This World Human Rights day, let us look at how COVID-19 revealed our worst selves, almost overnight destroying some fundamental rights of these marginalised.
We have the Right To Live with dignity among basic rights in our Constitution, but what happened during COVID-19 shows that some people get this right much more than others, for whose rights we seem to not care much.
Some of these are people on whose labour we, in our privilege, base our entire lives, base our ability of freeing up time to do what we love, and is essentially exploitative. Yet we haven’t realised this.
Our domestic helps – which include not just those who work in our homes, but also others like office helps, drivers, etc., form the infrastructure on which our societies, especially urban societies are built.
As lockdown measures were implemented by the Government, various domestic workers, most of them being women, were asked not to come to their jobs, and so many of us even stopped paying them their salaries through this time. Due to the uncertainty created by COVID-19, most of them were not guaranteed as to when they would be asked to come back.
According to a survey on the impact of the lockdown on domestic workers, 87% of the domestic workers were asked not to come to work after the lockdown measures got implemented. Moreover, 91% of workers lost their salaries April 2020 and 50% workers above the age of 50 also lost their jobs during lockdown. Many of the domestic workers had no option but to resort to other means of livelihood, like selling vegetables.
Most of us were witness to the exodus of migrant workers which took place after the lockdowns were implemented.
With no proper transport services available in the lockdown, many migrant workers went back to their home place on foot. Women and children among them who travelled on foot faced extra exhaustion, given the complex nature of their biology. The problems faced by those women migrant workers on menstruation who travelled long distances on foot are unimaginable. Some of them had to carry their children and luggage and some of them were pregnant.
Did we really care about their rights as human beings?
The ongoing pandemic has made the community of sex workers vulnerable – not just because the nature of work they do involves close contact with those who buy their services, but also because a very large percentage of them have no way of planning for a rainy day.
As lockdown got imposed, their means of livelihood also got halted. Many of them who are mothers found it difficult to cater the day to day needs of their kids. Moreover, some of them who do not have access to smartphones and digital devices are not being able to enroll their kids in online classes conducted by schools. Those who live in rented houses have been facing the fear of eviction due to non – payment of rent.
Although the Supreme Court of India directed all the states to distribute dry ration and provide financial assistance to the sex workers, many obstacles stand in their way of availing these benefits. All the states must ensure that the obstacles exempting them to become the beneficiaries of the scheme be resolved.
Women, especially those who were not a part of the mainstream arena of society are facing the brunt of the ongoing pandemic more than others. They do not only face physical exhaustion but mental exhaustion too, given that most of them who are caregivers and mothers have additional responsibilities added in their list, which puts them at the risk of immense burnout and stress.
Moreover, the economic disparity causing lack of wages has added more to their problems and worry. The Government needs to ensure that the above group of workers and many others like them get proper access to a means of livelihood, since they form an integral part of our society and have the right to live with dignity and assurance.
Image source: By Sanyam Bahga [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons
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