Domestic helps cope with Demonetisation

BY KARISHMA HASNAT

While Rahul Gandhi calls it ‘economic robbery’ and Mamata Banerjee calls it a ‘big scam’, a little insignificant woman, Jameela Begum, also has a term to describe demonetisation. In a layman’s language, Jameela chooses to call it ‘oshanti’ – which translates to irritation in English. A resident of Dhirenpara in Guwahati, Jameela works as a part-time maid and earns Rs 1200 every month, with which she fends for a family of three including her two children.

“This whole thing has made life very difficult for me. My employer paid me a new note of Rs 2000 saying I can keep the advance for next month. But I don’t need any advance. My monthly expenses come to Rs 2000 and I can’t afford to make unnecessary purchases looking for change. I can’t even go to a bank to deposit it, as that will rob me off a day’s salary.”

Many others like Jameela are today working at middle-class households that are already bearing the brunt of demonetisation since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the move on November 8, 2016. A whole host of helpers – from maids to nannies and cooks are facing a tough time because of ‘notebandi’ of old currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1000, especially those that are paid on a monthly basis.

19-year-old Sangeeta Haloi works as a baby-sitter at the residence of Rakesh Sharma and Ananya Sharma in Geetanagar area of Guwahati. Sangeeta takes care of their one year old son for nine hours throughout the day. Employed through an agency, Sangeeta’s montly salary was fixed at Rs 4500.

“We have found a way to help her through this note ban scenario. We pay her in denomination of Rs 100, Rs 20 and Rs 10 throughout the month, and another Rs 2000 note that she can save for later use. She does not have a bank account,” says Ananya Sharma.

In Assam, while some maids are paid terribly little salary, others are paid not according to the job, but on a per-day basis. Many of these women do not even have a bank account. Many of them have welcomed the demonetisation move, with the hope that everything is happening for good. Susheela Barman who’s in her mid-forties has been working as a maid for many years now – she works for a few hours in a hotel at Bongaigaon and earns Rs 150 per day.

“I don’t have an account, but I don’t mind this move. I never had to think beyond Rs 150 and my monthly expenses have been a meagre amount. I hardly have savings, but those who have more than they can store are surely in for trouble,” says Susheela who thanked Prime Minister Modi for this unprecedented step.

There are maid placement agencies in Guwahati now catering to requests of many families looking for help. But hardly do they take note of the problems these women might face – trained and delivered to work, and that’s about it. One of every 5 housemaids in Guwahati have a bank account. Even if they do, many don’t have or know how to use an ATM, and who would tell them of Paytm? Cash to them, is something that they ‘see to believe’. When banks seem to be unprepared for a transition to digital economy, how will this section of people who work extra hours requesting for change know the nuances of ‘going cashless’?

While interacting with a few part-time maids in our locality including our ‘Bai’, I am assured they are doing alright, as most of the employers have helped them with smaller change, something I have been hankering for since the time recalibrated ATMs started dispensing cash in new Rs 2000 notes. There’s no joy in seeing a text message saying my salary has been credited in my account – and for this particular group of ‘Bais’ including baby sitters, nanny, cooks, care takers for patients and elderly, they are in a better position today at the hands of good employers. They don’t have to take the pain of lodging banking complaints or queue outside ATM for hours, but they are living on tenterhooks, like most of us at the moment.

Sumitra Das who earns a monthly salary of Rs 3000 while working as a part-time maid at Lichutoli area of Bongaigaon said she sometimes could make out time to go to the bank to deposit money.

“This ban has left me nervous. I dread to save money at home, and somehow I try to find time to deposit money in the bank. Thankfully, my old notes have been exchanged with someone’s help,” says Sumitra.

Heraclitus might not have fathomed what could be at our disposal when he said ‘change is the only constant in life’. But for RBI, this has become the adage to be proved during a crisis situation. The ever-changing rules rolled out by the RBI and finance ministry are nonetheless driving people crazy. Social media users in India including politicians have taken to twitter mocking at the government for its decisions, while wondering – ‘what next’?

The poor have been made to believe in demonetisation as a ‘short-term pain for long-term gain’, and against their wish! It seems elusive to be waiting for a solution to end this crisis, when all we are left with are problems and promises aplenty.

Karishma Hasnat

Karishma Hasnat

Karishma Hasnat is a journalist with a proven track record in print and broadcast media. She started with 'The Sentinel' in 2005 and had been associated with the regional television channel, News Live, for six years. A writer and an animal enthusiast, Hasnat has a keen interest in photography.