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‘Here, We Are Addicted To Loitering’: Exploring Narratives of Work and Mobility Among Migrant Women in Delhi

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Land, Labour and Livelihoods

Part of the book series: Gender, Development and Social Change ((GDSC))

Abstract

This chapter analyses how migrant women in two specific kinds of paid work—industrial/factory work and home-based work—articulate, understand and perceive economic, social and spatial mobility. Drawing upon fieldwork among women workers living around two industrial estates in the city of Delhi, this chapter argues that the economic agency brought about by paid employment is situated within and shaped by the spatial mobility offered by the city, and the enabling nature of city spaces in relation to the rural. The narratives bring forth complex articulations of social status and honour which, while always being relational to the meanings attached to the rural, call for new ways of understanding and engendering the concept of mobility for migrant women.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The findings of this chapter are based on a research project on migration, industrial work and worker identities in the city of Delhi, conducted at the School of Development Studies, Ambedkar University, Delhi (AUD), with which the authors were associated as researchers. We gratefully acknowledge funding from the Indian Council of Social Science Research, New Delhi, and the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai, for supporting the project. We thank Sumangala Damodaran for her constant guidance and encouragement as Project Director in pursuing the research questions in this chapter, and to all our colleagues for their valuable contributions that enriched our findings. We are grateful to Saumyajit Bhattacharya for comments given on an early draft, and to Bina Fernandez and Orlanda Ruthven for their helpful feedback in fine-tuning subsequent drafts of the chapter. We thank Bindhulakshmi P. for an insightful discussion of the chapter, and participants at the workshop for helpful questions and comments.

  2. 2.

    For women workers, we have captured data on their place of birth, their husband’s native village/town and place of last residence. In this chapter, unless otherwise specified, women workers’ place of origin mostly implies the native place (village/town) of their husbands, from where most of them had migrated to Delhi. Most women workers, as our fieldwork revealed, constantly contrast their experiences of migration and work in the city with the village. On further investigation, in most cases it was found that references to a village by women implied their husbands’ village. Cases where this understanding differed involved women migrants who came to Delhi at a young age with their parents, generally prior to marriage.

  3. 3.

    All names are pseudonyms.

  4. 4.

    In our sample survey, the range of monthly earnings for women workers was extremely narrow, ranging from a minimum of 200 rupees to a maximum of 5,000 rupees. The minimum figure is not surprising, as several home-based workers, who work according to piece-rates, reported meagre earnings that fluctuated according to the production cycle in factories. Contrarily, the monthly earnings of male workers were spread out from a minimum of 2,500 rupees to a maximum of 60,000 rupees. Furthermore, the monthly median earnings were notably lower for women workers (4,000 rupees) compared to that of male workers (8,500 rupees).

  5. 5.

    Across varied industrial categories in our sample—such as the manufacturing of steel utensils, food products, garments and textiles, plastic products, toys and so on—women were concentrated in operations such as labelling, packing and packaging. These operations are viewed as halka kaam (light work) and thus deemed appropriate for women, relegating them to tasks on the lower end of the labour hierarchy, with lower pay, which gives rise to the gendered nature of these tasks.

  6. 6.

    The original statement in Hindi from which this is translated is: ‘Aur yahan, humein awarapan ki aadat hai.’

  7. 7.

    We use the term ‘hegemonic femininities’ in the way Raka Ray (2000) applies it, wherein one’s husband’s ability to earn a living and take care of his wife is central. Working-class women find themselves struggling with hegemonic femininities, as their husband’s income may often not be sufficient, and leads to women having to work outside the home (see Ray 2000).

  8. 8.

    Kandiyoti (1988, 275) argues that, ‘women strategize within a set of concrete constraints that reveal and define the blueprint of … the patriarchal bargain of any given society, which may exhibit variations according to class, caste, and ethnicity. These patriarchal bargains exert a powerful influence on the shaping of women’s gendered subjectivity and determine the nature of gender ideology in different contexts.’

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Sharma, S., Kunduri, E. (2016). ‘Here, We Are Addicted To Loitering’: Exploring Narratives of Work and Mobility Among Migrant Women in Delhi. In: Land, Labour and Livelihoods. Gender, Development and Social Change. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-40865-1_10

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