30 years old Seema lives with her husband (35 years old), and their four children, all boys (16, 12, 7 and 5 years old). She was never formally educated and is illiterate. Seema’s eldest son, Mangal, is in the ninth grade at school and aspires to be a teacher. However, her second son, Preetam, was taken out of school when he was in first grade to take care of a buffalo that the family owned at the time. Presently Preetam, who is 12 years old, supports his mother in many care tasks such as taking the cattle for grazing, fetching water and collecting wood. While the youngest son is not old enough to go to school, Seema’s third son also goes to school.
Besides working on her own farm, Seema has worked under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) for 22 days on the construction of a road in their village; she also works at a check dam construction site for a non-profit organisation. On the worksites she works for eight hours per day. She prefers to work for the non-profit organisation as the wage rate is better and timely, unlike MGNREGA where she has not yet been paid. No matter what the nature of her paid work, as she is the only woman of the house, she always has to rush to attend to care responsibilities. She says, ‘I make the food before going, then when I get free from work at 12–1 o’clock, then I return and rush to make rotis which we all eat. There is always a rush.’ She shares that there are no special facilities at the worksites such as crèche or first aid, but she admits that, ‘even we did not ask them ever [for facilities]’.
Seema’s husband works on his own land and takes up waged labour. But if the family is in greater financial need he also migrates to Gujarat as an agricultural worker. Mangal attends school and also gives time to farming. Sometimes, to meet his own needs such as buying a school uniform or books, for example, he has to take up paid work, usually during his school vacations. Preetam also does waged work and if necessary migrates to Gujarat with his father as an agricultural worker. On some occasions Seema has also migrated to Gujarat, but her response on the working conditions for women at plantations is concerning:
The fields are 8–10km faraway there. Many mischievous patels [the landowners] also sexually harass us there. Many times they even murder people, kill them and throw them in their wells, many people face injustices. But we have to go due to the scarcity of land and water here.
However, due to drought conditions and poor productivity from their own land, they have had no option but to take up waged work and migrate more often. Seema’s family’s situatuon is like many other families in the area.
Seema is an only woman in a large family of males. One of her children discontinued his school after first grade while his siblings continued their education. This was because she undertook a disproportionately high amount of care work and unpaid productive work; consequently her second child, Preetam, had to stop his school education to take on a specific care task from his mother – i.e. to take the newly bought buffalo to graze in the forest. Preetam recalls:
At that time, I was also sent to school, but there was nobody to take care of the buffalo and I did not want to go to school... they [other children] used to beat me at school.
But now, Preetam regrets that he had to discontinue his education. Even his parents regret the decision, which at that time seemed to be the right step. In Seema’s words there was a loss on two counts, ‘the buffalo died and he [Preetam] was also deprived of education.’ Now Preetam, along with his mother, is responsible for care tasks in the family; he is especially helpful when Seema has to go away for paid work.
A local tribal organisation tried to help women to organise into self-help groups in Seema’s vicinity, however it failed as women did not have time to attend the meetings. Seema explains, ‘I have to make rotis/food. If I go [to the meetings] then who will make it?’
The effect of the high time and labour intensity of care and unpaid labour has been borne not just by the woman of the family, but additionally by her child who lost out on his education to partake in care and unpaid work. Provision of basic services such as easy access to water and fuel would reduce the time taken in fetching water and collecting wood. While her sons pitch in to help in care tasks, it would have been better if her husband also helped with these. Awareness on the importance of education and improving children’s educational experiences would also be crucial in reducing school dropouts, as there is a higher probability that these children will be pulled into paid and unpaid labour.
Furthermore, like many other women we spoke to, Seema said that paid work environments make it very difficult to bring children to work as they are either not safe or do not provide childcare such as crèches for women with young children. In the case of MGNREGA they were not even paid for their labour for close to a year. In comparison, the local non-profit organisations pay them better for similar construction work.