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Travelblog: Once in a lifetime voyage to the heart of India.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Irony

The life of a rural India woman is akin to that of a lioness. A lioness hunts, feeds her cubs and then eats herself. Similarly, the India woman cooks for the whole family, serves them and then eats from what is leftover.

Drive into the village before 10 am and you will find women walking in colorful saris to the wells for water, or scrubbing clothes at the closest pond. Most women haven’t had a single thing to eat, only a small cup of chai.

A typical village woman has done at least 3 hours of housework before 10 am. She has washed clothes, filled water, washed dishes, and cooked a full meal. As soon as she is done cooking the meal, serving and cleaning the dishes after the meal, she will be walking to the field where she will work for 4-7 hours (6 months of the year). She’ll return to make chai for the family at 5pm, and as soon as she is done she begins preparations for dinner. She will serve the whole family before eating herself, followed by more cleaning. This time the dishes and the kitchen. Once the kitchen is clean, she will get the kids ready for bed before retiring herself. Even then she is probably not done fulfilling her "duties".

Men also work. They buy the groceries on market day, feed the animals, and tend to the field for 6-10 hours a day. Men during hard agriculture time are in the fields by 8 am, and will work till dusk taking a break for lunch. After that they are free to do as they please. Drive into the village before 10 am or any time of the day, however, and you will always find a few men "chilling" at the pan stall, or the chai stall or my personal favorite, playing cards—rami (refer to "Men of Gadchiroli" pictures).

My first week in the village, I really thought my eyes were deceiving me. I kept asking Sanjay if men really had enough free time to hang-out with their buddies and play cards for hours. He assured me it was the reality of village life. All the household duties are seen as a woman’s job including fetching wood for the stove. It’s a "purush pradhan" (rough translation: men ruling/dominated) society he kept saying with a chuckle. And therefore men do not do housework (both men and women believe this) or take care of the children. In fact, their duties are limited to "heavy" fieldwork and "outside" work (i.e. running errands, and going to the market).

I’ve waited till the end to write this entry because I secretly hoped I would uncover some hidden truth that would prove me wrong. Instead, I found evidence backing what I have been witnessing for seven weeks.

A 1981 study by Batliwala looking at the total energy contribution to the village found the respective contributions of men, women and children were 31%, 53% and 16%. Another study in 1988 found that men had 6.7 hours of leisure time while women had 3.5 hours free daily. The study also found that women exert more energy then they take in while men take in more then they exert by nearly 300 kcals.

This is not surprising in the least as men are served first and given the lion's share of the food. As household heads, men are also entitled to have the best choice of meat. Men make double what women make for the same number of hours worked in the field. Women make 20-30 Rs. while men make 50 Rs. They do heavier work, so they should get paid more is the rational. Because they make more money, they ‘wear the pants’ in the family.

Ask any pregnant women if she prefers a boy or a girl and chances are she prefers a boy. Women have their tubes tied after two children if one of them is a boy, but usually keep trying for a male otherwise.

Mothers have their little girls cleaning dishes, chopping onions, fetching water and mopping the floor from the time they are five. The girl has to leave her mother’s house and needs to learn all these things I’m old.

This patriotically system has existed for hundred of years because both men and women allow it to exist and most believe it is the way is should be. Women in the villages are able to do everything men can do. In the tribal areas women even do all the heavy agricultural work. Without the women, village life would come to a standstill. Women do more work, yet they are treated like the inferior sex (if you only saw the way they are talked to and I haven’t even discussed alcoholisms). Men are given the lion’s share, the higher wages, the luxury of more free time, and the power to demand anything because they are viewed as the stronger, more superior sex.

haven’t figured out why the Y chromosome is favored even after weeks of investigation. A few weeks ago, a cute grandmother asked me why I had no brother. What difference does it make I responded. She gave me a puzzled look and said, "Who will carry on your family name?"

I had this gender role conversation with a table full of males during lunch one Saturday afternoon. Men doing kitchen, housework is okay for you city people because both husband and wife work, one said. If the gender roles were to get mixed up in the village, it would cause lots of fights he added. When we talked about distribution of work, most felt that it was equal.

I’m not advocating for gender equality, or change in the distribution of work, just wondering what happened to respect for these women as human beings. What I got in return were puzzled looks no different the one the grandmother had given me earlier.

These wonder women, as Dr. Bang calls them, in saris sustain village life, but it’s the ones lucky enough to have a Y chromosome who enjoy all the privileges and power.


At 7:17 AM, Blogger Ami said...

Gargs, your blogs have been great! And i love the pictures that you were able to post up. Gives us an idea of how RURUL it is. I can't believe you stayed there for two months - What an experience! The research you did sounds so interesting, you've learned so much from these women's stories, thanks for sharing. Looking forward to hearing more stories when you're back.

At 6:55 AM, Blogger Raj Kanani said...

Gargs... absolutely incredible blog entries. I'm going to try to give you a call soon. We may be in Delhi the same time you're there...


At 11:28 PM, Blogger Seema Patel said...

So compelling to read these stories from the field. Was reading the part where you said you were contemplating whether or not to keep a blog at all; am so relieved you decided on the former! These accounts will be priceless in the future. Fruits of your study, too, sound fantastic. Props to you for enduring two whole months there. Look forward to hearing more stories in person, indeed. Question--what was the most surprising thing about your trip (personally, professionally, anything)?

At 10:00 AM, Blogger Gargi said...


The most surprising thing about the whole trip... so many things, EVERYTHING was a surprise...really! it's such a different world.

The most, however, has to be the love these people have to offer. They really have an incredibly hard life, but their smiles are some of the biggest I've ever seen. They have very little to offer, but the little they do have to offer they give with so much love...it makes it priceless. The love and kindness that everyone (from the Bang family, to the SEARCH staff, and the villagers) showed me is natural to who they are and not just reserved for me alone.

It's not like I'm deprived of love and kindness in my life here in America....:) I hope I didn't make it sound that way. It's just surprising to recieve such kindness from strangers. It was surpring how quickly I felt at home.

One more thing that falls into the most surprising (I really could go on forever) category. These people are content with their lives in general and it's contagious.

I just wrote a novel when no one is reading this blog anymore. we can discuss more later over email or phone. ahh! you just made me miss that world...I would go back in a heartbeat.


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