Domestic Help and the Pandemic
“Borrowing money for my brother’s online classes was a struggle, besides putting two
square meals on the table”, said Virendra, 28, with a family four, working as domestic
help in Indira Nagar, Lucknow. Adding to this, Reenawati said, “my husband lost his job
as an autorickshaw puller, and started drinking. I had to move in with my mother with
my ten-year old daughter, when things got worse.” Both Virendra and Reenwati are hail
from Bihar, and have been in Lucknow for a decade now.
Pandemic put the informal sector in a havoc – rising unemployment dropout rates. 1
Online education exposed India’s rising digital divide 2 . Such kind of helplessness
translates into self-esteem, suicidal tendencies, substance abuse and other mental
“Since the commencement of the online class, I have been dealing with issues such as
internet access and lack of laptop. This has affected my academic engagement and I am
unable to make assignment submissions. Inability to keep pace with the curriculum has
affected me mentally and physically. I am facing severe anxiety issues, which has
resulted in weight loss”, said Raju, 26. Raju took a deferment from his MBA program at
a local university in Lucknow. Raju was a part-time student, and, at times, took over his
mom’s work as a domestic worker.
Migrating back to villages was an unprecedented move. It showed the faith of the
vulnerable in the institutions, and consequently their sheer desperation to reach back
home. “I travelled back on foot from Arwal, Bihar, to Mirzapur, UP”, said Munnilal, 48.
When asked why he did so, he said, “reassurance from the government to look after
them came only after the migration back on the foot had started. We did not trust to be
included in the schemes and ration programs. We wanted to go back to our family.”
There’s a concrete reasoning behind Munnilal’s explanation. India’s census survey
recognizes a someone a ‘residence’ only after they have lived at the place for six months
at a stretch, thus it misses out on all the short-term migrants 3 .
“We slept on half a roti, and a glass of water every night for the initial two months,”
recalled Reenawati when asked about how she survived the initial months without her
husband, and no job. Her dues were not cleared for quite a while, and posed a problem
at home. Reenawati is not alone here, a lot of domestic workers weren’t compensated 4 .
One would argue that government’s ‘one nation one ration’ scheme could have helped,
but a report marked around 50% exclusion of the needy 5 .
The pandemic only highlighted the irregularities in the informal sector. It showed us the
loopholes, and how a calamity can push the vulnerable over the edge. It has also
highlighted that India position, that despite being a leading economy, cannot feed its
own people 6 .
1 G Krishnakumar, ‘Pandemic hit domestic workers hard: study’ (The Hindu, 2021),
study/article35030604.ece, accessed, 28 th Nov, 2021
2 Mitali Nikore, ‘India’s gendered digital divide: How the absence of digital access is leaving women behind’ (The
ORF, 22 nd Aug 2021), https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/indias-gendered-digital-divide/, accessed 28 th Nov,
3 Rukmini S, ‘Why India’s migrants walked back home’, (Mint, 28 th May 2021),
28 th Nov, 2021
4 ‘60% domestic workers not paid in lockdown, faced poverty, debt: Report’, (Business Standard, 8 th Sep, 2021)
without-ration-cards--77328, accessed 28 th Nov, 2021.
5 Shagun Kapil, ‘Food grain until Diwali, What about those migrants without ration card?’, (Down To Earth, 8 th June,
those-without-ration-cards--77328, accessed 28 th Nov, 2021.
6 Jagriti Chandra, ‘Global Hunger Index ranks India at 101 out of 116 countries’, (The Hindu, 14 th Oct, 2021),
countries/article36998777.ece, accessed 28 th Nov, 2021.
About The Authors,
Ria Ghelani and Shivam Kumar Mishra, pursuing law at NMIMS and
University of Lucknow respectively, are passionate about the complexity and the
dynamics of gender inequality, and how they unfold in every aspect of our daily life.
The Stambh Organisation,India