Sole bread-winner Valarmathi Thangaswami, a 55-year-old sanitation worker from Trichy, works to support her struggling son despite all the hurdles that line her path

To the world, Valarmathi Thangaswami is a 55-year-old sanitation worker who lives in a shanty  in Trichy. But at home, she dons the identity of a super-mother. After her husband’s passing, Valarmathi started working with the support of a self-help group to provide for her three young children. 

Today, her biggest worry is her 24-year-old son who is caught in the menace of drug abuse. With a paltry monthly salary of ₹4,000 she is the sole bread-winnder of her household — she has to pay for rent, groceries, medical expenses, and her son’s upkeep. Her daily job requires her to put herself at high risk, as she goes door-to-door collecting and segregating waste. As the situation demands, she often ends up spending extended hours on duty to earn an extra buck. 

Seeing her son make poor choices, she often wonders if he is worthy of her struggle. When such thoughts cross her mind, Valarmathi tries to take each day in her stride. She said, “Be it coronavirus or any other difficult situation, I have to work and earn for my family.” 

Adjusting to the new normal in the wake of the pandemic, Valarmathi complains about the discomfort caused by the thick gloves that she is now necessitated to wear, despite the scorching heat of Trichy. However, all things considered, she feels she has a lot to be thankful for and thinks of herself as lucky: her employer, the Municipal Corporation of Trichy, has been providing immune-boosting medication, training, and protective gear to frontline workers like herself. 

Additionally, IDFC FIRST Bank, in collaboration with Samhita, provided Direct Benefit Transfers (DBTs), and facilitated a government-scheme linkages program to benefit 633 blue-collared workers including cab drivers, truck drivers, sanitation workers, women entrepreneurs, and other daily-wage labourers. 

Valarmathi was one of the sanitation workers supported by IDFC FIRST Bank. Following a DBT of ₹3,000 Valarmathi was able to buy a sack of rice and groceries for two months. Appreciative of the intervention, she described how each time she comes across the rice bag, it gives her a sense of reassurance that she will get through this crisis. 

Through the second component of the intervention, the welfare-scheme eligibility-screening camp, Valarmathi has been able to connect to the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister’s Comprehensive Health Insurance Scheme and get a PAN card commissioned for her son. The CM’s health-insurance scheme is designed for underprivileged families that have low annual income. This scheme provides a cover of ₹5,00,000 to each family for every policy year. 

Having connected to it, Valarmathi is now confident about meeting medical expenses, especially for her son’s health. In the future, she hopes that her income and benefits from the medical insurance will help her sustain her son through the de-addiction. Also, with her son’s PAN card made, he can gain access to other social-security schemes in the future — Valarmathi hopes this will enable him to stand on his own feet in the future.

This story was edited by Raveena Joseph