‘He left me all alone in the world’: Goats and soda: NPR
When Pooja Sharma, 35, lost her husband Manmohan to COVID-19 in India’s second deadly wave, she was devastated.
“After a few days of battling COVID-19, my husband realized he was not going to be okay,” Sharma said. “He asked me to take care of our daughters, then he left me all alone in the world.”
Manmohan, who died on April 17, was their family’s main provider. He had a job that brought people into clothing stores on commission. Without him, Sharma, who lives in Delhi, had no idea how she and their two daughters, aged 12 and 14, would live. She had no job and could not read. And she was an orphan and therefore had no parents who could help her.
Indian media are calling women like Sharma “the widows of COVID.” These are women who lost a spouse – often the sole breadwinner – during the pandemic. These widows find themselves facing additional financial burdens such as hospital bills as they mourn the loss of their partner. Government and nonprofit groups are now trying to support these women, especially those from low-income backgrounds, but researchers say that is not enough.
India has recorded more than 30 million cases of COVID-19 and 411,000 deaths. More than 200,000 of those deaths occurred in the second wave alone, which began in April and peaked in May.
It’s hard to measure how many women widowed in this second wave, says Rupsa Mallik, director of programs and innovations at CREA (Creating Resources for Empowerment in Action), one of the world’s largest advocacy organizations. women in India. She works with women’s non-profit organizations across South Asia and has followed the situation of COVID widows in India. “There is no data on the number of COVID widows in this country,” she said.
The national government does not provide gender-specific data on deaths from COVID. But some Indian states, including Bangalore and Pune, have data that shows the death rate during India’s second wave in their areas had a bigger impact on men – who could be husbands, fathers and breadwinners. – than on women.
Knowing how many COVID widows there are in India is crucial for groups who want to help them, says Mallik. “How do you target a policy towards a part of society if you don’t have the data?” ”
Cash help to the rescue?
Despite the lack of information, national and local governments are implementing programs to help these women.
On May 30, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that his administration would implement measures to protect families who had lost their main livelihood, regardless of gender, to COVID. This includes a pension equivalent to 90% of the average daily salary of the deceased person as well as insurance benefits. Eligible citizens can now request payments.
Several Indian state governments are also getting involved. The municipal organization of the city of Navi Mumbai, the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation, announced in June that COVID widows will receive a one-time compensation of about $ 2,020 plus about $ 1,346 for any equipment that can be used for self-employment. , like a sewing machine to start a sewing business. And Assam state announced in June that it would provide one-time financial assistance of about $ 3,357 to widows with COVID. These are small amounts – in India, a family living below the poverty line typically has an annual income of around $ 2,416.
Mallik says the money can be useful for very poor families who have lost their breadwinner, but there are several concerns. “For a truly disadvantaged family with low literacy skills, it is highly likely that male family members will try to take control of the money. In patriarchal households there will certainly be some appropriation of the money. silver.”
To receive government support, widows must present a marriage certificate and a death certificate indicating the cause of death was COVID. This creates another roadblock, Mallik says. “Even when deaths are recorded, they may not be recorded as COVID-related deaths” due to factors such as poor record keeping. “So disadvantaged families cannot access financial aid.”
Vocational training to survive
Widows – especially from poorer backgrounds – need more than money, says Parmod Kumar, director of the Institute for Social and Economic Change, a Hyderabad-based think tank that helps women in the areas. rural areas through agricultural development.
Nonprofits are now providing a variety of resources to COVID widows, Mallik says. “They are filling in the gaps where the government is lacking.” This includes grief counseling and mental health services.
But there is also an urgent need for practical support, which charities are also providing. “COVID widows must be independent,” Kumar says. “They have to start working if they are to support their families. Skilling these widows [through job training] will help them in the long run. “
Sharma now works with a nonprofit group called Pins and Needles, which helps hundreds of women in Delhi use their household skills like sewing and knitting to make handicrafts such as aprons, masks, toys and earings. These articles are featured on the group’s Instagram and Facebook accounts; customers, mainly in India, can order directly from a website.
“All proceeds from the items go to women,” says Simran Kaur, founder of Pins and Needles.
In recent months, the group has reached out to dozens of COVID widows. For women like Sharma, the program was a lifeline. “After my husband died, it seemed like my world was over,” she says. “Who was going to give a job to a poor, uneducated woman like me? I thought about killing myself because I couldn’t think of a way to take care of my daughters.”
Sharma earns around $ 60 a month selling her crafts. Although she is grateful for the money, she wishes she could earn more. When her husband was alive, he earned up to $ 240 a month for their family. This put them just below India’s poverty line, but was enough for them to float, she says.
Still, Sharma says the job makes her feel a little more confident to live on her own. But nothing can replace her late husband Manmohan, she said. He was the love of her life.
Her family didn’t approve of Sharma because she was an orphan, but he married her anyway. That’s how badly he wanted to be with her.
Wiping away her tears, she said, “I miss my husband.”
Agnee Ghosh is a freelance journalist based in Kolkata, India, who wrote for South China Morning Post, The Globe and Mail and Atmos. Follow her on Twitter @agnee__.