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The many faces of women’s migration from Rajasthan

Conversations with women in southern Rajasthan reveal the changing nature of migration, as newly married women migrate with their husbands to work as kitchen ‘helpersIn southern Rajasthan, male migration has traditionally been a common phenomenon among the Adivasi community due to destruction of natural habitats and limited work opportunitiesEnvironmental degradation coupled with financial constraints have pushed many men to look for work elsewhere. However, a new trend has emerged. Newly married women from Udaipur’s Gogunda Block migrate with their husbands to Gujarat and Maharashtra and work in the kitchens of hotels and hostels She came back to Rajasthan when her sons grew up and needed to enroll in school. Her migration, which once gave her an opportunity, now seems like a distant memory. There are Gujarati-medium schools mostly, and the Hindi-medium ones are expensive. Because of the inaccessible education system, she is compelled to stay behind


We previously had a limited understanding of women’s migration, focussing mainly on the trend of families from Banswara district moving to Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, primarily for construction work. Our prior knowledge of the working conditions for women and adolescent girls portrayed a grim picture, marked by physical exhaustion, persistent malnutrition (even during pregnancy), and the constant specter of sexual harassmentHowever, our conversations with women from various villages in Gogunda revealed a complex nature of migration, shaped by intricate societal structures. Some of these women we spoke with were visiting to help families for the Kharif crop season, or have returned to their homes permanently, because they dared to speak up for themselves


These women shared their diverse experiences and varied impacts of migration on their lives and familiesTara, a mother of three young daughters, Ganga, Monika and Geeta, works in a hotel in Rajkot with her husband. For the last four years, she has been cooking in the hotel’s kitchen. She has left behind two of her daughters with her relatives in GogundaThey only allow one child to stay with us and since Geeta is the youngest, she travels with us. We have enrolled the other two in a school there [in Gogunda], but they are not consistent because nobody keeps an eye on them,” says Tara. Her expression showed how she has been left with an agonising choice—leaving behind her two children, and the wage she seeks to earn to take care of themWe just had one task to do there—I used to clean the kitchen and in turn, I was getting good food and the privilege of working in a place with a functional fan,” she adds



However, Tara’s main concern lies with her husband’s drinking habits. When they are at the workplace, everything seems fine. Tara feels content and her husband remains sober, as alcohol is strictly prohibited within the campusHowever, as soon as they return to their home in Gogunda, her husband starts drinking again. This leads to frequent arguments and even physical abuse, leaving Tara deeply troubledI live like you there,” she pointed out to our attires. “I just apply sindoor and nothing else is compulsory. I can wear a suit, or even a saree,” she says, as if shedding the heavy burden of wearing a traditional lehenga choli offers her respiteTara isn’t the only woman who doesn’t want to come back to her village after working in a big city like Rajkot or Ahmedabad. Women workers are torn between the worlds they inhabit; they stand between the societal expectations of leaving work for family and the different life cities offer


The gap between these two worlds is quite evidentSonu, 23, a mother of two, came back to her husband’s village Dadiya, during the COVID-19 pandemic and never went backShe first went to Ahmedabad when she was 10 years old, with her uncle who worked at the airport. “It was not my first time living away from home. I went with my uncle and lived there for two years. I wanted to see the aeroplanes and thought I could study anytime but this is my only chance to go out and see them taking off,” her eyes sparkle as she recalls those daysEven after getting married at the age of 12, she found the courage to speak up about her previous experiences. “I am not afraid ma’am. During one of our jobs, my husband and I were made to stay along with other men because there were not a lot of women working in those spaces back then. I raised my concern and asked my husband, who is quite understanding, to get work somewhere else,” she says


As private ownership grows and public education declines in the state, inequalities between disadvantaged and privileged groups have become more apparent. The lack of access due to language barriers keeps the cycle of marginalisation goingAnother concern emerged during our conversations—that despite their vital contributions, women failed to recognise themselves as workersWomen working alongside their husbands raises intriguing questions about the evolving migration patterns. To truly understand this shift and the motivation behind women’s inclusion, it is imperative to delve into the complicated ways in which both men and women perceive women’s roles in this processWhen asked about her decision to accompany her husband to Ahmedabad, Ganeshi Bai’s response was rooted in the belief that she was needed to assist him Many women find themselves cast into the role of a ‘helper’. However, this seemingly innocuous term conceals a significant imbalance. It also reveals a subtle yet significant form of labour exploitation since it diminishes the magnitude

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