India is near the top of the world in making it’s women do unpaid labour. Women in the country currently spend upto 352 minutes per day on domestic work. That’s 577% more than men. Unless you’re a domestic help earning a meagre salary, most of this work done by primarily female caregivers is unpaid.
As COVID-19 has forced the nation into a lockdown, working women and homemakers are facing the brunt of added emotional and physical labour at home. Re:Set spoke with some women about the unintended consequences of wide scale social distancing.
Salma Begum, 28, house cook, Hyderabad
I cook at eight homes everyday, and all my work has been suspended due to COVID-19. Many of them have decided to not pay me for the suspension. I’m the sole breadwinner of my family and don’t know where I’ll arrange for food starting next month. The government is distributing rice, but I don’t have a ration card to be able to avail it.
I’ve been crying intermittently for the last ten days. My 35-year-old husband too is dependent on me. He takes my money and then fights with me. He went to live with his sister two days before the lockdown after another fight because he wanted ₹500 ($6.5 USD) for alcohol. My home’s rent is ₹7,500 ($98 USD) so how can I give him ₹500 when I don’t have savings for rent and for our children’s food?
I work all day and then have to give him money for what? So he can beat me? I was a cleaning lady, and learnt cooking from observing the madams on my own. I have to build a future for my 13 and 15-year-old sons. I’ve decided to leave him.
Amrita Datta, 38, development studies professor at IIT Hyderabad
Before the lockdown, I had a fully-functional, privileged household with domestic help. Now, I do more of the cooking and get help from my husband in cleaning the house and doing the dishes.
He has a corporate job, so he has to be on call till 6 pm, so much of the child care for our 4-year-old during the day shifts to me. My work now extends to 10 pm because I have so much else to do. It’s become more laborious as I now have to do online classes, make videos, and interact before classes. So now there’s more labour on the work front, and more work on the domestic front. This is how it’s different for men and women culturally.
Also, my father is 70-years-old and lives with us. We have to make sure he doesn’t leave the house and comes in contact with anyone as he’s in the COVID-19 vulnerable category.
My days have become longer and shorter at the same time. You wake up in the morning and minutes later the day ends because there’s always something to do, but during the day it feels long because there is so much to do.
Leena Sharma, 51, entrepreneur, Mumbai
We’ve demarcated work at home. My husband helps in doing the dishes, and my daughter is helping in cleaning and mopping. But sometimes they have some other work, and have meetings on Zoom. They can say they can’t help, but I don’t have that option.
This is in addition to my business, which is an online gifting store. It’s stressful, as people aren’t going to be interested in gifting things in the current situation. But this I only get to focus on late, as during the day I have to do the housework.
Dr. Anjana Malhotra, 56, consultant plastic surgeon, Kolkata
My life has changed outside my home rather than inside it. As healthcare workers, we’re getting daily training to take over ICUs if and when the patients arrive in large numbers. As the anesthesiologists aren’t enough, all specialities are being trained to help. This week and next are going to be critical, as cases are expected to rise.
At the moment, it’s more mentally taxing than physical, as we have to be extra cautious when coming home from the hospital and isolate more than others. My husband also is a doctor and has to do the same. One of my daughters too couldn’t come back home. It’s been difficult. Even talk in the medical community, as it’s a new disease for everybody, is creating more stress. There’s not enough research on the subject and doomsday prophecies keep coming in, so it’s like we’re sitting on an impending volcanic eruption.
Laxmi Dhakal, 31, househelp, New Delhi
I do all my work for only one house but I’m not doing it right now because there’s no work, but it gets difficult emotionally, as I’m not doing anything for money, and only have ration for a few weeks.
I’m alone at home right now, as my kids live in Nepal and my husband had gone to visit them just before the lockdown. I haven’t gotten COVID-19 yet, so I don’t know much about it.
Also read: Life in Lockdown With Abusive Families