Mothers on the Move: Women Migrant Construction Workers in Udaipur

Bhomalibai gets up at 5 in the morning. She fetches water, cleans, cooks and prepares to leave for work. Often as she steps out of the house, Bhomali stops for a moment to look back at her children, cuddled together in their dreams.

She is a construction worker in the nearby city, 70 km from her village. Along with her friends, she walks for 8 kms to take the 6:30 bus. It is often packed with workers like her, men and women. On a lucky day, she would get a place to stand comfortably, with no one stamping on her feet or crushing her.

At the naka, she waits for the contractor to find work for her. She never goes to a work site alone but with fellow women workers. It is more secure that way but it is often difficult to find someone ready to employ more than one helper. Sometimes she finds work, sometimes she doesn’t.

The evening bus takes her back to the village. The 8 km walk to her hamlet, gives her ample time to think about what to prepare for dinner. 4-year-old Bhantu is mostly asleep by then and the 8-year-old Sita is dozing off next to his bed. She looks at her daughter hoping that life will be simpler for her.

Jandaksha, an organization determined to work with migrant women, conducted a study to generate a profile of female migrant workers. 1448 women workers of the construction sector in Udaipur city were interviewed and the story is not very different with them. The interviews were conducted at the Nakas in the Udaipur city of Southern Rajasthan, where they gather every morning to find work. Predominantly tribal (91%), they enter the market with little education or skills. The literacy levels are found to be abysmally low, with the literacy level of 23% as against the female literacy level of 65.46% at national level and 52.66% in Rajasthan. 95.38% of the women don’t possess employable skill and a little over 3% know tailoring. The findings show that most women in the construction sector (in Udaipur) are between the ages of 20 – 30 years.  This is about 44% of the respondents; equally distributed among the age group of 20 – 25 and 25 – 30 years.  Following this approximately 19% and 15% of the women are 30 – 34 and 35 – 40 years old respectively. The numbers are meager for older and younger women. 73% of the women are married and the remaining 27% are single women, mostly the sole breadwinners of the household.

They are employed with a range of income generation activities through the year with 51% reporting involvement in village labour, 41% in agriculture, 4% as domestic help and 3% as tailors. Agriculture and tailoring are seasonal, with work picking up during monsoons and wedding season respectively. In the construction sector, they are often employed in unskilled work of loading and material preparation. They easily find work in road construction and RCC (Roller Compacted Concrete). A meager 1% of the women are masons, but they don’t regularly find work and often engage in unskilled tasks. The average daily wage for women workers in Rs 100, vis-à-vis Rs 150 of a male unskilled worker.  The average monthly income ranges from 1500 to 2500, which is about 40-60% of the household income.

88% of the migrants are intra-district migrants, most of who are daily commuters traveling from nearby rural areas to Udaipur city. About 7% come from other districts of Rajasthan and 5% are inter-state migrant workers from Bihar, MP and Gujarat. Women migrant workers from outside Udaipur are more vulnerable, engaging in longer hours of work and no access to safe and hygienic shelter.

From the study, it is clear that women migrant workers are a significant contributor to the family income. They are also primarily responsible for a lot of tasks like home management and child-rearing that are not even economically accounted for. Yet they struggle to get the respect and support that they deserve from their families and community at large. The women shared their experiences of how the villagers question their dignity and conduct.  They bear the burden of the household and social responsibility with little aid from the family, market or the state policy environment. Support from NGOs and other organizations in this sector could make a huge difference to the issues faced by this large and vulnerable section of the labour community.

With increasing feminization of migration, there has been an explosion of both opportunities and vulnerabilities of women migrants. Whilst migration itself is an important national as well as global phenomena today, considerable amount of work remains to be done for women migrants in India. Although migration does open up avenues for women to challenge traditional patriarchal systems offering them a chance to negotiate power, it also presents them with problems that significantly worsen their position. Gender specific aspects of migration such as security, female autonomy, discrepancy in wages, sexual exploitation amongst many others need to be considered while working with them and more importantly for policies and legislation.

– Zaineb Ali (Aajeevika Bureau)

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