Pratibha is a 27-year-old tribal woman who lives with her husband (aged 30), three children (a girl aged seven and two boys aged five and three) and an extended family of in-laws (her parents-in-law, aged 50 and 40, and two sisters-in-law, aged 17 and 16) in the slums of Indore, Madhya Pradesh, India. Pratibha has studied up to Pre-Secondary level (Grades 6–8). She works as a paid domestic worker for part of the day and looks after her family for the other part. She also contributes to the family income (spending four hours a day when she is able to) as a home-based worker stitching bags, which is primarily done by her mother-in-law and sisters-in-law. She usually spends 2–3 hours every day on paid domestic work, along with the care work responsibilities within her own family. Pratibha’s husband does odd jobs for a company and works long hours. He leaves home between 9am and 10am and returns home by 10.30pm. Pratibha jokes that he comes home, ‘just to sleep.’
Pratibha has a lot to juggle between her paid domestic work, contributing to home-based work when she is able, and performing care work. Her older two children go to school and her mother-in-law drops them off and picks them up. Although Pratibha’s female relatives help with the housework and childcare, their time is prioritised for home-based work: ‘as it is our livelihood.’ Pratibha says, ‘if they get time then they do it… But their stitching work is more important, if they do house work, then they lie down for a while.’ Similarly, she says that it is difficult for the male members of her household to contribute to care work:
The [men] do as much as they can and then they go away. The entire day, I am saying, there is no time during the day. There is some time in the morning if you sleep and wake up a little late, but then it’s time for him to go… and they go to work, they don’t get time at night to sleep even, they come at 10pm. They can’t find time [for anything other than paid work].
So, it is largely Pratibha who bears the brunt of the responsibility for the household’s care work.
Pratibha’s body feels the effects of the hard work she has put into all her responsibilities over the years. Although the water situation has improved in her area with water now being provided close to her house, previously she had to walk a long way carrying pots of water, and this has taken its toll. ‘If I talk about hard work,’ she says, ‘I had to get a sonography done because I faced a lot of problems due to picking up these heavy things. Then after the sonography, I have not been lifting heavy things now.’ Pratibha’s doctor advises her not to lift heavy things and she is due to have an operation to deal with the swelling caused by hard labour. She says, ‘that is why I am not taking tension [mental stress].’ Although there has been a relative improvement in the water situation, Pratibha says, ‘if we find any moment of quiet, then there is a water problem.’
Although she has been a member of the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) on paper, Pratibha struggles to find the time to get more seriously involved. She has attended the meetings but has not attended any training. She is hard pressed to find the time for it: ‘I don’t find any time... they [SEWA] used to call me themselves... I used to have work and I used to go... if they call me only then I go otherwise I don’t, there is a lot of housework.’