Gauri is a 25-year-old tribal woman who lives in an extended family with her husband (30 years old), three young children (two girls aged 9 years old and 9 months old, and a boy aged 4 years old) and her husband’s parents (aged 61 and 60 years old) in Dungarpur District in rural Rajasthan, India. Her eldest daughter goes to school. Gauri’s husband works as a daily wage labourer in the village, as well as in Dungarpur. He sometimes travels to Ahmedabad in Gujarat for work, but he doesn’t usually stay longer than a month. Neither of Gauri’s in-laws works.
Gauri has not had any schooling, and like others in her village, she works on the family farm along with her husband producing food for their own consumption. She also does most of the unpaid care work for the household by herself. The only support she gets is from her elderly mother-in-law, Lalitha, who keeps an eye on the children while Gauri is working. Otherwise, Gauri does all of the other household work both inside the house and outside. She grazes the animals, works on the family farm, cooks, cleans, and looks after the children. She also collects firewood, for which she has to walk far into the nearby forest in hilly and difficult terrain. She spends an hour-and-a-half cutting and collecting firewood, then walks back carrying the load on her head. She has to do this three or four times a week. There are restrictions on the wood that she can collect and she has to pay a fine and/or bribe to the forest official if she is considered to have wrongly obtained wood. This is long, laborious and drudgery-laden work, and it is treacherous as well because she has to contend with animals in the forest.
Gauri also does Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) work when it is available, but this has been sparse in the last year. When it is available she does an eight-hour working day. The conditions at work are poor, the wages are paid irregularly, and the income she makes of Rs 100–150 per day is inadequate for her household expenditure. While her worksite is close by (15 minutes by foot), Gauri gets no support for childcare at her MGNREGA worksite; ‘there is a pit where children are kept’, and there is no shade for the children so Gauri leaves her young children behind at home. When Gauri goes to MGNREGA work, she feels stretched because she has to do both her unpaid care work and her paid work. She experiences thakaan (fatigue) and because she has to come back and work at home, she feels tense: ‘I really go mad’, she says. During these times, Gauri is not able to care for her animals, and she relies on her extended female kin network for help with her household work. However, this help is sporadic: her sister comes to help her sometimes, or her visiting sister-in-law lends a hand. Her husband steps in sometimes to help with cooking and firewood collection, but often the family waits until Gauri has a holiday from paid work to do the firewood collection. Gauri’s husband and/or her mother-in-law step in to help with the household work, particularly when she has her period, is ill, or is away.
Gauri’s husband recognises the value of the work that Gauri does, particularly when it comes to care work, as he says:
The house cannot run without her… [if she were away], everything would be disturbed, who would cook food, look after the animals or cut grass?... in her absence it is really difficult to manage things, who would make breakfast? I need to look after the whole house. Without a woman, we face lot of problems.
In an ideal situation, he says that he would ‘earn enough money, then there is no need for her to work’.
In addition, the public services in Gauri’s locality do not offer much in the way of redistribution of care, and in fact add to her lack of emotional wellbeing. The school is a few kilometres away and her eldest daughter has to walk an hour-and-a-half each way to go to school. The hospital is far away in Dungarpur; the roads and transportation are poor, and sometimes they have to pay Rs 500–1,000 on private transport to reach the private hospital. The family prefer to pay for their health-care services at a private hospital as they do not care for the services offered by the public hospital.