.
“Only one lakh domestic workers in the state are registered and eligible for the relief announced by the government. Over 90 per cent of the workers don’t have any membership,” says Sonia. She said that the organisation plans to convince employers to hire back the workers. “We intend to provide masks and gloves to ensure hygiene when they get back to work,” Sonia adds.
left in the lurch
With a majority of the households and apartments barring the entry of maids and workers owing to the pandemic outbreak and social distancing norms, many domestic helpers are forced to find alternative ways to earn a living to combat poverty