This is a series of stories featuring a few women staying in a small basti in Ranchi, Jharkhand, who are the epitome of women empowerment. There are multiple townships in this beautiful capital city and this basti is in close vicinity to one of these townships. People here are poor and perform jobs such as domestic-help, cook, pull rickshaws; work as gardeners, vegetable sellers or daily wage labourers etc. You can see the women coming and going out of the basti throughout the day for their daily chores. Most of these women belong to the Adivasi tribe.
In today’s era, where one of our primary goals is equality and empowerment for women, where we are looking for support systems such as access to education, opportunities, maternity benefits, family support etc., these women have been skillfully handling their work and home for ages. I feel that each of these women are heroes and inspire us to keep marching ahead.
Today, babywearing is a big concept. And, why shouldn’t it be! It has immense benefits for both baby and mother. Be it wraps, slings or structured carriers, multiple brands compete in this segment globally.
The women in this basti have been doing this for the longest time. They use a stole, a shawl or a towel to tie their baby on the back or carry them sideways. The baby snuggles tightly around the mother as she goes about her work. When I see these women rushing to their workplaces and the baby peacefully sleeping in their wraps, I feel a sense of pride.
Basanti, one of the everyday heroes I met here, introduced me to Babita.
I entered one of the narrow lanes in the basti leading to her home and found her cooking instant noodles for her 2.5-year-old daughter on the firewood stove. The baby was hungry and it was time for her nap. That’s when this ready-to-cook snack came to her rescue.
Her three-month-old son was sleeping, and so, she was able to spend some time with me.
Here’s Babita’s story, as narrated by her:
I was born here. My parents used to sell fish. Since I had six siblings, there wasn’t much focus on education. I left the basti early in my childhood to work as a full-time domestic help. I don’t remember exactly, but I may have been 10 or 11-years-old.
I stayed with a family in Lucknow for almost 6-7 years. They were kind people who took care of me as their own. In those years, I got so much love that I rarely missed my parents.
After that, I moved to Delhi with the help of an agency. Then, a few years ago, I got married and moved back to the basti.
She smiles as she tells me that her husband is from Chhattisgarh and that he is three years younger than her. She continues.
I have known him since my childhood and it’s his good nature that convinced me to marry him. He’s unlike others. He takes care of me, helps me with household chores, and doesn’t quarrel. I am lucky to have married him. He works as a coolie (porter). It is contractual work, so there are days when he gets work and days when he doesn’t.
Does she like her work? She answers, “Kaam to karna hi hai,” (We have to work anyhow).”
The good part about my work is that I have flexibility and can request for an advance from my salary when desperate. However, nagging and trivial arguments at work irk me.
My only goal in life is that my kids should not end up doing what I do. I can’t even describe my day to you. I get up between 4-5 every morning; there are days when I cannot go to the washroom until noon. My kids keep my hands full. A mother’s job is the most difficult and demanding one. I don’t speak for myself alone, as all mothers go through this phase.
Currently, I am working as a domestic help in one house. I wear my baby to work. Now, as he is growing, he tries to jump out of the wrap. I am keen to get an opportunity to work as a cook-for-hire. I have asked a few ladies in the basti for references. Let’s see if any of it materialises. Honestly, I would rather start and run a beauty parlour (salon). I love that work.
While in Lucknow, I had learnt a few tricks of the trade. I can do manicures and pedicures. I wanted to enrol myself in a government-offered beautician course but then I found that I was expecting my second baby. So, I had to drop that plan for the time being. For the next five years, my focus is just going to be on my kids and their upbringing.
There are so many thoughts on my mind. Sometimes, I think that in future, I should enrol my children in a hostel and go to Delhi for work. I will get around Rs 10,000-15,000 monthly. But that’s my brain talking and my heart condemns this thought, saying how can I abandon my kids and live by myself.
Babita is not on any digital platform because of her daughter who used to peek at her mobile screen, and so, she took the call to go offline. She is a young woman of 25 with dreams, courage, and the determination to turn her fate around.
To know how you can help Babita, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Written by Malavika and Edited by Shruti Singhal)