Simran (30 years old) and Deepak (35 years old) live in a slum area called Choti Mayapuri in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh. Choti Mayapuri lies across a railway line, where water and sanitation facilities are poor. Many women in the community are home-based workers who make agarbattis (incense sticks) and the majority of men are daily wage workers such as construction workers and porters. Choti Mayapuri is negatively affected by widespread alcoholism among men, resulting in domestic violence and higher incidence of violence in public areas.
Deepak grew up in Mayapuri and Simran has lived there since they got married nearly 13 years ago. They have three children: a 12-year-old son and two daughters (10 and 5 years old). All three children attend school. Their family also comprises of Simran’s father (65 years old) and mother (50 years old), and her 22-year-old brother who has a mental disability. Simran’s elderly parents are also ill. Simran explains:
They [her parents] have been here since 8–9 months, first my father came, and then 15 days later my mother had an accident, so she came… and my younger brother, he lives with me, he is a little mentally challenged.
The family thus comprises of a high number of dependents requiring care and attention. Simran shares that,
I have to take care of all his [father’s] needs including his bathing, food, toilet visits, etc… my mother’s feet hurt a lot, she had an operation too, so she is unable to work, so I cook food for her, take care of her water intake and all that [other things].
Deepak works as a daily wage worker and makes pipes and columns; sometimes he also works as a contractor when the work is sufficient to occupy other fellow workers. During the festival season, such as the recent Sinhast Kumbh Mela, Deepak makes drums and even plays them at parties and processions to generate additional income. Like many other men in the community Deepak was addicted to alcohol, until he was hospitalised last year for a month and a half. After this episode he decided to give up drinking alcohol altogether; he says, ‘now I have given it [drinking alcohol] up… yes, children were also going haywire, in just those one and a half months, and then I started playing the drum during the season.’ Deepak is the main breadwinner of the family as Simran is not able to earn much income through making incense sticks. Recently, she has been able to devote less time to her paid work, due to her high care work responsibility. She says, ‘at this moment, I roll incense sticks, but for now I am not able to do anything. I have to take care of a lot of things, so can’t work.’ When commenting on paid work, Simran adds, ‘It’s a shared responsibility, its good if both wife and husband earn, home functions smoothly, right now we are helpless [due to the care responsibilities], what to do?!’ She further adds:
There is so much work, so much load that my health goes for a toss, when that goes bad, how can I work as a construction worker [which is better paid], and if I go out who will do the [care] work?
Besides the impact on her paid work, Simran also refers to the physical stress she goes through due to her high care work burden: ‘Health?! Well I feel like I am in pain, or something has happened to my body, I get no rest, so I feel sick, but I adjust, I have to adjust!’
Simran is overburdened by the care work in her family as she is the only woman to shoulder the responsibility. Her youngest daughter goes to the anganwadi (pre-school centre), which provides her with some time to do care work alone, but her daughter only stays there for an hour or two. Drinking water has to be fetched from across the railway line, which takes at least half an hour to walk each way. Deepak helps with looking after the children when he is home, but he does not help with any other household chores, unless Simran is unwell. Their children are too young to do much care work for the family. Their ten-year-old daughter helps when Simran is unwell by washing the dishes and cleaning the house, but she is too young to help beyond that. Their son does not help with the household chores.
Simran feels that the government could help her situation by providing a pension for her parents and by providing care support for her disabled brother. She also feels that it would help to have a better alternative for home-based work than making incense sticks. On a similar note, Deepak suggests that the state could help the household to finance a sewing machine so that Simran could make a living from home. Simran is part of the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), but hardly gets time to participate in its activities and draw any benefits from the association. Hence the family, but especially Simran, needs external support with caring for the dependent adults in the household. If she does not receive this, Simran will continue to feel overburdened, which will have adverse effects on her health and the family’s income.