The Second Wave: A Janitor Who Is Overworked and Underpaid Says “No One Asks If We Are Struggling”
Sevak Ram, a 47-year-old janitor at a government hospital in New Delhi, shares what his day looks like on the frontlines of the pandemic. This is the fifth installment of a series that looks at the toll of a worsening Covid19 crisis from multiple perspectives within the healthcare system.
I am assigned to look after cleanliness in the Covid ward. My work includes a lot of sundry things — from cleaning, dusting, running errands, going to the general store to get supplies. In my duty for cleaning during the ward, work is anything and everything. I clean, and sometimes we may be asked to take files to offices for administrative work. Sometimes we take Covid test samples to the labs within the hospital for testing, or get the medical supplies from storage.
I start work at 7 in the morning and continue till about 2 pm in the afternoon. There are 104 people working in this hospital. We see a lot of Covid19 patients on a daily basis. The work has increased since last year; they make us work a lot, but we aren’t paid the salary on time.
There are a lot of patients, but not enough hospital beds. Doctors aren’t checking up on patients properly or visiting the ward regularly; there is a shortage of doctors — two doctors tested positive the other day. I am telling you what the condition of the OPD is: people have a fever, and they aren’t being looked after. There is a shortage of oxygen supply also. Poor people who are diagnosed with Covid19 are having to pay the cost of treatment and come to the hospital every day. There is a lot of work, but no money for it. We haven’t received a salary for the last one month — how do we work like this? We don’t get even one holiday in a week.
If people who clean get Covid19, the country will be in a bad situation; because there will be no one left to do these tasks. No one asks us if we are bothered or facing any trouble, if we need anything, or if we have any problems or concerns. We wear a gown, a cap, and a mask during our work — we don’t know if this will protect us from Covid, but we continue the way it is. There is no fear against Covid now, at least for me.
On April 17, I was coming back home from working in Delhi. I was asked to register my name at the bus stand. Without testing me, as is procedure, they showed that I was Covid-positive. I was very worried — they kept calling me, and they told me that I am Covid-positive.
I have been doing this work for the last 10-15 years. I live in Lajpat Nagar with my wife and three children. It is a struggle to pay rent right now, and now that they are cutting money, it’s even harder.
Cleaners are among those suffering the most right now. We work but aren’t compensated for it. They are using the excuse of a pandemic to cut salaries. We fear that our jobs will be taken away, so we are afraid to speak up and continue. What else do we do?
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. As told to Saumya Kalia.