This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Martha Farrell Foundation. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

“Why Them, Why Not Us”: A Curious Case Of Missing Empathy In The Second Wave

More from Martha Farrell Foundation

This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

By Nandita Bhatt:

“Why them, why not us?” 

A drive through vaccination camp was conducted in Gurugram recently. The camp was conducted in a mall, vaccines were free and administered through the windows of the car. No autos, cycles or rickshaws were seen joining the queues. 

Image for representation only. Source: Flickr.

In Haryana, people are driving out from cities to get vaccinated in Public Health Centres, sometimes driving for as long as 2 hours, quotas filling out fast as city dwellers throng these centres. This is to be expected, when schedules for free vaccination camps in public health clinics are shared on social media. 

Yahaan zeher khaane ke paise nahin hain, tika kaise lagwayenge?(We don’t have enough money to buy poison, how can we afford to pay for vaccinations?) ask Mamta and Vikas, both cooks residing in a basti (slum settlement) in Gurgaon’s posh Sector 53. 

Both lost their jobs at the start of the second wave, and have two young children to feed, one just a few months old. They have no idea that vaccinations are also provided free. Other domestic workers in the basti who know this, are hesitating. The distance and cost to reach these centres are deterrents. 

Out of 669 women domestic workers from Delhi and Gurgaon, that the Martha Farrell Foundation COVID Relief team has spoken with in the last month, only 35 had been vaccinated with the first dose. Many did not know about the vaccinations, and many like Mamta and Vikas did not know that vaccinations are also being administered free of cost. 

Registration on the CoWin app is mandatory, but finding a vaccination slot on the CoWin app is next to impossible. Strategies for ‘working the app’ are the subject of many conversations and I am told that people sit in front of their laptops all day to get a slot. In a country where more than 400 million people still have no access to the internet, where far fewer women have access to mobile phones and internet services  – critical questions on the intended recipients of the vaccine remain unanswered.   

In Panipat, only 1 out of 153 women from 3 settlements that we spoke with, had received their vaccine – that too only one dose. She says it has been 40 days since she received the first dose and she has been so severely ill after that, that she would never go back for a second dose. Trying to find a solution, we spoke to a Sarpanch.  

Mere haath bandhe hain, February mein mera charge khatam hua hain, hum kya kar sakte hain. Mere pati ke bhi naukri chali gayi. Hum bahut dare hue hain,(My hands are tied. Even if I wanted to, I could not do anything. I was relieved of my duties in February. My husband also lost his job. We are very afraid)  the Sarpanch said. 

In the bastis, getting tested even at capped rates is a challenge. While there might be symptoms of COVID in almost all households, there is no proof of COVID, without testing. 

Aath sau rupay lagta hain didi test karvane ka, humare madam ne kaha hum sabko test karvana padega. Hum sab test karvayenge toh hum khaayaenge kya? Aur humne suna hain ki test ke results toh sahi bhi nahin hote hain. Isse achcha to hum khaana toh na khaaye? Naukri toh vaise bhi jaani hain ab,” (It costs 800 rupees to get a COVID test done. My employer is saying that our entire family should get tested. If we all spend money on the test, then what will we eat? Plus, we have heard that test results are not always accurate. Isn’t it better that we spend that money on food? We are going to lose our jobs no matter what) says a domestic worker champion working with Martha Farrell Foundation in Gurgaon. 

Domestic workers are being forced by their employers to live full time in COVID positive homes to cook and care for the infected families. When they’re being asked to put their own health at risk, is it not fair that they are recognised as frontline workers and vaccinated on priority? 

Meanwhile, the scramble for critical lifesaving drugs, medical help, oxygen or beds in hospitals continues. Availability is dependent on access to critical information, networks and social media, large sums of money or persons of influence. Those who don’t have either are left to fend for themselves. No surprises which category domestic workers fall in. 

The team from Martha Farrell Foundation, which is running a COVID Relief operation for domestic workers in Delhi NCR, has spoken with more than 1000 domestic workers over the past 3 weeks. Speaking to one such domestic worker, our team can hear the faint wailing of children in the background; we are told they haven’t eaten all day. All have said that food is an immediate need. Mamta and Vikas are feeding their children one mashed banana a day because they cannot afford milk anymore. 


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Youth Ki Awaaz (@youthkiawaaz)

Another domestic worker, Rinku (name changed), is 8-months pregnant and has complications due to secondary health issues. While she and her husband were working, they managed to go see a doctor in a private hospital. But the doctor has now informed her that they won’t be able to guarantee a bed in the hospital for her delivery. There are no beds and non-COVID cases are not being entertained. 

The National Commission for Women shared a helpline for pregnant women on social media. When our team made a phone call on the number, we got a message to say that only WhatsApp messages would be entertained. Another prerequisite was that the woman herself should make contact. Rinku does not have a smartphone. 

Another domestic worker we spoke to was able to send the message but was told that there are no guarantees for beds and medicines, and financial aid is also not possible. 

So when someone in a WhatsApp group of a condominium asks “Why them why not us?” upon speculation that the health department is vaccinating domestic workers – it hurts. 

How did we become so broken as a society? When did we become so impervious to the pain of others, when did empathy and compassion become so coloured and fragmented? 

In a heartbreaking conversation with a young woman from Bawariya Basti, Panipat, she asks, “Hum toh waise bhi marnae waale hain, tikae kagwayein ya hospital tak pahunch jaayein.  Woh kya sab gareebo ko maarna chahate hain?” (We are all going to die anyway whether we get vaccinated or if we ever reach the hospital. Do you think they want to kill all poor people?) 

The second wave of the pandemic has impacted the lives of domestic workers in more ways than one can imagine. This time it’s different. There is a vaccine, but the shared feeling of helplessness and hopelessness is overbearing. 

The dignity of domestic workers who are proud bread earners of their families is severely threatened. Food is an urgent need. Information is an urgent need. Access to basic sanitary material is an urgent need. 

As an immediate response, Martha Farrell Foundation’s COVID Relief for Domestic Workers is providing basic food and sanitary essentials to domestic workers in Delhi, Faridabad, Gurgaon, Panipat and Sonipat. We’ve reached over 300 families already. We need help to reach more. To find out more about how you can help, click here.  

About the author: Nandita Bhatt is the Director of the Martha Farrell Foundation, and has been engaged with domestic worker communities for over half a decade to advocate for their rights and voices. This article was published first on Martha Farrell Foundation’s Lockdown Stories series.

You must be to comment.

More from Martha Farrell Foundation

Similar Posts

By India Development Review (IDR)

By Nupur Pattanaik


Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below