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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

health problems.

“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 .


Reference


1 G Krishnakumar, ‘Pandemic hit domestic workers hard: study’ (The Hindu, 2021),

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/pandemic-hit-domestic-workers-hard-

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,

2021

3 Rukmini S, ‘Why India’s migrants walked back home’, (Mint, 28 th May 2021),

https://www.livemint.com/news/india/why-india-migrants-walked-back-home-11590564390171.html, accessed

28 th Nov, 2021

4 ‘60% domestic workers not paid in lockdown, faced poverty, debt: Report’, (Business Standard, 8 th Sep, 2021)

https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/governance/free-foodgrain-until-diwali-what-about-migrants-those-

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,

2021), https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/governance/free-foodgrain-until-diwali-what-about-migrants-

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),

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/global-hunger-index-ranks-india-at-101-out-of-116-

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.

Research intern,

The Stambh Organisation,India

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