Warming her hands around a small glass of tea, Sudha sits quietly outside her house gazing at the sky. It’s 5 am, a nip is in the air as Delhi winter sets in, and this is the only time of the day she will get for herself. Sudha, 40, a domestic worker lives in Mandawali, a huge settlement for the underprivileged in East Delhi which was regularized in 2012. “My working hours are five to nine daily,” says Sudha, a mother of two, “but I like working, I am not dependent on my husband and I contribute more than him to run our household.”

I like working, I am not dependent on my husband and I contribute more than him to run our household.”

Sudha is one of the many women in this settlement who feel their work empowers them. “I have a voice now because I bring money at home, I stand-up to my husband when it comes to my daughter’s education,” says Rajkumari, who came to Delhi 15 years ago from a small village in U.P. and is committed to making a better life for her children. The women in this small urban community of the underprivileged are no longer ready to be pushed around, at home or in the society. “We work hard and we want what we deserve,” says Shanti, who washes dishes to earn a livelihood, “neither my husband nor any neta can take me for granted. I am as important for them as they are for me,” she adds. Though Shanti was married against her wishes at a very young age in a village in Bihar she has pledged not to let the same fate dictate her daughter’s life. “My daughter will choose her own husband, and now I will choose my own neta,” she says with a smile on her face.

“My daughter will choose her own husband, and now I will choose my own neta

Key Takeaways

  • The women in this small urban community of the underprivileged are no longer ready to be pushed around, at home or in the society.
  • Their aim is to ensure their children are not forced to do the same work as them.
  • Approach to healthcare is another important issue they seek answers from any political party
  • Women are no longer shy of expressing their dissent or hesitant to demand what they deserve.

While our hypersensitive national debates centre around raising questions on a poster being held by a foreign CEO, it is small revolutions like the one in this community of underprivileged women who are taking the real steps towards smashing patriarchy in our complex society. Each afternoon, under a tree in the colony park-Sudha, Rajkumari, Shanti and many more women from their community gather for a break. Surrounded by rows of houses where they work as domestic help the echo from these daily informal meetings is not one of helplessness but resolve. With the election season around the corner, which all of them are aware of, the discussion often revolves around who will they will vote for.

Surrounded by rows of houses where they work as domestic help the echo from these daily informal meetings is not one of helplessness but resolve. With the election season around the corner, which all of them are aware of, the discussion often revolves around who will they will vote for.

“I will decide who I want to vote for,” says Shanti, “my husband can vote for who he wants.” Traditionally her family has always voted for the same party, a tradition she is now ready to break. “Those who work for what I want will get my vote, I won’t fall for any slogans and freebies,” she says. On asking about the issues they want addressed by those seeking their vote, “education for our children”, they reply in chorus. Their aim is to ensure their children are not forced to do the same work as them. “My daughter, Geet, wants to be a doctor and I want to ensure she becomes one,” says Sudha. Though Geet, who is in class 10, attends a government school, Sudha has to pay 2000 rupees every month for her tuitions with added costs for books, stationery and uniform. “I want the government to improve the quality of teachers so that I don’t have to pay for her tuitions and also help us with books,” she says, “it’s already a stretch for us and we wonder how we will send her to college at this rate.”

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Woman Drinking Tea

Approach to healthcare is another important issue they seek answers from any political party that comes knocking on their door. A visit to the government hospital usually means skipping the day’s work because of the long queues, which many of these daily wagers cannot afford. While they spend most of their days cleaning houses to earn money, they expect the government to at least ensure there are functional drains and garbage dumps are cleaned in their settlement regularly. “Our children fall sick and it is us again who have to manage them while making sure we come to work,” says Rama, “don’t give us a slogan, show us how you will clean near our house,” she adds.  These women cite how some political parties talk about implementing prohibition while the same come and give free liquor to their husbands during election time to lure their vote.

A visit to the government hospital usually means skipping the day’s work because of the long queues, which many of these daily wagers cannot afford.

“When you want your house cleaned you ask me to do it not my husband, so if you want my vote you have to ask me not my husband,” exclaims Rajkumari with pride. While our country grapples with issues of patriarchy and gender inequality and might continue to do so for many years to come. It is small communities like this one who are ready to fight the daily battles which will ultimately help us win this war. With a record female voter turnout of 65.6% in the last Lok Sabha elections, realizing the power of each of their votes might just be one step but certainly a huge one towards their empowerment. While it’s an open question on how 2019 might turn out but one thing is for certain, these women are no longer shy of expressing their dissent or hesitant to demand what they deserve. So if the political parties want their vote, it’s time that they earn it from them.

Vichitra Salotra is the former Executive Editor of NDTV Profit. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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