Mumbai: It is 8 pm. Shahida Shaikh (50) is at Millat Nagar, Juhu. Since 3 pm she has been sitting there with a group of around 30 women who assemble there every day for the last one month – many of them domestic helps.
With the lockdown imposed in March and housing societies not allowing domestic helps, this vulnerable unorganized section of labour is reduced to begging on the streets. Shaikh is a domestic help too.
Of the two houses she works in, one house has paid her full salary of Rs 1,200 for the month of April. The other house, however, paid her partly and is not taking her calls anymore. “I have not been keeping well and spent Rs 600 out of that money on medicine,” she says.
From her home near Oshiwara depot, she walks about an hour to reach Juhu, and sits there waiting from afternoon to late evening for charity from ‘seths’. “Bheekh maang kar ghar chala rahe hain (We are begging to run the household),” she says, her voice breaking.
“I got 2 kg rice, 1 kg atta, 1 biscuit packet and half kg dal and sugar today,” she says. She got lucky though. Many sitting with her did not. “Police also shoo us away. Kuch milta hai toh lene bhi nahi dete (If we are getting something, they don’t let us get it),” she says.
Since the lockdown, her 22- year-old son who works as a mechanic does not have work and the family has lost the Rs 100 he brought home daily. Many domestic helps have similar stories to tell – of unanswered phone calls, locked society gates and of employers who tell them to ask for money after the lockdown is lifted.
Salma Shaikh, 24, works as a housekeeper for Rs 6,000 in a residential building near Oshiwara depot. The manager who had employed her as a contract employee has fled to his native place, she says.
He is not taking her calls. With her husband – a daily wager, no longer earning anything, two school-going children and no ration card, she is in a bad state. “I got Rs 500 in my Jan Dhan account. To collect it we stood in a queue all day long,” she recounts. Some well-off neighbours are now helping her get by.
In the three houses Anita Pakhare (35) works, only one has given her the salary of Rs 2,000, she says. Others say they are in financial difficulty themselves and have stopped taking her calls. “I have not paid my rent of Rs 1000. My owner has told us to leave by end of the month,” she says.
With a husband who cannot earn due to health issues and four children – oldest of whom is 15, Pakhare has been going everywhere looking for charity and filling forms.
47-year-old Deepa Kadam (name changed on request) lives with her physically disabled daughter. Of the four homes she works in, only one has paid her Rs 2,000, she says.
Says Babli Rawat, state general secretary of Ghar Kamgar Molkarni Sanghatana that the need of the hour is direct cash transfer of at least Rs 2,000 to domestic workers registered with the Welfare Board made for domestic workers by the state government under the Maharashtra Domestic Workers Welfare Board Act, 2008. "Nothing is happening through the Board,” she says.