Savita (name changed) is a 53-year-old woman who was forcefully evicted from her home when her informal settlement was broken down by local authorities in December 2019. Since then, she has been living with her children and daughter-in-law in an open area without a roof to protect them. Without any place to call home, Savita’s family has experienced an unimaginable crisis due to the impact of COVID-19.
Savita worked as an aaya (caretaker) at a private hospital near Sewri, Mumbai. She had only started working a couple of months before the lockdown took effect. Given that she doesn’t have a longstanding equation with her employer, she isn’t very comfortable asking for her salary or any form of financial support during the lockdown. She has noticed that even for employees who have been working at the hospital for many years, there has been no job security or financial support during the lockdown. Meanwhile, her daughter-in-law, who worked as a cook in a nearby home, has also lost her job. The only means of earning for her family is through the work Savita’s son is engaged in — he occasionally washes cars and earns INR 50 for each car washed by him. Though they get free water, Savita’s family has to walk for thirty minutes every day to collect water. They follow all the safety measures necessary to contain the spread of COVID-19 but with the rising number of cases in their area, Savita worries for the health and safety of her family, especially when they use shared toilets and water sources.
Savita’s family has spent all of 2020 holding on to the hope of accessing their housing rights. She has participated in several efforts to advocate for her community’s needs to the local corporator. However, he has refused to help them. Savita highlights the apathy of local leadership towards their suffering as well as their selective compassion towards people they personally know when she says,
‘No one came and even asked us, how are you? In what condition are you living? Your house is broken, how are you getting by? Did you get any food? They gave ration to some of their own people, but they didn’t help us at all.’
Though Savita’s family has received ration as well as money in their Jan Dhan account, she argues that this is not enough. She says,
‘I want to specifically tell the government, we are literally living on the footpath, and you are saying you are helping the poor. But why is your help not reaching us? We got the INR 500 each that you had sent but that’s not enough. What will you do to really help us?’
Despite having barely any resources to survive this pandemic, Savita does whatever she can to support her community. She wants government action for everyone suffering, not with the intention of uplifting her own family alone. As she explains,
‘The government needs to help all of us. I’m not asking just for me, or people from my community. Even people who are poorer than us, children who live on the streets, who don’t have a roof over their head. All of us need to be helped.’
*As narrated to Amritlal Betwala, Pooja Yadav, and Bala Akhade; written by Sneha Tatapudy
*Image source: Vivek Venkatraman