Rukmini, a 26-year-old Brahmin woman lives with her husband (aged 30) and two daughters aged five and three in a slum in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, India. Her brother-in-law’s daughter Meenu, who is about 11 years old, has been living with the family for a while. Meenu’s family lives in the village, but Rukmini says she has lived with them, ‘from the start’. Rukmini and her husband take care of Meenu, including her schooling. Rukmini’s husband works in a plastics factory and Rukmini is a home-based worker who stitches bags for a living.
Rukmini has had no schooling. She has been doing home-based work for a few years now, which she prefers, due to the young age of her children. Both Rukmini and her husband seem to prefer her carrying out home-based work, as it is more convenient and blends with social norms on mobility. Rukmini says,
What I am doing is good. I cannot go out to work in a company since the children are small… I cannot go to work in a company, and in our family, we prefer not to go to a company… So this work is good.
Rukmini used to make sweetmeat, but over the last six or seven months she has started stitching bags for a company after they bought a sewing machine on loan. The decision was driven by need: ‘we were worried for money… and though it was difficult, we bought a machine by taking a loan so that we can do some work.’ Rukmini confirms that the earnings are better from stitching bags than from making sweetmeat. Either Rukmini or her husband collects raw materials from the company. She is paid Rs 40 for each bag she makes, and has to work eight hours to make 100 bags; she tries to put in this time every day, but it is not always possible. Rukmini explains that Meenu helps her with stitching bags too, ‘if she is in [the] mood… If not in [the] mood she does not do [it].’ Rukmini earns a monthly income of anywhere between Rs 1,000 and Rs 2,000. She and her husband jointly decide what to do with the money she earns.
Rukmini also values the work she does, saying, ‘it feels good to keep working… [if one keeps] taking rest… one becomes a laggard.’ Moreover, she likes the flexibility it provides as she can look after her children at the same time.
The two older children go to private school as there is no government school accessible close by, and it would take too much time and effort to send them to a government school. Rukmini’s husband says:
[The government school] is far away and the small children have to be dropped there and also brought back. That takes time. If we do that how will we run the household? Somebody has to do this taking the children to school and bringing them back.
Rukmini’s biggest issue in terms of her care work is that water is scarce in the summer. In the rainy season, water is conveniently accessed through a tap at home, but in the summer, the tank supplying the water dries up. Rukmini’s husband helps with both housework and her stitching work when he is able, but he works long hours (usually about 12–13 hours a day) and his timings are erratic. Rukmini explains, ‘like yesterday the seth [owner] had gone out and my husband had night duty, he went to work after getting the water. He came back home in the morning and went to work again at 1pm.’
Rukmini has been associated with the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) for two years and is involved in the self-help group that SEWA has set up. She is also involved with other non-governmental organisations providing loans in the area. Rukmini appreciates the association with SEWA but has been unable to attend meetings often as she does not haveenough time.