Durga Naikda is 35 years old, and lives with her husband Vijay (41 years old), and seven of their eight children in a village close to Dungarpur in India. They have four daughters (aged 14, 7, 6 and one-and-a-half years old) and four sons (aged 13, 10, 8 and 4 years old). Their eldest daughter is married and lives separately with her husband. She married at the age of 14 out of her own choice; however, Vijay and Durga did not approve of the marriage. Vijay, who attended school up to Primary level, mainly works in construction as a daily wage worker; he also finds work as a painter. Vijay explains ‘I do not get any work in the village. There is nothing to do here. When we go to the market we are able to find some painting jobs.’ Durga herself is illiterate.
Employment is generally irregular: ‘I get small assignment of painting the buildings here and there for nearly 15 days in a month; the buildings in Rajasthan are not as huge as buildings in Delhi,’ says Vijay. Their 13-year-old son also does paid work as a painter, but has migrated to Ahmedabad, Gujarat for work. Durga and Vijay have decided not to migrate to Gujarat for work as their children are still very young: ‘I have got children to feed, who would feed them if I will go out to [Gujarat] to work?’, says Durga. Vijay feels the same: ‘I am married now and have got wife and children. If I will go there would be no one to look after them in case they fall ill. So I work here only.’ The couple’s middle two daughters and eight-year-old son go to school, but their ten-year-old son dropped out as he was being bullied. Getting to school is a difficult affair as they have to go quite far across a pond to get there, and during monsoons the pond floods and cannot be crossed.
Durga works as an agricultural worker for approximately eight hours a day, cutting grass on other people’s farms in the village. She also engages in construction work for projects run by private NGOs or state agencies if they are available in the vicinity. Vijay and Durga also do farming on their own land but mainly during the monsoon season as they have to rely on rainfall as there is no alternative irrigation system: ‘There is only a little harvest during the rainy season, nothing grows rest of the year. The land type is such,’ says Vijay. Previously, Durga worked under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) when it was available in the village, for a road construction project. She still occasionally works for the scheme if the worksite is close to her house, and if her name is included on the list of workers, but she adds, ‘we only get Rs 100 a day. It is really less.’ However, she worries, ‘who would look after the children if we will go!’ Durga mentions that a shaded area was built at the worksite to provide a crèche area where they could leave the children but she prefers to leave them behind at home: ‘The children cry a lot at the worksite so I keep the children at home… I have got my husband also at home who helps me.’ Other than for practical reasons, there are also normative reasons why Durga does not engage in work outside her village. Durga’s mother-in-law, who lives next door, explains:
If there is big project underway in the nearby area then I allow my daughters-in-law to go and work. We can’t send them to the city to work. I have grown old; if I will send my daughters-in-law to the city then people in the community would not like it.
The family also owns a few goats. Durga takes them to graze, but sometimes she leaves them to graze and they return home on their own. Although there is no fear that the cattle may be stolen, recently one of their goats was taken by a panther from right outside their house. Similarly, sometimes wild wolves from the nearby forest attack the cattle. These wild animals are also a threat to the children of the village. Durga is also a part of the Aajeevika mission, a government programme that organises savings groups: ‘we deposit Rs 25 on every Sunday, so we have the facility of receiving money – Rs 100 or Rs 200 – when needed as credit.’
Durga does all of the housework and also collects firewood from the forest. The forest is a three kilometre walk away: ‘We go in the morning and sometimes come back at two or three o’clock in the afternoon… We need to go at least for two months continuously.’ The firewood is collected not only for daily use, but to stock-up for the monsoon season. Either Durga’s elder children or in-laws (who are her next door neighbours) look after the younger ones when she goes out to work or to collect firewood. ‘We finish all the work before we leave,’ she says. Firewood collection takes priority over paid work, and she goes to work only if she has enough stock to last for the day. Durga also has to fetch water from a well which is some distance away; there is a hand pump close by but the water is saline and not portable. Vijay sometimes helps with the care work by cooking for the family and watching over the children. However, he regards the care responsibility to be Durga’s: ‘My wife only takes care of the children, it is entirely her responsibility. I leave for work and come back only in the evening and cooking is also is her responsibility.’ But Vijay steps in to do care work when Durga has to go away or has fallen ill. Durga’s mother-in-law and sister-in-law also support her whenever she needs it, whether it is taking care of the children, cooking, or other household chores.
When Durga goes to do paid work her work doubles, but her husband explains that the circumstances are such that ‘there is no choice even if she gets tired she has to work’. He would prefer her to ‘own a shop which would be better as you can stay at one place and keep a watch on the house and the children as well.’ Durga’s story outlines a situation that the majority of families face in this area: women find work close by in agriculture or construction work and do most of the care tasks, while men are usually meant to be the breadwinners and only do care work when the women are unable to. However, work circumstances are tough for both men and women, with irregular and low-paid employment. In addition, with inadequate availability of basic resources, such as easy access to water, women have the additional burden of finding these resources which consumes their energy and takes up time that could be invested in more productive work.