Madhu Devi Damor
Madhu, a 26-year-old tribal woman, lives in a rural, hilly area of Dungarpur District in Rajasthan, India, in an extended family of her husband (aged 30), three young children (two sons aged seven and one, and a daughter aged five), her parents-in-law (aged 60 and 50), her husband’s brother (aged 45) and sister (age not known). There are four earning members of the family – her husband travels to Ahmedabad for construction work about once a year for about two months depending on the needs of the family (currently he does no paid work), his mother takes up Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) employment, and his brother also earns an income. Madhu herself has had no schooling and she has worked in an anganwadi (public childcare centre provided under the Integrated Child Development Scheme) as an Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) Sahayogini (helper), mobilising the community on health issues since 2008. With this work she makes home visits to provide information, to counsel and to check on the health of pregnant, lactating women and young children.
The family is also engaged in farming on their own land for consumption purposes, although the amount of land that they now till is far less as much of it has been submerged; this is due to the construction of a dam close by, for which they received meagre compensation. This has affected the household’s production of food grains for their own use.
Madhu’s place of employment is located quite far away and the terrain is hilly; it takes her an hour to walk one way. She has to cover ten houses per day as part of her job as an ASHA worker, and given the terrain the work is laborious, intense and tedious. She spends four hours every day on her paid work for which she gets Rs 1,500 rupees per month, which she thinks is insufficient for the work that she performs. Until last year, her salary was much worse – she earned only Rs 500 per month, the same salary that she has earned since she started working as an ASHA worker in 2008. She is involved in collective bargaining for better wages for ASHA workers.
The household work of collecting water and firewood, cooking and cleaning are shared between Madhu, her sister-in-law and her mother-in-law, who each take turns with the chores. Madhu herself wakes up early to look after the children, and helps with the chores before she leaves for work at nine in the morning. She returns from work at five in the evening, and is immediately engaged with unpaid care work. She spends about three hours every day on unpaid work. Her older two children go to school, and the youngest is looked after by her mother-in-law, and/or her sister-in-law when Madhu is at work. When her husband is at home and not working in the fields, he also keeps an eye on the children. Madhu cannot take the children with her to her workplace because of the long hours it takes to walk there and back. The family rely on female kin to help with care work when other female members are engaged in paid work. For instance, when Madhu’s mother-in-law is employed by MGNREGA, Madhu’s sister-in-law takes leave to look after the children, and vice versa. Madhu herself takes leave from work (if necessary with a pay cut) to help with farming their land.
Unlike other men in the neighbourhood who would prefer their wives to become housewives in the event of a turn for the better in their economic fortunes, Madhu’s husband recognises the value of work. He says, ‘money comes and goes, but we have to keep working’. This is also borne out of a recognition of the necessity of work: ‘if one day money comes and we stop working, we will enjoy the money for two days and what will happen the third day?’ On being asked whether he would ever want his wife to stop working, he responds, ‘How will that happen? It won’t happen… we will have to work’. There is also a recognition of the contribution of women to the household: ‘the house doesn’t work without her, the amount of work the women do, the men can’t.’
Madhu’s family members all mentioned the physical challenges she endures due to the hilly terrain creating long hours of walking:
It also has negative impacts on the body and that is how much she has to walk everyday… yes, she gets tired. Look, there are hills here, you have to climb and get down to get to the other side. Tiredness does happen.
Madhu herself says, ‘these are hilly areas, since we have to walk around, we are bound to feel tired’. The emotional impact of delicately balancing her work responsibilities are also recognised by her husband: