Bhagwati, Geeta, and Tulsi are Tribal women from rural Madhya Pradesh. They work hard for over eight hours day and receive just Rs 60. On the other hand, their husbands receive Rs 250 for the same work. The story explores the wage disparity in rural India and how it affects women socially, emotionally, and economically.
In the patriarchal social structure of India, women are often subjected to discrimination on the basis of gender. This discrimination is multidimensional. It happens in the form of physical, sexual, verbal, emotional abuse; trafficking; denial to access education, health services; prevention from social, economic and political participation, etc.
The area which is most affected by this discrimination is employment and wage rates. Most of the women occupy lower positions in the occupational hierarchy.
Moreover, for the same hierarchical position or for the same kind of work, women are being paid less than their male co-workers in many cases. Their work is being undervalued.
In 2015-16, only 24 percent of adult women actively participate in paid economic activities.
After 1991, India experienced rapid urbanization and economic growth. However, it failed to escalate the rate of women’s active economic participation.
In rural areas, due to degradation of small-scale industries, slow growth of the service sector, cultural barriers, and illiteracy, the economic participation of women is limited agricultural sector and other unorganized sectors.
The tribal women in Madhya Pradesh are undergoing this exact turmoil.
Oppressed and Exploited
Bhagwati is from an extremely poor financial background. She works as a daily wage labourer. After working for more than eight hours a day, she earns Rs. 60- Rs. 70. Her husband does the same work and he earns over Rs 200 per day.
It is not unknown to her that she is being exploited. But she does not have any other options except working at very low wage rates.
She is aware of the higher wages in urban and semi-urban areas but due to the family and household responsibilities, shifting to an urban location doesn’t look like a valid option.
Almost all the women of her village work at a very low wage rate while the men earn a lot more than their female counterparts. Only a few women go to the nearest city, Jabalpur, where they earn Rs. 150-250.
She said the women in the region do not get educational opportunities to dream of high paying service sector jobs. Therefore, they have to work as labourers with a very less wage rate. She feels oppressed and exploited.
“The wage rate is so low because the work opportunities are less and the number of labourers is very large,” Bhagwati said.
The demand and supply disequilibrium of labour is affecting income and standard of living of labourers like Bhagwati.
Her income is not enough to meet the food requirements of the family Her earnings are not enough, so, in spite of working equally hards, she is financially dependent on her husband.
Since she earns less, her decision-making capacity in the family is less too. Every household decision is made by her husband.
All of her hard work at home or in the workplace goes unnoticed just because her wage is less.
“From household purchases to reproduction, every decision is taken by my husband. I am considered inferior,” Bhagwati added.
Her social and political participation is also prevented. She is not allowed to participate in community meetings and political campaigns. She believes that the equal wage rate for both male and female will bring empowerment.
The story of Geeta reiterates the story of many borrowers of Milaap. She works as an agricultural labourer from the past 20 years in a remote village called Makhrar.
The maximum amount of wage she receives is Rs. 70 per day. The wage rate was so low that she could not even provide any education to her children.
With her eyes full of tears, Geeta said, “I once suffered from a severe stomach ache, but I did not have money to go for treatment.”
More than the physical pain, her feeling of helplessness due to lack of money during her illness agitates her.
Just like Bhagwati, Geeta too depends upon her husband’s income to make the family’s ends meet.
Her family’s standard of living was so low that fulfilling basic needs was a struggle for her.
“It is not only me who has suffered because of the discriminatory wage rate, but most of the women of my village are also still working at Rs 60-70 daily wage,” she said.
She does not want her family members to suffer what she has gone through. She took a loan from Milaap and started a grocery store. The income from the grocery store allows her to save for the future of her family.
Geeta raises her concerns by saying that there are a lot of women who are still working at a very low wage rate.
“I feel entrepreneurship is the best way to escape from economic discrimination. In fact, escaping from the issue is not the solution; the solution is about receiving what we deserve,” Geeta said.
Tulsi is an agricultural labourer who works at Rs 80 a day. Her husband is also an agricultural labourer, but he earns Rs 250 a day, which is three times higher than Tulsi’s wage.
Sacked for demanding a higher wage
Once she demanded a higher wage rate from an employer and after that, the employer has never hired her for any work.
“Not all employers are men, there are also women employers who pay the women employees relatively less amount of wage than men. Wage discrimination is socially accepted. The women of our village do not have the confidence to raise their voice,” said Bharniya, another victim of wage discrimination.
“Rather than individual demands, we should raise a collective voice to claim our rights,” she added.
Article 39(d) of the Indian constitution mentions that “there is equal pay for equal work for both men and women”. It is not a fundamental right but a constitutional goal, which, our country is yet to achieve. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), in 2017, the wage disparity in India between men and women is as staggering as 30 percent.
Economic exploitation not only makes women poor but also makes women more dependent on their husbands and other family members. It leads to an increase in the social stigma that women are inferior to men.
As a result, they become more vulnerable towards other exploitations, such as domestic violence, sexual abuse, trafficking, prevention from social and political participation, etc. Wage rate is all about what they deserve for their work, and if they do not get what they deserve then it should be considered as exploitation.
Rs. 60 for a whole day work is exploitation!
Photos: Dibyajyoti Khorel
Originally published here, this story is part of the Milaap Fellowship Program. It is a unique opportunity, providing young professionals with a six-month fellowship to contribute to a cause and cover inspiring stories of change.
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