Prema Ajnave (aged 26) is a dalit (scheduled caste) woman who is part of a large extended family. She lives in a slum community in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, India with her two daughters (aged 12 and nine), a son (aged three), her husband (aged 30), her mother-in-law (aged 52), her father-in-law (aged 55), her husband’s two younger brothers (aged 27 and 26), their wives (both aged 22) and a niece (aged four). All the adults in the family are engaged in paid work. Prema’s husband works as a decorator (earning a good monthly wage of Rs 15,000 per month), her father-in-law is a fruit vendor, her mother-in-law and one sister-in-law work as tailors, her second sister-in-law runs a beauty parlour from home, and Prema herself is a home-based worker making files from home. Prema’s two eldest daughters go to school, and her young son and niece stay at home.
Prema shares her unpaid care work with her two sisters-in-law. They take turns with cooking and cleaning the house, and collecting water. Her mother-in-law, Devika bai, helps the daughters-in-law to look after the children. Prema’s eldest daughter, Shilpi, also helps with household work when she is not at school. There is a water problem in their area, particularly in the summer months: during this period it takes them a long time to collect water. They pay for some water (to private contractors), obtain some for free through a private household that own a bore well and also get some water through government tankers which deliver water once every three to four days. Electricity is also a problem during the summer, when the temperatures touch 43–45 degrees centigrade. Prema used to send her elder two daughters to the anganwadi (a public childcare centre run by the Integrated Child Development Scheme), but since the anganwadi shifted, they have found that the quality of care in the centre has gone downhill so they decided not to send the two younger children. Her husband, Amitabh, says of the centre, ‘they don’t take care of them properly. So, our children don’t like going to the anganwadi’. Apart from the quality of the centre, Amitabh also has a preference for care provided in the home. He says, ‘some from the neighbourhood go. But the children can play and enjoy at home only, what is the need of going to the anganwadi? Taking care depends on one’s feelings and attitude.’
Prema spends four hours every day making files (which Shilpi helps her with when she is not at school). Prema takes three to four days to make 1,000 files for a sum of Rs 30. Her decision to work at home is based on both the fact that she has a young child but also because of gender norms on mobility. Her husband and his family prefer the women of the household to work from home. As Prema puts it, ‘some men allow their women to work outside and some don’t allow. In our family, we are not allowed. They say, “we are earning, what will you do going outside?”’ When asked about what work he thought was suitable for women, her husband, Amitabh says:
Such work that can be done from home. Work that can be done sitting inside the house in the time saved after completing the household work and which brings in a bit of money. It is not possible [for women] to go out and work. Children are there, they have to be taken care of, it becomes undesirable.
Reflecting on her own conditions of work and the constraints of her situation, Prema recognises that the pay is poor, and that she ought to be paid better. In terms of possible better options, she says,
The only problem is that there is no good job at home. They don’t allow me to work in factory because environment is not good now days. It is good if I get some good work at home.
Prema is a member of the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), and she saves money with them. However, she has not been to more than two meetings with them. Her mother-in-law, however, has been associated with SEWA for 25 years, and this long association has helped shape her identity as well, particularly in terms of how she values work. Although her daughters-in-law are constrained by where they can work, she encourages them to work nonetheless. She values work, and sees the benefits of working, ‘your life will be better’, she tells her daughters-in-law.