Incident Reports

Housemaids and elderly hit hard by prohibitory orders in Kathmandu


Until recently, Manju Thapa worked as a maid at a house at Sanobharyang in Kathmandu. But two days after the prohibitory orders were imposed in the Kathmandu Valley her employer handed her some money and a sack of rice and asked her to stop coming to work until the restrictions were in place. The government imposed prohibitory orders in the Kathmandu Valley from April 29 following a sharp rise in Covid-19 infections and deaths. On Tuesday, the prohibition was extended till May 27.

“For the first two days, the lockdown was not strict so I went to work. But after the restrictions became tighter, I stopped going,” said Thapa, 27, a mother to two kids aged 6 and 12. She said her employer was equally worried about the household contracting the coronavirus and asked her to stop coming to work. 

“Also, going to work would put me at risk of contracting the virus and I could also transmit the virus to my family,” said Thapa. Her husband, who used to work as a security guard at a private school nearby is jobless since the schools are closed due to the pandemic. Thapa lives at Banasthali and had been working as a housemaid for the employer for the past ten years. 

Although she is worried about her family’s safety during the pandemic, she is more concerned about the household finances. Now that both the husband and wife are jobless, Thapa is praying for the lockdown to be lifted. “If the restrictions on movement continue for long, people like us could die from hunger than from the coronavirus,” she said.

But Covid-19 infections and deaths have continued to soar setting new records. On Tuesday, Nepal reported a record 9,317 infections in the past 24 hours and 225 fatalities. Chief District Officer of Kathmandu Kali Prasad Parajuli has indicated that the prohibitory orders could continue until the infections and deaths start slowing down. Amid this uncertainty, thousands of lower-middle-class families especially those working in the unorganized sector have been affected. 

But another housemaid who identified herself only as Anju said she has been regularly going to work despite the lockdown. “My job involves cleaning the house, cooking, and operating the washing machine. I am going to work although I am aware of the risk of virus transmission,” said Anju, who is 37, and works in the Bakhundole area.

She said all six members of the family where she works are down with fever and cough. “They have not gone for Covid-19 test but everyone is ill. There is no one to help the family so I do the cooking, dishes, laundry, and everything,” said Anju, a single mother of an 18-year-old-daughter.

“My daughter is on medication for depression and there is house rent to pay, so I can’t afford to quit work,” says Anju, who receives Rs 10,000 per month in salary.

The prohibitory orders have not only distressed the domestic workers, but their absence has also created more troubles for the ailing elderly people living alone in their houses in Kathmandu Valley and other cities across the country. Most households with their children settled overseas are completely dependent on domestics. 

One such couple is Umesh Nath Sigdel, 75, and his 62 years old wife Shailaja Sharma. 

“I have told my housemaid not to come at least for a week but she is kind and said she would just clean the house without entering my room. I could not say no,” said Shailaja Sharma, 62, a lawyer and mother of two children both of whom are abroad. 

Her husband Umesh Nath has an early stage of Parkinson’s. He had his first Covid-19 jab a month ago but has not got the second dose yet. “They say elderly people are more prone to the coronavirus infection, but if we don’t have our maid to help us, life will be hell,” said Sharma who lives at Bakhundole, Ward-1.

Maha Prasad Parajuli, president of the Senior Citizen Struggle Committee, says the situation of elderly people whose children are abroad and live by themselves are at risk without their carers. 

Only this week, an 80-year-old woman who lived alone at Babarmahal died of Covid-19. 

“All her children were in America. She lived on the top floor of the house and the bottom floors were rented out,” Parajuli said. “She died alone. It was only after four days that people learned about her death." 

The 2011 census states that there are around 2.1 million people aged over 60 or above in the country.

“Many elderly people are completely dependent on domestics for all household chores, so the pandemic and the restrictions on movement have created huge problems for such people,” said Parajuli. 

Kamal Thapa, the owner of Housemaid Service Kathmandu, a private company that supplies housemaids and janitors in Kathmandu, said the prohibitory orders have made hundreds of housemaids and janitors jobless. 

“In the Kathmandu Valley, about 60 percent of households had part-time housemaids. But after this pandemic started, many households are hesitant to hire maids fearing the virus,” said Thapa, whose office has supplied over 4,000 housemaids in the Kathmandu Valley in the past seven years. 

Besides housemaids, many people have lost cleaning jobs as offices and businesses have placed cleaners and janitors on unpaid leave, according to Thapa.