GUWAHATI, April 4 - Just a month back, 33-year-old Sumita (name changed) had rejected two new work offers because of paucity of time as she was engaged in half a dozen houses as a part-time help. She had little idea then, that she would be staring at an uncertain future with no work in hand and no money to fulfil the requirements of her two children.
While two of Sumita�s employers in Athgaon area gave her the full salary for the month of March on the eve of the nationwide lockdown, others have asked her to come only after April 14. Her attempts to persuade them to pay went in vain with calls unanswered and building watchmen�s strict warning against going beyond the building gates.
Like Sumita, thousands of domestic workers have similar tales to tell post enforcement of the lockdown in Guwahati and most of the urban localities of the State. While some are lucky to get advance salary or for that matter, ration and other aid from NGOs and others, the condition is pitiable for most of them.
Despite being a significant part of the global workforce in an informal environment, the domestic workers or household helps are among the most vulnerable groups of workers without any job or social security. Belonging to the unorganised sector, this segment rarely has a platform in Assam to raise a voice over its issues.
As per data available with the Centre for Development Initiative (CDI) that has been working for the welfare of domestic workers, there are more than 22,000 domestic workers in the entire region. In Assam, CDI has identified 4,000 domestic workers in Guwahati, Barpeta, Bongaigaon and Tezpur, but the actual number well exceeds this data, they feel.
�The State government�s labour department is helping those who have �labour card� and are registered. This number, needless to say, is too small. We are negotiating with the State labour department for an effective intervention in this matter. We have prepared a list and shared it with the department concerned and are waiting for affirmative action,� said Sister Molly Mathew, assistant director of CDI.
The organisation on its own has taken the initiative to distribute a week�s ration among 10,000 such workers in the entire NE. The kit includes other essential items like hand wash, sanitisers and masks. However, a huge number of such workers don�t have labour cards or are barely in touch with any NGO to seek help.
Twenty-eight-year-old Monica, who lives in a shanty on Sarania Hill started working as cook and cleaner in four houses after she got out of an abusive relationship and an inter-caste marriage. Now, she has to look after her mother and four-year-old daughter.
�I barely had any savings. In the past ten days, I could only purchase the most essential items like rice, dal and potatoes. Every day, my daughter throws tantrums for chips and biscuits. How long can I afford all these during such testing times? I am also afraid, if any of us catches the disease, I�ll have no money for treatment,� Monica said sobbing over the phone. �In no time, my mobile recharge plan will be exhausted and I�ll lose contact with near and dear ones,� she added.
�As they don�t have a union, they don�t have a strong collective voice. In Bongaigaon, there is a union of such workers. But elsewhere, no such body exists. The workers who are registered with us are being sensitised about the necessity to have an organised body. However, government intervention is required for a comprehensive and systematic intervention in this matter,� the CDI assistant director added.