Devibai Daabi is 38 years old and lives in Udaipur, India with her husband, Pravesh (40 years old), her seven children, a daughter-in-law and a grandchild. Her eldest two children are boys (aged 20 and 12 years old), and the younger five are girls (aged 11, 7, 5 and 3 years old and six months old). Her eldest son is engaged to be married and as per tribal tradition he has brought his fiancée home to live with the family. He and his fiancée have a seven-month-old child. Devibai’s 12-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter attend school. Devibai herself is illiterate, as is her eldest son. Devibai explains that the two children who attend school go irregularly because they are bullied by the older children. Sapna, Devibai’s 11-year-old daughter, had to drop out of school after she was hit by a moving vehicle on her way to school. Sapna is unable to sit on the floor of the classroom due to her injury, and due to this she has had to drop out of school.
Devibai does manual wage labour under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) on development infrastructure projects established by non-governmental organisations, and works as an agricultural labourer on other people’s land. Additionally she engages in farming on her own land, which is close to her house. She may spend up to seven hours doing agricultural work, whereas the MGNREGA work has set hours and she is required to work for either eight or ten hours per day. It takes her up to 30 minutes to walk to the MGNREGA site. Pravesh also worked under MGNREGA but he sustained a back injury about five years ago during his last job at the MGNREGA construction site, which has rendered him incapable of doing any work that requires physical exertion. Therefore, he mainly looks after the farming on the household’s land. This means that the responsibility for paid work rests mainly on Devibai, her eldest son, and her daughter-in-law. While Devibai takes up paid work in the local area, her eldest son migrates to Gujarat as an agricultural labourer, together with his wife and child, for six months each year.
On the days when Devibai’s main task is farming on her own land, she takes care of most of the household chores including the cooking and fetching water. She shares: ‘I feel tired, I work hard, go to the field, return and make bread and then go back to the fields.’ She is helped by her daughter, Sapna, with all of the household chores, but especially with childcare and collecting firewood from the forest. Sapna has to undertake more care work and household chores when Devibai does paid work. She wishes that her mother did not have to do paid work as she gets overwhelmed by the burden of care work. Referring to her increase in care work responsibility, Sapna says,
I don’t feel happy when she [mother] goes out [for paid work]... If mother is at home, we can take the goat for grazing or can go to the jungle to collect firewood. When she is not at home then I need to take care of the work at home too.
Although Pravesh helps with the household chores in Devibai’s absence, he does not do as much as her or provide support in all the care tasks, and hence Sapna prefers to have her mother at home instead of her father. Devibai’s daughter-in-law shares a lot of the care work when she is home. Devibai comments on the men’s contribution to care work, in particular collecting firewood and water: ‘men take the cattle to the jungle sometimes for grazing, then they bring the wood. Otherwise they don’t do the job of collecting wood alone... only women collect wood and water, they do not have an option.’
Since Devibai has not entirely handed over the care work and household chores to her daughter, she has to juggle a lot between paid work and care work: ‘In a ten-hour shift of work [at the construction site] we get one hour break, we rush back home at that time to prepare the food,’ she says, adding that, ‘It is really difficult to manage things.’ She mentions having little time for herself, and desires to redistribute some of her care tasks to the men in the family. In order for Devibai to achieve a better balance between paid work and unpaid care work there is also a need for easy access to essential public services, such as water and cooking fuel. Devibai emphasises, ‘If the water source is situated near our house then it would become easy and we would not have to go that far to fetch water!’