Tenants in the Valley face discrimination in the hands of home ownersMany tenants, especially health workers living in rented rooms in the Valley, fear getting kicked out if they contract the virus.
On August 13, Narayani tested positive for Covid-19. A mother of a year-old baby and a staff nurse at Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital in Maharajgunj, the 29-year-old stayed at the hospital’s isolation ward for two weeks after the test results came out, leaving her infant in her husband’s care.
“My daughter would cry asking for me. My house owner would come and ask my husband about my whereabouts. He had to lie to the homeowner, as we feared that we would be forced to leave our flat if we told the truth,” said Narayani, who rents a flat in Koteshwor with her husband.
According to Narayani, many other health workers are going through the same ordeal. They have to lie about their Covid-positive status, fearing social stigma.
Twenty-four-year-old Kaushila, a nurse at Bir Hospital, recently tested positive for the virus. Kaushila, originally from Humla, stays at her relative’s place in Kusunti.
“When the hospital sent an ambulance to take me after my report came positive, my aunt told me not to bring the ambulance near her home because she did not want the society to know. I had to walk up to Ekantakuna to get to the ambulance,” said Kausila.
Although she has fully recovered from the virus, Kaushila says she is still being treated differently by her relatives.
“My aunt had organised a birthday party this week but I was not invited to it. My report has already come negative but my relatives think I am still carrying the virus,” she said.
For many other health workers living in rented rooms and flats, the situation is more severe. They have to live with the fear that they might be evicted from their home if they test positive for the coronavirus.
As of Saturday, the number of coronavirus cases in Kathmandu Valley has reached 27,918. A total of 25,420 cases have been detected after the three district administration offices in the Valley imposed prohibitory orders starting August 19 midnight.
Officials at the Teku based Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital said over 70 percent of people who come to get tested for Covid-19 are forcefully sent by their house owners.
The Public Health Division of Kathmandu Metropolitan City last week had issued a notice requesting house owners not to pressurise their tenants to get tested but they continue to do so.
“On an average, we conduct PCR tests of 500 people on a daily basis. Of them, over 70 percent are being pressured by their landlords,” said Dr Sagar Raj Bhandari, director at Tropical Hospital. “The city administration should have come up with such a notice earlier and should have worked to prevent stigmatisation against health workers. But the city is too indifferent towards its people.”
According to Bhandari, the city’s doctors had requested Kathmandu’s Mayor Bidya Sundar Shakya multiple times to construct an isolation centre for infected health workers.
“But he refused to do so. Now, Covid-19 cases are spiking in the Valley and landlords have become more intolerant towards health workers,” said Bhandari
Mayor Shakya himself was infected with Covid-19 on August 31 but was later criticised for quarantining with his family at a five star hotel.
Gyan Bahadur Oli, the Covid-19 focal person of the public health division, said the city came up with the notice after it came to know that many tenants were being forcefully sent to get tested for Covid-19. He, however, admitted that the city does not have any concrete mechanism to deal with the issue.
Chief District Officer Janak Raj Dahal said tenants should go and complain to the nearby police office or to the CDO’s office if they face such discrimination from their homeowners.
“If they come with written complaints, we are ready to take action. But so far we have not received any such complaints,” said Dahal.
However, Senior advocate Om Prakash Aryal says most people don’t file a police complaint against their landlords so as not to make the situation more complicated.
“The problem lies within people. If some of the tenants complain to the police, I guess other home owners will not misbehave fearing similar results,” said Aryal.
If such a situation arises, the KMC should send its officers to Teku Hospital, investigate the case, find the accused house owners and keep them in surveillance, says Aryal.
The Criminal Code (Act) 2074 section 166 states that anyone who obstructs a person from using private and public property and discriminates against anyone shall be liable to upto three years in prison or a fine of Rs 30,000 or both. However, Aryal says its implementation is lacking.
As for Narayani, she feels that many tenants in the city fear being kicked out for contracting the virus more than the virus itself.
“I have seen many of my friends get infected with the coronavirus. But the house owners are more dangerous than the virus because if they kick us out of their homes, where will we go? ” said Narayani.