We’ve been conditioned to give importance to mental labour over physical labour, without realising that we all heavily rely on both. In times like the Covid-19 Pandemic in India, this reliance becomes even more apparent to us. Our survival has depended on more than just the doctors and employees of the bank. The peons in hospitals, the people on the roads cleaning the city for us, even the helpers in the buildings, matter. Unfortunately today, even the crematorium workers have become as essential as everyone else.
India’s overworked and underpaid crematorium workers, who often face caste-based discrimination as Dalits, are the invisible warriors of India’s COVID-19 crisis.
“India is home to five million sanitation workers who clean garbage, sewers and public toilets. They come in direct contact with human waste and toxic gases and are often at risk of chronic diseases. The sanitation workers working on a contractual basis are excluded from the labour policies and welfare programs who are playing a vital role in fighting the pandemic.”
We all faced a time in the pandemic where our helpers could not come home. We whined about having to cook, clean, and wash all by ourselves. These people, who have helped us throughout might not be essential services in the eyes of the general public, but without them our life gets difficult. Not to forget that they live a difficult life themselves. They are more discriminated against, they do not get the same amenities as we do and they might not get the same treatment we would – even for the virus itself.
Despite being on the frontline and at a higher risk they might be left with an inadequate system of support. They face magnified and repeated trauma without access to the same resources we might have. While on a larger scale we need more efficient policy change to provide any respite, there are certain things we can do to help them.
Talk to them: Whether it’s the nurses and peons in the hospital, the cleaner cleaning your building or the helper who comes home to wash your dishes – ask them how they are doing, let them know they are not alone, and be grateful for their services. This will reduce the invisibility and alienation that they face everyday.
Get them Vaccinated: As much as it is important for us to get vaccinated, it is important for them too. Maybe a little more for them since they are essential workers in our lives. If you are going to get vaccinated or have already gotten your doses, help them register and get through the process. They may not have smart phones or the ability to figure out the procedures. Helping them means more people safe, and more lives saved.
Offer help: This does not have to be money. If you can help with the skills you have – offer it! Teaching your helpers’ children (online) if they don’t understand or aren’t equipped for online school, or send food, books, toys, or games back home for them. They might not have knowledge of the free resources they can use – if you do tell them about these sources and actively help them through the process. In times of the virus where there seems to be no sense of control, do what you can to support them. Give them masks and sanitisers so even if they are working in these scary times, they are safe.
Money: If you can donate money, please do. Here are links to a few drives for people in need of ration kits or food:
If not that, unless necessary, do not cut down on or stop giving salaries to your helpers even if they are not able to come to your homes to work. It was never their choice to not go for work, but they have been forced to do so due to the current scenario. If the virus can take lives, so can poverty, hunger and other illnesses.
Advocate: Advocacy plays a huge role in bringing about policy change – so advocate through whatever medium you find comfortable. If you cannot donate yourself, ask others to – through social media channels, or messages. Vote consciously.
It can get overwhelming to see how much help is needed in a time like this and how lacking resources are for everyone, but remember while we have a choice they have an obligation. Use that choice consciously, take care of yourself but also those who are often forgotten and left behind.
Meet The Author
Sarika believes she has learnt the most about life from talking to people around her - having meaningful conversations, understanding different experiences & perspectives. She also loves sunsets, coffee and cats as much as she loves great conversation. Her research interests are ever-changing and ever-growing: she’s curious about a lot of things but mental health awareness always remains priority. Apart from talking and making an extensive list of things to research, Sarika loves spending her day reading books, baking, learning new skills, and making videos.
Sarika Karnad, Psychologist & Content Head