Divya (35 years old) and her husband Brijesh (38 years old) have six children: two girls (13 and 11 years old), and four boys (aged eight, six and three years old and one month old). Her mother-in-law, Meena Bai, who is close to 70 years old, also lives with them. Divya is illiterate, and except for her six-year-old son none of the children go to school. The older children dropped out of school due to bullying. Divya’s husband is the youngest among his siblings and in accordance with their tribal tradition, being the youngest son his parents should continue to live with him, while later he will inherit the traditional family house along with his share of land. Divya’s one month old infant has been diagnosed with leakage in his heart valve. Consequently, the child demands intensive care and health expenditures. Meena Bai is old and her eyesight has weakened considerably but is able to look after herself and is helpful in looking after the infant.
Divya and Brijesh mainly do farming on their own land, and she spends about 6–8 hours on her farm every day. Brijesh does waged labour when work is available at the nearby town or the market. Like many other men in the village, he also migrates to Gujarat for work. Divya hasn’t been able to do waged work due to her care responsibilities at home and farming. She did try to work under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) but she could only manage to work for a week and sadly, she has not received money for her labour, ‘we have to make do with what we earn from farming, because what else can we do as we don’t have any other option,’ she said.
Except for her fourth child, Divya’s older children have left school, she explained, ‘my children used to go to school, but they used to get involved in fights with other children.’ We heard similar reasons like bullying by older children at school, or being harassed on the way to school in cases of other school dropouts in the area. Once the children leave school, they stay out of the educational system, getting absorbed into unpaid or paid work.
Much against the dominant gender norm in the region, Divya receives a lot of support from her husband in care work. Some of the neighbours testified that Brijesh does many household chores especially the tasks requiring exertion, such as fetching water and collecting firewood. He proudly said, ‘I do all that I can… I help with filling water, making chappatis [Indian bread], grinding chillies… there is no shame in doing the household work. We should help the women.’ Meena Bai also contributes in helping in whichever way possible, especially looking after the youngest child who is ill. Divya leaves her children under Meena Bai’s care when she goes to her farm. The older children help in fetching water and collecting wood, however they are not old enough to do paid work.
The key worrying feature about the family is that it has been extremely hard for them to make ends meet. They are not able to earn enough to be able to afford the expensive treatment of the youngest child and the resulting travel to Gujarat and time costs involved. Brijesh is the main earning member of the family, and Divya is unable to do paid work as she is already overburdened with the care of the youngest child. Furthermore, of late Divya and Meena Bai have been falling ill more frequently resulting in more health expenditures. Referring to her health, Divya mentioned, ‘I am suffering from physical weakness, because of which I have also had to get blood transferred.’ In spite of this situation, community members - who are living slightly better conditions than Divya’s family - only help when they see returns for themselves. Brijesh explains, ‘they ask for double the amount from us… they help us, it is not that they don’t help us… but without charging interest they don’t help.’ Beyond this the family do not see any help in sight and feel despondent and stressed.
Divya, Brijesh and Meena Bai each had suggestions to improve their economic conditions. Brijesh said:
If the government gives more water facilities then the condition will improve. Our people here are poor, they have very little land and live in poor economic conditions. If there is enough water then even on the little land that we have, we can do farming of three crops wheat, corn and lentils. During rains the farming is favourable, but this year it rained very little. My suggestion is that even if it rains little, and even if the land is little but if there is water facility, we can produce three crops in one year and economic condition can improve. If there is water, we can earn, if there is no water then there is drought in the area.
Divya also suggested better water facilities, improvements in farming methods for better land productivity, availability of work in the vicinity, and support in the treatment of her child. Meena Bai was of the view that the old can also contribute in paid work if given homebased work, according to her, ‘old women are not able to do hard labour… but an old woman can sell vegetables,’ and so ought to be given suitable opportunities.