Reema Kotwal is a 25-year-old woman who lives in a large extended family in a slum community in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, India. She lives with her husband (aged 30), her three children (all boys, aged 11, 8 and five), her mother-in-law (aged 62), her husband’s brothers (aged 35 and 27), their wives (aged 30 and 24) and their children (a girl and two boys of the elder brother-in-law, aged 15, 12 and nine respectively, and a boy and a girl of the younger brother-in-law aged five and one respectively). Almost all of the adults in the family are engaged in paid work, with the men working as daily wage labourers (in construction, and as loaders). Reema’s mother-in-law, Lalita Bai, works as a plasterer in the construction industry. Having been widowed at a young age with five children to take care of (three sons and two daughters), she worked her way up in the construction industry, starting as a helper.
Reema herself has not had any education and she works as a home-based worker making quilt covers, stitching together small pieces of cloth provided by a contractor. This is seasonal employment and is available only in the winter. She makes five or six quilt covers each day, with each quilt cover fetching her Rs 10. It takes about half an hour to an hour to make each cover. Her husband and his brothers work as daily wage labourers, and her younger sister-in-law sells wooden blocks from home. Lalita Bai prefers for her daughters-in-law to work from home. The daughters-in-law also express a preference for home-based work as it allows them to manage their unpaid care work responsibilities alongside earning money to cover their own expenses and to contribute to the household. The women take pride in their work and have a strong work ethic. Lalita Bai has received an award from the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) for having constructed the best toilet in the neighbourhood. Of her paid work, she says, ‘yes, my family has benefitted. Do you see this house? I have constructed it with my own hands!’
Reema has been a SEWA member for the last three to four years and she has benefitted from the association, particularly because of the financial safety net that SEWA provides as she saves with them, and is able to take loans from them. Her mother-in-law has been associated with SEWA for 15 years and she sees clear benefits of her long years of association with SEWA. The sewing machine that Reema works on was obtained through a loan Lalita Bai took from SEWA. Lalita Bai attributes other benefits that the community receives to the work that SEWA has done in the community. She says, ‘earlier there used to be lot of problems, but after SEWA’s intervention, a road was constructed [in the neighbourhood], and electricity connection was provided’; ‘we even have piped water for each house’, she says.
The unpaid care work of looking after the children, fetching water, cooking, cleaning, etc. are done by the women of the household, particularly the daughters-in-law. They take turns doing the cooking, cleaning, fetching water, etc. The women benefitted from using the anganwadi (a childcare centre provided under the Integrated Child Development Scheme) in their neighbourhood when their children were younger, which meant they would get respite from caring for them for two hours. However, now that they are older, all of the children go to a private school. The older children also step in to help with household chores, including looking after their younger siblings when the women are away from the house. When Lalita Bai is not at work, she looks after the children as well. Reema says that she finds it harder to manage when her children are home:
Children keep eating, so they dirty the utensils… then you have to wash them, bathe them, clean their clothes… there’s more work when they are at home… they trouble you, they don’t let you work, sometimes they climb onto the tailoring machine and sit.
Reema complains that she hardly gets any rest, and is always working on either her paid work, or for looking after the household and caring for her children: ‘And anyways, there is no respite… one who works doesn’t get any respite’.
Usually when Reema she is ill, her sister-in-law takes over her chores, but her husband helps too. She says that ‘when I am sick’ he helps with taking care of her children, changing them, and dropping them to school. Talking about her husband’s own constraints, Reema notes, ‘he gets tired himself. He has a lot of work to do himself, so he gets tired himself. He eats his meal in the evening, and then goes to sleep, doesn’t even wake up’.