Manasa is a 35-year-old tribal woman who lives in a nuclear family in Dungarpur District, Rajasthan, India with her husband and four children: two girls (15 and 5 years old) and two boys (11 and 8 years old). Manasa has had no formal education. Like others in their village, the family have a small plot of land where they grow corn, wheat, urad (black gram) and bajra (pearl millet) for their own consumption, although this is insufficient for their needs. Like others in their village, they face difficulties with farming due to acute water scarcity. Manasa’s husband (38 years old) migrates to Ahmedabad in Gujarat for four or five months of the year in search of construction work. Their eldest daughter has accompanied him in the past, as has Manasa herself on occasion. Most of the time, Manasa works on the family farm, does unpaid care work for the household, and goes out for paid Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) work which involves an eight-hour working day.
Manasa’s MGNREGA work this year has been through the converged schemes of Indira Awaas Yojana (IAY) and MGNREGA, where the government provides a specified amount as the labour component from MGNREGA to poor people who work on building their own homes under the grant from IAY. Although the family have been collectively involved in constructing their house for the past year, and have also bought in labour for constructing the house, Manasa has not yet received her financial instalments for the work done so far.
Manasa feels depleted by the triple burden of unpaid work, care work and paid work and the poor conditions within which she works, stating that, ‘we work on an empty stomach’. This manifests itself in her ill health which includes heavy and irregular periods, which further hinders her ability to do work.
The difficulty in accessing public services, which has been exacerbated by the construction of a dam in the local vicinity, also impacts negatively on Manasa’s emotional and physical wellbeing. The health centre is 10km away and there is no public transport, so Manasa has to walk all the way to the health centre and back. Manasa is also consumed with worry about the safety of her two young sons who go to primary school; their school is over 2km away, and they have to walk two hours each way through hilly, difficult terrain. Following the construction of the dam, Manasa has no anganwadi (public childcare centre provided under the Integrated Child Development Scheme) close by to send her youngest child to, so she cares for her daughter herself, and takes her along when she does paid work.
The effects of the overburden of work in the family are also felt by Manasa’s 15-year-old daughter who dropped out of school after fifth grade to help with household chores and to contribute to the family’s income by accompanying her father during his trips to Ahmedabad for construction work. At home, Manasa’s daughter fetches the water, cleans the vessels and the house, cooks (alternating this with her mother), and grazes the animals; but the care of the children is largely done by Manasa.
Manasa’s husband recognises the value of the care work that his wife and daughter perform: ‘nobody else can do this work… these women manage and take care of the household.’ However, the flip-side of this recognition is that he also understands it as women’s work: ‘yes, all this work [fetching firewood and water, cooking, cleaning, looking after children], she only has to do.’ Manasa’s husband does step in to do the housework when his wife is pregnant or ill by helping with some of the chores, such as grazing cattle. Ideally, he would prefer his wife to not work so that the household could be taken care of adequately, but given the financial constraints, he would prefer that her work was closer to home, as this would allow her to balance her work better.