Kamala lives with her 3 children (2 daughters and 1 son) and their father in Gautampuri, New Delhi in a small one room house with an attached bathroom that also serves as a kitchen. As the sole earning member of her family, Kamla is responsible for paying rent, children’s education, food and other living expenses of the family. With more than 22 years of work experience, no job security and social protections, Kamla today is jobless and desperate to find work. She was dismissed from all the 6 kothis (bungalows) in March this year. None of her employers continue to pay her; none gave notice nor paid her for the few days of the month she worked.
Kamla migrated to Delhi 23 years ago with her husband and his family. She began working almost as soon as they reached Delhi.“I educated his siblings, I looked after everyone, but today when I am sick there is no one to look after me,” she says.
Kamla’s husband used to work as a driver but hasn’t worked for more than 2 years now. “He seems to have lost interest in working now.”
Kamla has been experiencing severe lower abdomen cramps for more than 5 years now. She had to take a loan to get medical attention after the pain left her almost crippled.
In this second wave, there is no more money to buy medicines, the landlord has threatened eviction, the loan provider is threatening dire consequences if she does not repay her loan of Rs. 25,000, her husband continues to beat her when she returns empty handed from wandering the streets and construction sites looking for work.
“My children have grown up seeing their mother being beaten up by their father,” she says. “I am able to tolerate all of this, but I just cannot bear to see the hunger on my children’s faces”.
“So I began looking for work. I was ready to do anything. I did not find anything, not even at construction sites. But then one day I met a woman who offered me a short term task that involved caregiving. I later discovered that she kept ₹2500 with herself and gave me only ₹1000 per day for that work. When I was told my work would involve taking care of a COVID positive patient in a hospital, I was scared.”
“Par main majboor thi. They gave me a PPE Kit. Mata rani ka naam roz liya ki humne ki vo surakshit rakhe (But I was helpless. I prayed to the Goddess every day that she would keep me safe). I have just finished that assignment, and I will go again and try to find another such assignment. I can’t help it, this is the only job that seems to be available right now. There are many women standing at the gates of every hospital looking for assignments like this. I know, we know, it is a risk – but what can one do. I am desperate – I can’t bear to see my children hungry.”
Martha Farrell Foundation is providing relief in the form of rations, sanitary and medical essentials to domestic workers in Delhi and Haryana. The Covid Relief and distribution network is co-managed by a team of women who include program staff and domestic workers like Lata. We ended our conversation last night with Lata telling me that she will ensure that every domestic worker in need receives ration, even if it means that she will have to visit every house herself.