Leena (40 years old) and Dinesh (45 years old) live in a slum area in Ujjain, Indore. They are parents to twins, a girl and a boy, who are one-and-a-half years old. Leena’s mother, Damini, who is over 80 years old, has come to stay with them to take care of the children, particularly when Leena is away at work. Leena, like many other women in the locality, is a domestic worker and her husband, Dinesh, is a porter who finds work in nearby markets. While Leena’s work is regular and she gets paid a fixed salary at the end of the month, Dinesh’s work is irregular and dependent on day-to-day availability. He has to leave home early in the morning to wait for work at the meeting place that all of the daily wage workers collect. They wait hoping that trucks or vehicles will take them to load or offload sacks or boxes of material at the market. Dinesh says, ‘yes, if there is work, we get it. Sometimes work is there and sometimes not.’ Leena works for approximately three hours a day, seven days a week. She walks to her place of work, which takes her about 15 minutes.
Leena has had to cut down on her paid work since the birth of her children; she says,
Earlier I was working and earning around Rs 4,000–Rs 5,000/month. But now I can earn only Rs 2,500/month. My children are small and my work has doubled because of them as I have to look after them. She [mother] cannot handle them for long… there are two children… always running around.
Although Damini stays with them to take care of the children, as she is old she is not able to look after them entirely. In addition to giving time to her children, Leena still has to cook, clean, wash, and shop for the household. Dinesh fetches water to use for domestic purposes each day from a hand pump in the vicinity, and collects drinking water from nearby homes. He also looks after the children if he finds time, but does not take an interest in other household chores even when he is home. Thus the main responsibility of care work is on the women of the household; this is expressed by Leena when she says: ‘my mother came to help me and take care of the children… who else would do it otherwise?’ Leena’s role as a domestic worker entails her working at someone else’s house and she cannot take her children to her workplace as they may disturb her employers; neither does she have access to an affordable crèche facility where she can leave her children. In the absence of any support from the community, Leena was left with no option but to depend on her mother for childcare.
Leena and Damini both complain of tiredness and that they lack choice in their daily activities. If Leena did not work the family would incur a loss in her steady income, which is crucial to cover health costs, especially for her children. Damini, on the other hand, feels compelled by her moral duty to help her daughter. Leena says, ‘my children take up most of my time’, and therefore she does not have time to join organisations such as the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) and attend their meetings. Leena feels that the provision of a crèche facility in the community would be a great help, particularly because SEWA in Madhya Pradesh does not run a crèche.
Dinesh does not have a workers’ identity card through which he could take advantage of concessions at government hospitals and the fair price shop for his family. They have to cover health expenditures out of their low earnings. Dinesh explains that the family prefers to go to a private clinic if they have the money, because according to him, ‘the treatment given in government hospitals is not good.’ He feels that the ‘government does provide facilities but it does not reach the poor people.’
Leena has been receiving her family’s support to bring about some balance between her paid and unpaid work. However, external support, mainly from the state, would further improve her time management. Leena says, ‘We don’t have a crèche here, it is important to have one here. If the kids were going to a crèche, I would have been able to do my work.’ There are a few privately run crèches in the vicinity but Leena is unable to afford them with her meager income, and the pre-schools run by the state are for older children in the three to six age group.