Varsha, a 27-year-old Adivasi woman, lives in a remote village in Dungarpur District, Nepal in a nuclear family with her husband (aged 30) and two young children: a son (aged four) and daughter (aged two). Varsha has not had any schooling and like other women in the area, she does unpaid work on the family farm, and all the unpaid care work for her household as well as paid work when it is available under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). Her unpaid work on the farm is highly seasonal as they grow only a single crop during monsoons. Her husband migrates for work to Ahmedabad as a daily wage labourer and is away four to eight months of the year depending on availability of work. He returns home when there is some family event (for example, a death or wedding), or if he is required urgently at home for anything. Otherwise, he is home during the monsoon season for agricultural work on their own land.
Varsha’s parents-in-law passed away suddenly last year and this has caused a turn for the worse in Varsha’s wellbeing. This was because she looked to them for support in her unpaid care work responsibilities when her husband was away, particularly when she herself had to take on paid work. Her mother-in-law would help with the care of her young children and her father-in-law would help with grazing the animals. He would also take care of agricultural work, so his son could earn more as a migrant labourer without having to return so often. Now with the loss of her parents-in-law, there is no support for Varsha. She has to do everything for the household: collect water (for which she has to walk 1.5km each way), get fodder, firewood, pay for grinding her grains into flour, graze the animals, cook food, clean the house, and look after the children. She spends about six hours every day on this work. When he is home, her husband helps with collecting the water, looking after the children and grazing the animals, but he is mostly away.
Varsha finds it very difficult to look after the children particularly when she has MGNREGA work, where she has to spend eight hours a day. She takes them along with her to work, which is 15–30 minutes away by foot, because as she says, ‘I have no choice but to take them with me’. However, there is no facility at the worksite for care of children, so her attention is divided at work. Instead of a supportive environment at her workplace, she feels pressured by both the mate and her co-workers to contribute equally to work. Although there is an anganwadi centre (childcare centre under the Integrated Child Development Scheme) available near her home, it does not adequately cater to the care of children under three. When Varsha is ill, her neighbours step in to help, but as she says, if she is ill for longer than a few days they are unable to help as well due to their own work pressures, and Varsha feels helpless during these times: ‘I just lie here, I can’t even fill water then.’ Overall, Varsha recognises that her overburden of work is stressful, but as she stoically puts it, ‘whether I am tense or tired, I have no choice but to do the work... I have to go to work, graze the goats, do the housework.’ Pointing to her desire to have her husband contribute to lessening her burdens, she says, ‘isn’t tension inevitable? The husband is not at home…’