Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh

Case study

Shashikala Sailesh

12th grade educated Shashikala faces discrimination at paid work while coping with household tensions
It [home-based work] is good as it serves both the purpose, she can stay at home she can do the household chores and even earn. My mind also would be at peace.

Shashikala (32 years old) lives with her husband, Animesh (35 years old) and their four-year-old daughter. They live in a rented one-room house. Both Shashikala and Animesh have both studied up to 12th grade and they both do paid work to make ends meet. While Shashikala works as a domestic worker, Animesh does not have a regular job; instead he does ‘odd jobs’ picking up work when it is available such as painting or repair works. There are days when Animesh stays unemployed due to lack of available work and has to face losses in income, routine and job security.  Shashikala on the other hand works as a domestic worker at only one house; she says, ‘I have taken up only one house because of my child. Otherwise I will end up spending more time [at paid work] if I take up more houses. Who will take care of her then?’ However, both Animesh and Shashikala feel that they are better educated compared to their peers and they ought to find better jobs but are unable to. Shashikala works for approximately five hours per day seven days of the week. She cycles to her workplace everyday taking about 15–30 minutes each way.

Shashikala feels discriminated at her workplace as her employers do not like her to drink filtered water – they give her unfiltered water in a glass or utensil kept separate for her. She is also not allowed to use the toilet, she goes out in the open if she needs to. She explained, ‘yes, they give other water from the container utensil, or from the earthen pot which is used for cooking, they’ll give that… [laughs]… some people treat the domestic worker as a servant… we are humans after all, domestic workers so what? We are still humans!’ Her work involves cooking two meals, but often her employers make her do other work without paying her extra for this work: ‘they keep telling me a lot of work… do this also, that also… such as cleaning the fridge, dusting… they are elderly so… ’. But she says, ‘they only give [salary] for cooking but they could give even Rs 50… then I can buy my vegetables… ’. Shashikala is also expected to work the entire month, if she has to take a leave, they make her do extra work to compensate for her leave. Shashikala receives Rs 2,000 monthly salary for her work, which she feels is one third of the government rate for a domestic work doing the same work. Shashikala does not have a crèche or a day care facility for her daughter near her workplace.

Animesh is not happy with Shashikala’s work as it is low paying and is not socially reputable. He says, ‘Well, I don’t like it. Many times I told her not to go out for work, but even she cannot help. It is a necessity at least to pay the house rent, to meet other expenses.’ It is especially disturbing to him during their daughter’s school vacations as she too has to be cared for. Animesh tries to go late to work in the mornings but he finds it annoying when Shashikala takes longer in returning home when her employers make her do extra work.

Yes that is the only problem, my duty time is disturbed, sometimes I have to wait, she would tell me that she will come back by nine or ten and then I keep waiting. Now she has no fixed time to come back home!

When they go to work, the couple have to leave their daughter under their neighbours’ care (who happen to be Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) workers) or leave her at the pre-school that runs downstairs. But they worry for their child as the neighbours or the pre-school may not be as mindful. Her daughter was severely injured recently when Shashikala was away and the neighbours did not pay attention – her daughter slipped out and went onto the road. Referring to Shashikala’s work, Animesh conveyed, ‘she doesn’t get enough money even, this trouble is not worth for mere Rs 1,500 or Rs 2,000, the family life also gets disturbed.’ He also believes that managing the household is primarily a woman’s work. ‘Yes a man can do 10 or 20 per cent of the work, but rest is a woman’s responsibility,’ he said. He also acknowledged that there is conflict at home, ‘when she goes out to earn and I need to do the work at home, when I am not able to do, I shout at her and tell her that there is no need to go out and work.’

Despite Animesh’s beliefs on women’s role, he generally relents and looks after the family and the household when Shashikala is away at paid work or is unwell. Recently they had to face a medical emergency when Shashikala had a sudden miscarriage of their second child. She had to be hospitalised for 15 days and she could not exert herself for about a month more. At that time Animesh took care of everything, including taking care of Shashikala and their daughter. He had to miss his work for those many days, and thereafter lost his job. They had to take loans in order to meet their medical and household expenses.

With the nature of informal work and lack of proper support in the form of childcare facilities at the workplace or affordable day care facilities, the best solution that the family thought would be helpful, was better paying home-based work for Shashikala. According to Animesh ‘It [home-based work] is good as it serves both the purpose, she can stay at home she can do the household chores and even earn. My mind also would be at peace.’ The other option is of a regular job in the formal sector which is better paid and offers facilities that support child care, and offers decent work conditions such as allowance for leaves, medical cover, etc. So far only SEWA has been useful in helping them with scholarships for their daughter’s education and informally taking care of her child when she is away.

About Shashikala Sailesh

Household (Nuclear)
Male headed
1 children
Contains male(s)
No care responsibilties for disabled people
No migrant(s)
No care responsibilties for older people
Domestic work
Self-Employed Women's Association of India (SEWA)
Joint control
Family/community support
Paid care
Public services
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Activities shown are a single day snapshot in the life of the woman.