Indumati (35 years old) lives in an extended family with her husband, Veer (40 years old), their six children: three boys (aged 20, 16, and 5), and three girls aged (14, 12 and 8), her father-in-law (80 years old), two brothers-in-law (35 and 33 years old respectively) and a daughter-in-law (19 years old), wife of their eldest son. One of their 18 year old daughters is married and lives separately. Indumati is illiterate, while Veer has studied up to primary level. Among their children, the eldest child dropped out of school after primary level but the rest of the children have continued their education. Indumati recently also became a grandmother to her eldest son’s child.
There are 13 people in her family and about ten more people who are related to the family come to eat at her house, though they live separately in the neighbourhood. The other ten relatives whom she has to feed are her brother-in-law’s family, and his uncle-in-law’s family who are dependent on Indumati for cooked food, as the main women of both houses died recently. Hence the care responsibility, particularly the food preparation for the men and children of these other two families, has fallen upon Indumati. This will continue until the widowers remarry and bring a woman to their respective families to take on the task of cooking.
Indumati shared that she has had immense pressure of unpaid care work since the time she got married. Veer’s mother passed away early and it was becoming difficult for his family to manage household chores. Veer was the oldest among his siblings but was only in the fifth grade. The family saw the solution to the problem was to get Veer married. So Veer was married to Indumati while both were still very young. Indumati was brought to the family to take care of all the household chores. So from a very young age of about 14, Indumati was made responsible for the care of an entire extended family. She recalls that she would find it extremely difficult but had no choice. She exclaims:
I raised Veer’s siblings since my mother-in-law was dead, after sometime Veer’s uncle and sister-in-law even passed away. So I raised ten children of the other people besides my own… I didn’t go anywhere. There was no one to take care of the work. I remained at home for the whole year.
Indumati got some relief after her daughter was old enough to assume some care tasks, especially fetching water and bringing firewood from the forest, and she got further relief after her daughter-in-law joined the family. Indumati emphasised, ‘Only women bring water, and the men in the family do not go [to bring water]. And [boys] go only if they wish.’ As food for 23 people still needs to be cooked in her kitchen, the care work has not reduced much but now the workload is distributed as she has help from her daughter and daughter-in-law. With reduction in her own care work burden, she is now able to take up paid work and contribute to the family’s income.
Indumati and Veer do farming in the agricultural season which requires up to seven hours of work in a day from Indumati. She works for eight hours a day on casual waged labour, such as on construction sites of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) or other private non-governmental organisations (NGOs). If required, Indumati and Veer migrate to Gujarat as agricultural workers. Her older sons also do agriculture and waged casual labour. Her daughter does not do paid work but goes to their field to pick cotton. Indumati prefers to work at construction sites of private NGOs over MGNREGA as the payment of wages is decent and paid on time. Veer believes that the authorities misplaced their MGNREGA job cards on purpose after he questioned them about non-payment of wages. While Veer often goes to Gujarat as migrant worker, Indumati accompanied him to Gujarat in the previous two years for six months each to be able to save enough for her son’s wedding. Money from farming and casual labour is not enough to save money for such occasions.
When Indumati goes to work now, many of the care tasks are covered by her daughter and the daughter-in-law, Lata and Gayatri respectively. Gayatri reiterates what Indumati had mentioned, ‘getting water and firewood has to be done by the womenfolk… If you are a woman, you have to do all this work.’ Lata and Gayatri told us how they share work among themselves. Since, Lata goes to school and Gayatri is a government health worker and has to attend work two days a week, Gayatri explains, ‘she [Lata] goes to study [school] and I have to work in the morning. She works in the evening, makes rotis.’ However, when Gayatri is away on paid work, Indumati looks after her grandchild, but when both have to do paid work Gayatri has to take her child along to work. Indumati is able to leave her youngest child behind as he is slightly older and can be looked after by his older siblings. Indumati explains:
There is no place to keep the kids at the work place… they [other women workers] have to bring older kids to take care of their younger kid, as they need to travel on foot for nearly two kilometres to work.
Indumati talks about the mental stress she faces in juggling different kinds of tasks, she says, ‘My mind is not at peace and I am always tensed. I keep wondering when I will get time to rest or to bathe, etc.’ Explaining the pressure from all sides, she adds:
If we don’t cook on time then the children start crying out of hunger. If we don’t go to work, we are marked absent. In case we have a guest at home then also we have an issue to worry about… we wish someone could share the responsibilities at home but no one does.
Veer recognises that Indumati and other women in the family have a disproportionately higher workload. Referring to Indumati he says, ‘she has to take care of the animals, do the cleaning around the house, go to the field and then return to make food. She has to then hurriedly eat her food and run back to the field.’ He also feels that Indumati tends to fall sick as she feels tired. In response to whether changes could be brought to the distribution of care work within the family, he said:
There might be some change, but the issue is that I have never ground chilli, or made roti (bread), never fetched water from a well; that leads to a bit of a problem. Otherwise, I would have helped and my wife would get a little respite.
But he added that, ‘if I return home early, I take care of the animals, take them to drinking water, or feed them fodder.’
This case demonstrates a strong gender bias against women. Women do not have a choice but to take on the entire responsibility to care for people and the household. Moreover, they participate in farming, where many tasks are again divided by gender. Paid work is usually on other people’s farms or construction sites, and involves hard manual labour. While women take on more and more responsibilities, there is little or no change in the family regarding reorganization of care responsibilities, resulting in immense work pressure on the woman. In Indumati’s family, three generations live together, but there is no change in the outlook of the younger generation. Even Gayatri, who is the most educated in the family, or Lata who is in eighth grade did not think any different from her parents/in-laws on gender roles.
Some of the suggestions coming from the family in order to alleviate the double burden on the women included availability of decent work in the vicinity, payment of wages on time, access to a crèche close to the worksite, and easy and close access to water. On gender roles this family was able to recognise that there is an imbalance affecting womenfolk adversely, but was unable to suggest changes and at best only expressed helplessness and lack of choice.