These days the ‘New Norm’ is a term used very often and whether you like it or not, it is here to stay for a long time; it has revolutionized the way most people, irrespective of caste, creed or religion, live and think.
After a period of over 4 months, I visited a relative staying in an upscale multi storeyed residential complex. As I learnt that visitors are now permitted in addition to housemaids and domestic help. Despite circulars issued by the Government and the BMC allowing domestic help to start working with requisite precautions in April / May 2020 some of these posh buildings and housing societies formulated their own rules, regulations and orders drawn up, of course, by respective managing committees to be followed by residents; there are instances when some sort of policing action is imposed including fines for violation.
The complex I visited has two lifts; one, for ‘residents only’ and the other for ‘maids’; my first quandary, which lift should I use since I was neither a resident nor a maid; common sense prevailed and I entered the lift marked for residents as I was a guest of a resident and not a maid. I was reminded of the British Raj when Indians were not permitted in several establishments and sometimes, there was a separate entrance for Indians.
Of course, only the Hindus practised the caste system and in a number of places, there were boards not permitting entry of persons of scheduled caste; thanks to Mahatma Gandhi and Dr Ambedkar the system is now diluted to a large extent. There were no such caste systems in Islam, Sikhism or Christianity; in these religions, distance is not maintained, everyone eats from the same ‘thaal’ and visits places of worship as equals.
The stoppage of domestic help going to homes and buildings started when the lockdown was imposed towards end-March when the Prime Minister spoke of social distancing; unfortunately, it also led to emotional distancing; I had written a blog on this topic “ Social Distancing leading to Emotional Distancing” just after the lockdown.
In our housing complex, comprising of independent bungalows, there are no young people living. Towards the end of April or at the beginning of May, the BMC announced that domestic help could start working after all precautionary steps are taken. When I phoned my maid to start coming to my house, I could feel from her response that she was reluctant to come for work though I had paid her wages through the lockdown. I was surprised to hear her explanation; she said that her neighbours say that if she goes for work, she may bring Corona from us and spread it among her neighbours. I explained that there is no Corona in my house; she will come with a mask on and after reaching my house she will first go to the washroom, remove the mask, wash her face and hands and then enter my house. Thus reluctantly, she started coming for work. I even heard a comment from a driver “the corona was brought by passport holders and ration card holders are suffering” Later when these posh societies wanted the domestic help to work, there was a news item “Maids hit back after housing societies ask them to show their COVID-19 test reports. Maids ask will employees show them their test reports? They say don’t punish the poor for a disease brought in by the rich”.
Now the new norm is taking shape in the society; friends and relatives have started socializing, visiting each other drinking and eating together as they did earlier in restaurants, clubs… but the domestic help has become untouchable and kept at a distance. He/she can do the cooking, keep the food on the table and leave after which members of the family serve themselves and eat.
What a change?