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Social distancing from house maids makes ‘work for home’ arduous

Working from home brings its own challenges. However, with the prospect of an extended lockdown almost a certainty, what is more troubling for the homes in urban centres across the country is a different kind of work at home: household chores.

Social distancing from house maids makes ‘work for home’ arduous
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Chennai

At a housing complex in Anna Nagar West that has more than 100 families, domestic helps are allowed inside between 6 am and 1 pm – the time that shops are permitted to function. But in the same complex, a cook, who has been earning her livelihood by working at 7-8 houses, has been barred entry till normalcy returned. “She was given salary for a fortnight before the lockdown,” said the resident of an apartment where the cook works.

Not too far away is a gated dwelling near Ambattur, where housekeeping staff have been strictly

barred. “Though there has been no formal circular from our association, we plan to give them full

salaries,” said Chandramouli, a resident.

Rajan Mani, treasurer of LCS Srinivas Apartments in Velachery, said no specific steps have been decided as yet to address the post-lockdown measures as far as domestic help is concerned. “Except for a few houses in our 12-apartment complex where elderly people cannot do the chores themselves, the rest of us have been managing on our own.

They use soap and sanitiser at the gate before entering. All guests, vendors and delivery staff, too, are stopped at the gate, and we go there to collect the items.”

The apartment complex in an upmarket area where Uma* lives, maids are allowed after proper washing of hands at the entrance and masks are compulsory. “The maids came on the first of April to collect salary, and slowly most of them resumed work within a week,” she said.

“We can’t do without security, so they are retained. Skeletal cleaning crew is retained, while the plumber and electrician visit a few hours daily,” Uma said, pointing out that apartments cannot function without all these staff.

Delhi, Bengaluru or any other city is no different when it comes to housekeeping chores. “For those who are aged and cannot do without domestic help, the society has made concessions. There are only about five such people; everyone else is doing their own chores. These staffers are tested at the gate with a thermal scanner, and wearing mask is compulsory,” said B Menon, a resident of Noida.

“Housekeeping staff have been requested to stay in the clubhouse of our condominium. Only a few go to their homes in nearby village,” Menon added.

A similar view was expressed by a resident in Bengaluru. “Here, no one is allowed into apartments, but the salaries are paid. After lockdown, best is to permit them if they don’t have temperature or suffer from cold or cough,” the person said.

Meanwhile, Rangan D, a resident in Gurugram, said the families in her building were coping without maids, drivers or car cleaners. “The security, plumbers and electricians and all maintenance people,

numbering about 30-35, have been staying in our basement for the last three weeks. The cost of ration is borne by the building. Maids collected their salaries from the main gate. They are going to get paid next month as well though they are not allowed to come in. Garbage collection is going on, though they don’t ring the bell any more.

Instead, we have to keepit out at a particular time.” In larger buildings, branded entities such as Big Bazaar and Prime Fresh have been permitted to set up stalls, that have come to be a blessing for the families.

(*Name changed)

Improvising social relations during physical distancing 

As the State is expected to extend the lockdown till the end of the month, locals are faced with devising ways to socialise and maintain interpersonal relations while keeping social distance. Residents’ associations across the city feel that increasing socialisation at this time might be ill-advised even though festivals like Vishu are approaching.

“Residents still go on walks and sports like badminton are allowed as the players maintain a safe distance and sanitisers are available. In addition, the mental strain of working from home and the isolation has been tough on some. We are working with Schizophrenia Research Foundation (SCARF) to keep up a helpline for these individuals,” said Harsha Koda, co-ordinator, Federation of OMR Resident Associations (FOMRRA).

These measures were implemented once the shutdown was enforced. Yet attempting to organise a safe space for community socialisation is one that many resident’s associations are straying away from.

“No matter what measures we take, many will not follow. Additionally, there is the fact that this simply isn’t worth the risk it entails. We have discussed and debated on ways to help the residents have an outlet to socialise and meet, especially as this isolation might affect their psyche greatly, but we cannot risk an outbreak,” said KL Bala from Thiruveedhi Amman Koil Street Residents Association.

They note that residents have taken to interesting ways to communicate with each other. Some have taken to balconies and terraces to play music and entertain their neighbours and the advent of technology has also eased the strain from lack of socialisation.

“It is important at this time to maintain social relationships. Be it a call with family or a video chat with friends, these things help the mind during a time where loneliness can cause deep issues,” psychiatrist Dr Vivian Kapil said.

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