Over 6,000 women domestic workers living in the Perumbakkam and Semmenchery slum resettlement tenements in Chennai's outskirts have been stranded since the night of Thursday, November 25, as rains have left both neighbourhoods in knee-deep water. The women have been stuck inside their 250 square feet homes for five days without access to power, as the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB) cut off electricity supply to both areas on Thursday night, citing safety concerns.
These women, who are either daily wage or monthly wage workers, say that their source of income has taken a hit as the floods have cut off access to their workplaces in the city. Perumbakkam and Semmenchery are over 30 km away from Chennai city. With the rains, the bus depots in Tambaram, Perumbakkam have flooded and buses have stopped operating in this sector.
Caught in a catch-22 situation, the women say that they â€ścannot access the city (through private vehicles) as they have no money and they cannot earn money without going to their workplace in the city".
Kausalya, a domestic worker and member of Tamil Nadu Domestic Workers Welfare Trust, living in Semmenchery, says that she earns over Rs 8,000 working as a domestic help in houses. â€śOver the last few days, I have run out of the money that I made earlier this month. Without the cash, my neighbours and I are totally dependent on NGOs and the Tamil Nadu Housing and Urban Development Department (TNHUDD) to give us food and drinking water. I donâ€™t have enough money to get out of this place by taking a private vehicle,â€ť she says.
Ironically, most of these women and their families were evicted from their original settlements located in the city centre post the 2015 floods. They were moved to the newly built tenements on the promise of flood-free dwellings. But six years later, their situation has not improved.
â€śIn fact, we have moved from the frying pan into the fire,â€ť says Chitra, state coordinator of Tamil Nadu Domestic Workers Welfare Trust, who lives in Perumbakkam. â€śNow we are not only affected by floods but have also lost access to the city,â€ť she adds. The 52-year-old mother of two, who used to live behind the Loyola College campus in Chennaiâ€™s Nungambakkam, says that she moved in the hope of a better standard of living.
Floods affect women, kids
TNM spoke to Kamatchi, a resident of Perumbakkam, and a member of the Tamil Nadu Domestic Workers Welfare Trust, who said that water had reached her doorstep on Monday morning and that she was expecting her house to be flooded any moment.
Kausalya, from Semmenchery, says that she and her two children were forced to shift to her friendâ€™s house on the first floor after water entered her home. â€śFloodwater started flowing into my house late on Thursday night when we were sleeping. I was scared that the water levels would rise when we were asleep and so I woke my children up early on Friday and moved to my friendâ€™s house nearby. Her house is on the first floor, but water has entered the ground floor here, too. So we have been very careful while using the toilet on top as we donâ€™t want the sewage to leak to the ground floor bathroom,â€ť she says.
Access road to Perumkkam tenements flooded
Due to the waterlogging, adolescent girls and women are finding it extra hard. â€śThere is no place to dispose of pads. So we have no choice but to keep it in the house. Washing and drying clothes, taking bath has become tough as we have to use the bathroom for this and there is a risk of a sewage leak,â€ť she adds.
The women also say that they donâ€™t have access to proper medical facilities as they live so far away. â€śThe nearest hospital here is 8-10 kilometres away in Kelambakkam,â€ť says Chitra. â€śWith the waterlogging, we cannot get out of this place. We only have a clinic here with two beds and no ambulance in case of an emergency. Our children have had no milk or nutritious food for days together. Access to drinking water has been a challenge these five days, and we are dependent on the TNHUDD to give us food three times a day,â€ť she adds.
Schools in both Semmenchery and Perumbakkam have been temporarily converted to relief shelters. But their ground floors, too, have been waterlogged, limiting the number of families who can seek refuge there.
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