DIMAPUR, SEPTEMBER 3: Stigmatization and exploitation in the times of the COVID-19 pandemic have dealt a cruel hand to the marginalized sections of society. Domestic workers, who play a significant role especially in the urban lifestyle, have had to undergo immense hardships as the country went into lockdown to curb the spread of the virus. The plight of domestic workers in Nagaland has been no different.
Going by conservative estimates, during the lockdown about 15% of registered domestic workers under the National Domestic Workers’ Movement – Nagaland, have lost their jobs. And a majority of the workers either haven’t receive their salaries, or been paid peanuts – money deducted from their normal pay, which does not even meet the Minimum Wage standards.
“Most domestic workers were unable to get work in the last 5 month. While people were urged to pay their workers during the period, the truth is that many were not paid, and so they were unable to manage rent payment or even get enough food,” Sister Pramila Lobo, UFS, Coordinator, NDWM – Nagaland, informed.
According to a study conducted towards the end of 2019 on domestic workers registered under NDWM- Nagaland, it has been found that about 75% of all the workers have two or more people depending on their income.
To add to their woes, the lockdown period also witnessed increase in the number of cases of domestic violence and sexual harassment.
Interacting with Nagaland Page in her office at ACID Hall, Dimapur, Sister Lobo informed that the lockdown period witnessed an increase in the number of sexual harassment cases, and domestic violence as men were forced to stay indoors. Domestic workers, largely unorganized, have had to undergo immense mental trauma, she said.
The social worker said that out of the 15% who lost their job, most are above 60 years of age, perceived as one of the most vulnerable groups. She, however, noted that while many are still not technically unemployed, they continue to face stigma, often being rebuked as carriers of the virus.
“First and foremost, we must stop looking at them (the poor) as carriers of disease. In fact, the virus was first brought into the country by those who had traveled internationally. This is not a disease of the poor. Secondly, domestic workers are equally vulnerable to getting the virus from people in the homes,” Lobo stated.
Like many NGOs that had embarked on charitable works during the lockdown, the NDWM- Nagaland, in collaboration with Assisi Centre for Integrated Development (ACID), had also reached out to around 5,000 individuals associated with domestic work, SHGs, thela pullers, and auto drivers, donating essentials commodities for them.
Sister Lobo narrated how she had received a number of calls after the charitable drive. A woman, apparently calling from Uttar Pradesh, had expressed gratitude for the help in the form of food items her mother received from the organization. Apparently the mother, who is a domestic worker in Dimapur, had to do without any food for two days during the lockdown.
National Domestic Workers’ Movement- Nagaland Region, which was formed in 2008, has been striving to bring domestic workers in the state under the Minimum Wages Act (Nagaland). Not much has changed over the last one decade even as the organization continues its fight for the rights and safety of domestic workers. But Sister Lobo is optimistic that the movement will succeed eventually, particularly as there have been positive gestures from the concerned authorities lately.
According to her, a minimum wage guarantee will not only improve their living conditions but also protect them from exploitations.
She said that NGOs can only uphold issues, but it is eventually the Government that has to act, and employers who need to change their mindsets. For obvious reasons, most employers do not show interest in awareness programmes about the rights of domestic workers in Nagaland.
Till today, a total of 1950 domestic workers are registered under NDWM- Nagaland Region, but observers say the number of domestic workers in the state would be many times more.
According to the earlier mentioned study, 41.98% of the domestic workers in the state were born in Nagaland, while 58.02% are migrants from other states – among the migrants, 41.98% come from Assam.
Sister Lobo said that local domestic workers are most often hesitant to identify themselves as domestic workers but since 2014 there has been marked improvement with better awareness about the movement. She mentioned that most local domestic workers originate from the eastern part of the State. 96.2% of all domestic workers didn’t complete secondary schooling, of which 40.74% never had any formal education.
In Nagaland, 96.30% of domestic workers don’t have a written contract, and on an average earn Rs 3,000 per month, while the estimated total household income required for their survival is Rs 10,000 per month. According to the study, 82.72% of domestic workers in the State do not get maternity leaves. And an insignificant percentage that manage to acquire maternity leaves, are not paid for the period.
The study also found that when healthcare visit was necessary, a majority of the domestic workers delayed health related checkups as they could ill afford the cost of medicines, doctor consultation fees or even transport.
Sister Lobo and her team plan to train domestic workers through skill development programmes. She also informed that a project is being put in place under which monetary relief would also be provided.
When it comes to minimum wages, workers in Delhi are paid among the highest in the country. In 2019, the AAP Government enhanced the minimum wages for unskilled workers to Rs 14,842 per month, Rs 16,341 per month for semi-skilled workers and Rs 17,991 per month for skilled workers.
In Assam, domestic workers are entitled to receive the minimum wage of Rs 30 per hour for part-time and for full-time, and irrespective of their work (8 hours) are entitled to receive a minimum of Rs 7,200 per month.
According to National Sample Survey (NSSO Statistics-2011-2012, 68th round), an estimated 39 lakhs people are employed as domestic workers by private households in India, of which 26 lakhs are female domestic workers. In the absence of any proper legislative framework to ensure their rights and safety, domestic workers are subjected to regular harassment, discrimination, and exploitation. In June 2019, there were reports that the Labour Ministry was drafting a national policy on domestic workers, which would ensure the payment of minimum wages, social security and safe working conditions.
But more than any legislation, there needs to be a change in the mindset of our society.