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Decade Decoder: Did life change?

Decade Decoder is an occasional election feature that seeks to bring out through a question-and-answer session whether lives have changed for the better or the worse in the past 10 years

Malti Barman, a housemaid, lives in a one-room tenement in a colony behind Tilak Nagar, one of the most affluent neighbourhoods in Jaipur, Rajasthan. Hailing from Coochbehar in north Bengal, she reached Jaipur 20 years ago with a two-year-old daughter after her husband died. Malti now leaves home at 6.30 in the morning and returns for an hour for lunch. She again toils from 3pm to 6.30pm, working in as many as nine houses through the day.

  • Name: Malti Barman, 45
  • Profession: Housemaid
  • Education: None
  • Family: Daughter who is married
  • Place: Jaipur, Rajasthan

Do you earn more or less, compared with 2004?

More. It was around Rs 3,500 then, now it is around Rs 9,000. But the prices have also gone up. So, it amounts to the same. I still live in the same rented house which I took 18 years back but now its rent is Rs 1,500 whereas it was Rs 200 when I came

Do you save more or less?

I used to save around Rs 600 in 2004. Now some months I save Rs 1,500, sometimes less and sometimes nothing at all

What does your house now have that it did not have in 2004?

I had bought a black-and-white TV 10 years ago. It is still there and I watch Doordarshan. My daughter, who lives next door, has a colour TV, cable connection and a DVD player, too. I have a gas cylinder and a cooler.

I bought a piece of land in my village in Coochbehar last year for Rs 90,000. I could not buy anything else as I had to get my daughter married off six years ago and spent around Rs 1.25 lakh, taking loans from moneylenders and also from the houses where I work. I have repaid most loans

How did you travel then, how do you travel now?

I just walk to work because the houses are nearby. But I take rickshaws or autos to go to the doctor or for other work. Earlier, we used to walk as wages were very low. Now the houses pay more and everyone around uses vehicles as public transport is hardly there

Has NREGA (the rural job scheme) made any difference to your life?

NREGA is in the villages. Here I wanted to get a BPL card but it is a very difficult process. You have to get so many documents to prove that you are poor.

My landlady, who has several rooms that she rents out for Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000, has a BPL card, imagine! I wanted a widow pension too but the process is tedious

Do your children go to school?

Although I am poor, I never let my daughter work and I sent her to school and college. She now gives tuition in the colony. She can work in a school if she gets a chance. My granddaughter is also going to a government-aided school, where the fee is around Rs 500 per month

Has the midday meal made any difference?

We do not let our children have midday meals because they don’t like them. We send tiffin, otherwise our children will remain hungry

Is there any difference in the food you can afford now and what you could 10 years ago?

Ten years ago, we could eat good rice for Rs 10 here, now we do not get good rice even at Rs 35. All food prices have gone up, making it difficult for us

Do you run out of money to buy food towards the end of the month?

Sometimes, when there is an emergency. I have run out of money for say doctor, medicine. Then I ask the houses where I work to pay me in advance. Otherwise, I have learnt to save money

Do you have a bank account?

Yes. Opened it five-six years back. I use thumb impression to operate it

Do you encounter more corruption or less in your daily life?

For my relative’s driving licence, we had to pay a bribe. But not for my gas connection

Do you have a cellphone?

I do not have a cellphone but my daughter, son-in-law… everybody has, they bought it four years back

Do you go on pilgrimages?

I have been to Vrindavan along with a group of other women. We form groups and go to religious places in big buses. But I do not go often, only once in five years. We stay in dharamshalas. I want to go to Kashi and Gaya once

What is your biggest regret in the past 10 years?

I cannot save enough now to ensure a happy, healthy retired life. What will I do when I will not be able to work anymore? My meagre savings will not suffice. Prices will go on increasing day by day. Another regret is that my daughter could not get employed anywhere

What is your biggest achievement in the past 10 years?

My daughter completed school and college

Why do you prefer living here instead of your village in Coochbehar where you have purchased land?

We cannot earn as much in Coochbehar as we are earning here. We cannot work on the fields now. We came here 20 years back and are not used to such hard labour any more. Moreover, here employment is easily available and many of our relatives are here. Also there is no electricity in most of our houses in the villages…. Our children go to schools here.

We buy land in our native place as land is still cheap there. Also, at the end of your life when you cannot work, one would want to go back to one’s roots.

Are you happier or sadder now? Why?

Happier because when I came here, I was a widow with a two-year-old daughter. Now I work, know the ways of a big city, earn and lead a relatively better life than when I did not even know where my next meal will come from.