Name: Ruhima Bibi
Age: 30 years
Village: Ishna, Burdwan District, West Bengal
Ruhima Bibi, a Domestic Worker from Gurgaon, had returned to her village after her husband was taken ill last year. She was due to return from her leave a few months ago, but with the COVID lockdown in place, it is now uncertain when she will be back. A worried Ruhima Bibi says over the telephone: “I am feeling very scared. Everything here is shut. We are not being allowed to go out of the village. The police are patrolling the village and making everyone stay indoors.”
“Money is running out and I had hoped to come back to work, but now it seems a distant dream. We are making do with the little rice that is at home, that too will run out,” she says, shedding light on the welfare schemes the local government has announced for those temporarily out of work. She also identifies the gaps in the disbursal of these packages, adding, “I heard that dry ration is being provided, but one has to walk 1.5 hours to get them. I decided not to go. They also said that they would provide free gas cylinders; I don’t have a gas chulha, so it’s not for me. But I believe from tomorrow, rations will be available at the fair price shop in the village.”
She reported that the local MLA has travelled the length and breadth of the village, announcing that any kin who wishes to return home must not be allowed to enter the village or their homes. To enforce this rule, party workers have already asked every resident of Ishna for their Aadhaar card, Voter card, father’s name and the names and addresses of their children who are working in other states. Expressing concern for her peers, fellow women domestic workers in NCR who haven’t made it back home, Ruhima said, “Although no women from my village work in Gurgaon, there are nearly 10-12 from the next village…None of them have come back. I can only hope they are safe and have found somewhere to stay put in Gurgaon.”
As if financial woes weren’t enough, Ruhima Bibi has to also contend with caring for her ailing husband and their six-year-old son, ensuring they get through the epidemic unscathed. She says, “My husband is a heart patient and he needs his medicines. The day before yesterday, I went to get medicines for him. There was no public transport so I walked to the hospital. It takes 2 hours to reach there and another 2 hours to get back. It was scary walking there all alone on the deserted roads. To add to my worries, even the hospitals are running out of medicines now.”
“I want to come back to work. If my husband falls sick how will I manage? How will I take him to the hospital?” These are the worries that keep Ruhima Bibi and so many others like her up all night. “When is this going to end? Will we survive this?” she asks.
Ruhima Bibi was a part of Martha Farrell Foundation’s #DignityOfMyLabour project with Domestic Workers between 2016 – 2018. This story has been put together by Nandita Pradhan Bhatt, Director of Operations, and Prarthana Mitra, Programme Officer at MFF.