CHENNAI: The coronavirus has most certainly made its presence felt in the last week. With institutions, theatres, malls and most other indoor spaces that can hold crowds closing and hashtag #canceleverything trending, people world over are confined largely to their homes and are living a life they thought dystopian a short while ago. This period is being reckoned as a vital shake to the way we have been going about our lives, how we have been relating to the world and the planet, and in other optimist ways as one of re-thinking, unlearning, slowing down and healing. There’s enough noise out there, viral forwards and much learning that is happening on WhatsApp university but here are some threads from conversations that I hope we remember when we are well past this phase.
A single mother who works a corporate job pointed out to me what working from home used to mean just a few days ago. “Most women who work have to balance household and office work with little or no help; only some have the privilege of paid help for home and care work, or the availability of extended family that will lend a hand with childcare and running of a home. But being a single mother of two young kids and working in a large firm gets more complicated because so much of my career relies on taking on more work, to be seen as career-driven, to be present or miss out, and the continuous scare of being replaced if not available.
Every time I had to tend to personal work or take care of a sick child and requested to work from home, eyebrows would be raised, every time I needed to leave early from a party or even right after my shift I worry about what I would lose. Today, work from home is seen as a natural progression, so much so that companies trying to cut infrastructure cost may normalise it, which is great, but keep in mind why it happened.” Many people have asked their household help to stay home and be with their families, some misguided about ‘who brings the virus’ and others genuinely concerned, even offering paid leave. Then then are those who are so sure about surviving this scare that they refuse to let go off domestic help in this period, and snatching away their right to keep their children and homes safe.
At the end of all this, we’ll be left with the following questions to answer: Is social distancing really possible, especially for the poor? Do we really need to have homes and toilets cleaned by others every day? Will we take domestic workers’ health concerns seriously when they are coughing and sneezing but there is no coronavirus scare? That those who can usually afford private healthcare are being quarantined in government facilities has thrown up both holes in the system and in the insensitivities of who pays the price for clean spaces. A friend had a question for the post (that I’m sure had been passed onto you) about the state of the toilets in government quarantine facilities - “How much longer before those so used to having poor women labour putting themselves at risk doing sanitation work realise that they can clean a toilet too? An unclean toilet is a clean toilet once it’s cleaned no?” Now that some have experienced the healthcare that most have to live with, maybe there’ll be outrage about public healthcare.
Maybe we will take health seriously. Maybe we will ask women to report as soon as they sense something is wrong. Maybe we will ask after the protection that informal workers have, and the funds for unorganised sector workers. Maybe we’ll wonder how it makes sense to keep TASMAC’s open and enforce home quarantine. Maybe we’ll use this time to pause, to listen, to find answers. Maybe we’ll come out of this with solutions we never believed in before. But may we at least remember that it is possible to do it differently.
Archanaa Seker firstname.lastname@example.org