Having had the privilege of living in rural tribal India, if I were to define a rural woman from tribal India I would say, a part-time entrepreneur, a mother to at least three children or more, a part-time unskilled MNREGA worker, an ardent housewife and in some cases a skilled farmer.
Women in rural spaces perhaps don’t enjoy the autonomy over making economic decisions, but in the majority of the cases, they happen to be active contributors to the economy of the household. Just like the man of the house, they, too, work on their farms, day in and day out. Many are participants of self-help groups and very often, they tend to run small businesses together for alternate sources of income.
They can also be seen reaping the benefits of the MNREGA scheme during their spare days. Meanwhile also running their households, nourishing their families and taking care of their houses.
They start their day early on, from sweeping their house to cooking breakfast, packing lunch for their husbands, fetching litres of water, sending their children to school in time, they only rest for a few minutes before they have to leave to work on farms until dusk.
On days when farms don’t need much attention, many can be seen sowing and harvesting a kitchen garden, or nourishing flowers to beautify their houses post-lunch. Those women who simultaneously run a small enterprise on the sides will be found contributing to their businesses if not the farms.
Irrespective of their livelihood engagements, dinner must be prepared by them on time for their family. Many times, I wonder if the idea of “I need space for myself” has ever crossed their minds. Being the epitome of the most selfless members of their families, they often don’t get the respect they deserve even though they spend their entire youth on their families’ well-being.
These small enterprises that are run by entrepreneurial women are popularly food-based, tailoring based or handicraft based. The production, marketing and accounts departments are maintained by women. Often, it is noticed that a woman, if not supported by her family, is forced to leave an enterprise. An enterprise for women is not only a source of income but a way to interact with other women.
I have often heard stories about social movements being conceived in women-run enterprises in rural India. Their enthusiasm and zeal to produce goods are unmatched but very often, that enthusiasm is seen staggering due to a lack of market to buy their products.
This highlights a prominent issue: either they don’t have the confidence to market their own products or there is a possibility of families not allowing women to step outside village boundaries to sell their products.
Private spaces and workspaces are both implicitly controlled by the families of these women, who have to seek permission for every penny of investment made in their enterprise. Liberty and freedom are concepts unheard of amongst rural women, from the initial days of their lives they are taught to unquestioningly serve their families in happiness and in despair.
Peeping into a day of this woman, who is being referred to here, exhausts me, just by looking at it. Her struggles have become a part of her lifestyle so much so that she doesn’t complain. It is her endeavour for her future generations to lead a better life, though this ‘better’ whose definition remains vague or unknown to her.
It is a wicked problem that self sustains in an ecosystem like this. Carrying forward, the daughter of this woman or the daughter in law of this woman also undergoes the same unsung hardships.