Sarita (32 years old) and Bhushan (35 years old) live in Medi, Udaipur. Both have attended school up to primary level. They have six children of whom four are girls (aged 12, 6, 5 and 2 years old), and two are boys (aged 14 and 8 years old). Except for the eldest boy who has never been to school, the other three children of school-going age are attending school. Sarita and Bhushan do farming on their small piece of land. Additionally Sarita does paid work if available in the vicinity, such as Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) or construction projects of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Bhushan also works as a casual waged worker, and occasionally, he also cuts date palm leaves on contract that are sold in Gujarat used for making brooms. If required, both Sarita and Bhushan migrate to Gujarat to work as agricultural labourers. While they take their youngest child with them when they migrate, they leave the older children behind in the village.
Sarita is responsible for all the household chores and care of children, though her eldest daughter helps in a few tasks like washing dishes and fetching water. On enquiring if her older two sons also help in fetching water, she says, ‘my son doesn’t do. Do boys fill water!?’ The local interpreter explained that, ‘in this tribal community all the household-related work is done by the women and all the distant work or any work related to society and community, basically of a higher level, is done by men.’ Although fetching water and wood requires going long distances, these are still considered work for the female members of the community. Although many men participate in household work, the tasks of men and women are divided. Sarita says that in her family she has to do all the work. Even when she falls sick she takes medicine and gets back to work. She adds:
My husband does only if he is willing to work. Otherwise, no one does the work. He is an alcoholic. Here men are alcoholic, they drink that is why they don’t care much. If we [the women] do not cook food then the children will die out of hunger. So we [the women] have to work!
Sarita is required to do paid work from ten in the morning to five in the evening, so she manages her time by waking up earlier to finish all her household chores before leaving for work. Her last worksite was about a 15 minute walk away. Sarita explains:
I would complete the work from four [am], all the household work which had to be done and would go after completing that work and leave my younger children to the elder ones, who could take care of them.
She mentions that there is no crèche facility at the worksite and therefore she prefers to leave her younger children with her older ones. However, when they migrate to Gujarat to work, they take their youngest child along, while those who are older than five are left behind as she feels they can take care of themselves. Their oldest daughter takes charge of the household chores in Sarita’s absence. But they fear for the security of their children and belongings, Bhushan says, ‘if they [the children] get too worried about their parents returning, they fall sick. We need to come back if they fall sick.’ Children also lose out on nutrition and school attendance. He adds, ‘since I am not here, sometimes the door of the courtyard stays open and stray dogs or goats come in and ruin the crops, or ration. Sometimes, it is also feared that a person might sneak in if the door is open and steal something.’ But they still have to migrate as their farm land is only half a beegha (a unit of land area measurement approximately 2,530 square meters) not enough to sustain them, and there are very few other work opportunities. Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) had provided them work but they have not yet received their wages in return for their labour and are thus not interested in continuing to work through the MGNREGA.
As a result of both kinds of work pressures that Sarita faces, she feels stress and physical weakness. She also shared her worries on the quality of care she can provide for her children, ‘it’s simple and straight. This much care cannot be given. The facility and love that they need, we are not able to give that even. The time is wasted in fulfilling home’s requirements.’
Sarita and Bhushan are both of the view that if water was made available for drinking purposes and for irrigation, much of the drudgery related to unpaid and paid work would reduce. Sarita affirms, ‘water has finished… There is a lot of water problems… if water is arranged then we may do more agriculture in a better way, we need a hand pump for drinking water and a Kund [water facility for animals].’ She also emphasises:
If anganwadi [pre-school] is there then children can go there, eat there and we can do some other household work. But presently it is at a distance of one and a half kilometer, near the panchayat [the village council office]. How will such small kids go there? Can they go so far!?
In situations of extreme poverty where there is little support from the family (Sarita’s husband being an alcoholic) or from the government, the women and the children of the house carry all the responsibility of care. Her husband suggested that better livelihood options such as a milk cooperative where they can sell milk, will help in bringing more income to the family.
This case study suggests a need for: changes in gender norms; alcoholism prevention work; and provision of basic services such as water, fuel and pre-school facilities. Addressing these elements has become crucial in alleviating the extreme poverty conditions and reducing its adverse impact on families, which is especially important in relieving the work pressure on women and also their children.