The lockdown imposed by the Centre across the nation following the spread of COVID-19 infection has paralysed virtually all commerce in the country and put several people out of work, leaving many struggling for basic requirements like food and medicines.
In Goa, many housemaids have been left jobless, causing them tremendous stress and anxiety. Many of such helpless maids say that if coronavirus does not kill them, hunger definitely will.
Mehboob bi, a 35-year-old domestic worker and a mother of four, had been earning her livelihood for over a decade by working as a maid in three houses in Taleigao. She earned Rs 4,000 per month. All was going on well for Mehboob bi until the outbreak of coronavirus. Soon, the families where she worked told her to stop work abruptly, leaving Mehboob bi jobless.
“I don’t have money to buy essentials to survive the lockdown. I have four children to feed and my husband is jobless. I have been asked to take leave for three months. I can’t even go to my native place to undertake farming, as borders are sealed. I’m helpless and rely on humanitarian assistance,” she said.
House helps are an indelible part of Goan households, and the pandemic has snatched away the jobs of many such domestic workers.
Before the pandemic, Savita, a 32-year-old housemaid, worked for five years cleaning the apartment of a family in Mala. “My husband is a daily wage labourer and he is without work. I have been now told not to join work until the lockdown ends; I am without any payment presently. I have to pay for my rent, water, gas, electricity. With a lot of uncertainty, I don’t know what is going to happen,” she said.
Like Savita, many other domestic workers have also been laid off and have been left penniless. Sumaiya, 30, a Maharashtra native, who does the cleaning work and cooks for a family of two members, has been asked by her employer to stay home indefinitely without pay because of the threat of COVID-19. “Me and my husband, both are jobless. That’s what makes me anxious every day. We have no savings left with us and our expenses are increasing,” she said.
For those like Sumaiya, who do not have a job and proper food to eat, the compulsion to stay indoors and maintain social distance has been rather cruel. Her husband, who worked as a butcher, is now at home without a job, as shops have been shut owing to the lockdown. “Right now, I don’t have any savings. I can’t even go back to my village to see if I can get a job on farms,” said a disturbed Sumaiya while adding, “When you have children, you can’t be jobless.”
A helpless widow Hasina from St Inez, who was forced to take up a household job after the sudden death of her husband, is now confined at home without job and pay. “My house owner has told me not to join until the crisis ends. If the virus doesn’t kill me, hunger will. I have borrowed money to buy groceries. I am desperate to work to feed my family. I want to work but due to the lockdown, I can’t,” she said in a choked voice.