The National Domestic Women Workers Union says Bangladesh has 30 lakh domestic workers
Kulsum Begum, a domestic worker, was elated when one of her employers asked her to return to work during Ramadan.
She had been sitting at her home, jobless, for a month due to the Covid-19 shutdown.
Before that, she had reliably been doing the household chores of four families. However, all of them released her from her work at the beginning of April.
She first learned of the novel coronavirus after she became jobless. Though the families paid her a full salary and relief for a month, they did not promise her payment or employment in the future.
She tried to find work with other families. However, no one was ready to hire a worker coming from outside – fearing transmission of the virus. Her tension regarding employment and income caused her to become an insomniac.
She was grateful when she was hired for a job just before Ramadan. Though the salary will not cover her expenses, she finds it far better than having no income at all.
Kulsum said her husband left her 12 years ago when he married another lady. He refused to take responsibility for their two children so she started working as a domestic worker to feed them.
She earned Tk9,000 per month before the pandemic.
She could not help cursing and getting mad at the virus for snatching away the last resources available to her.
Domestic workers like Kulsum are part of the marginalised groups of the country suffering during the unprecedented lockdown. Unlike her, many household workers have been deprived of their due payment as they have become unemployed.
According to the National Domestic Women Workers Union (NDWWU), there are 30 lakh domestic workers in Bangladesh.
Abul Hossain, advisor of NDWWU, said around 50 percent of these workers are likely to lose their job during this pandemic.
Bulbuli, a 36-year-old household worker, was working in five houses amid the shutdown. One of the houses had a novel coronavirus patient who died on April 28.
It did not take time for the news to break out. All the other employers started seeing her as a Covid-19-carrier and fired her. Two of them did not even pay her salary.
She has a family of five members living in one room, in a slum, rented for Tk3,000 per month. With an unemployed husband, the family depended on her income.
Although the family had no income, expenses for house rent and food persisted. The relief the family received was inadequate for them. They began starving and ate once a day to cut costs.
"I continued to work in five houses, defying the lockdown, because I knew no other way of survival," said Bulbuli bursting into tears.
She does not have much knowledge of the virus. After getting fired from the job she became afraid of infecting her family members with it.
"I have heard that cleanliness and keeping distance are important. How can we maintain distance when the entire family lives in one room? Also, we have to share the washroom with other slum habitants. However, I bought minipack soaps for my family to wash our hands," she said.
She said she does not see the point of handwashing when the family is starving without food.
A victim of domestic violence
Morjina is another domestic worker who was rehired by one of her employers during Ramadan. However, she said, her employer is uncertain about keeping her onboard. She is continuing with her work and ignoring their indecisiveness.
She had another reason to work other than her extreme poverty. She has an addicted and abusive husband at home.
Her husband, who was a van-puller, is out of work now. He has not contributed any money to their family of four. He is a drug addict who spent all his money on his addiction.
Unemployed amid the lockdown, Morjina's husband beats her for money.
Suffocated by her husband's cruelty, Morjina wanted to get out of her room at any cost. She did not think twice when one of her long time employers called her back for work.
"I may survive hunger and the novel coronavirus staying at home, but I will not survive my husband's torture," she said.