Suneetha is a 22-year-old tribal woman who lives in a nuclear family with her husband (26 years old) and young son (6 years old) in a rural village in Dungarpur District in Rajasthan, India. Her parents-in-law live close by. Like other men in the village, Suneetha’s husband migrates to Ahmedabad in Gujarat for six months of the year as a contract labourer. His health is rather poor and he has been repeatedly hospitalised. Suneetha works on her family farm where they grow wheat for their own consumption. She also takes up Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) employment when it is available and has completed 60 days of work. Suneetha is educated up to lower Secondary level.
Suneetha does all of the chores in the household including collecting water (which is a distance away, with no handpump close by), fuel, and firewood. She also grazes the animals, cooks, cleans, and looks after her young child.
When she goes for MGNREGA employment, Suneetha says she ‘feels a lot of tension’ in balancing her work responsibilities and says that ‘ I am often [un]able to sleep properly thinking about the work that remains to be done’. When she has MGNREGA employment, her entire day stretches: she has to wake up at 4am to complete the household chores after which she walks an hour to her place of work. At her workplace, the conditions are far from ideal as there are no facilities for water or toilets; neither is there any childcare provision, nor any shaded area for rest. She does an eight-hour workday, and while she is away her father-in-law helps by grazing the animals, and her mother-in-law looks after her son. On top of the long distances she travels to get to work, and the lack of facilities at her workplace, Suneetha also has difficulties with obtaining the wages she is owed as she is unable to open a bank account on her own and has had to take the support of an ‘educated’ middleman.
Apart from her daily struggle to balance her unpaid and paid work responsibilities, the lack of easy access to public services causes Suneetha untold hardships. Although her young son is registered at school it is 2km away and so he does not always attend. Moreover, the construction of a dam in their area has exacerbated some of the hardships Suneetha faces. The dam has submerged much of their land, for which they were given meagre compensation. Although the dam has enabled some villagers to irrigate their land, it has not enabled equal access to clean water for every family in the community, and Suneetha and her family have the ‘short end of the stick’ as they do not have access to water close by. Moreover, the dam has divided villages from one another. The anganwadi centre (a childcare centre under the Integrated Child Development Scheme) is no longer easily accessible by people in Suneetha’s vicinity. In place of a bridge that enabled people to access certain areas before the dam, the community now uses a tyre on the water for transport, which is a laborious means of transportation as it has to be done one at a time, and they have to pay for the privilege of using the tyre. Suneetha acknowledges that this is an unsafe mode of transport, but she says she manages as she knows how to swim.
Other basic amenities, such as a health-care centre, are also not easily accessible for Suneetha and her community. The closest hospital is 10km away and there is no transport to get there; the road is badly constructed as well. This has had adverse effects on Suneetha and her family as she has had poor health in general for some time. During a recent additional bout of illness, she walked the entire 10km to reach the hospital. When Suneetha is ill, her mother-in-law steps in to help with her unpaid work.