June 17, 2017: Kaza, Spiti, Himachal Pradesh
I was supposed to leave for Chandra Taal early morning around 4:00 am with my friend for shooting pictures and videos. It was a very cold Spiti winter morning when we left from our hotel the temperature recorded was 4°C.
While we were driving towards Chandra Taal, we came across 2 women sitting by the road. As we drove past them they waved at us to give them lift. We stopped our car and let them in. It was 4:30 am in the morning, cold and dark. I was wondering what made them sit by road at this hour and out of habit I asked them, ‘Since when are you sitting by the road’?
And the conversation continues….
Woman 1 (In her mid 30’s): We have been sitting here since morning at 3:30 am.
Me: When did you guys wake up? (I was shocked because it was super cold and back in the hotel I was crying like a baby to get ready and leave)
Woman 1: It's our routine, we wake up every day around 3:00 am and leave our house early to catch the 4:00 am a bus for our fields to water the crops. Today the bus didn’t come and we were waiting to get a lift towards our field.
Me: Why did you wake up so early? Why can’t you go to the fields in the afternoon instead?
Woman 1: We have to water the fields early morning so that we are back home by 9:00 am to make breakfast for the family and to send kids school. In the afternoon we work on construction sites as laborers for the development of village buildings and roads.
Me: To wake up that early in the morning you might be going to bed early?
Woman 1: No. When we return from construction sites, we make dinner for family and leave the house again to work as security guards on alternate days for earning some extra money. We sometimes sleep around 12:00 at night or 1-2 hours middle of the day whenever we get time.
(At night a few of them after working all day as laborers sometimes guard building for some hours to earn extra income and then return late at night and again repeat the same schedule the next morning.)
(I was so shocked to hear this… What life were they living? They were like the superwomen working 3 jobs a day in such harsh weather)
Me: (Curious) And what about the men in the family? What work is your husband doing?
Woman 1: Nothing! He eats, relaxes, socializes and sleeps. Maybe discuss politics with friends in the evening.
Me: Why is he not helping you in house chores or any job, maybe as a security guard?
Woman 1: He doesn’t. It is mostly like this in the village. We do all the work and money goes in the hand of men who mostly will spend it on liquor.
Me: Do you realize that you are the breadwinner of the family and you can come out as a strong woman and refuse to give money to him and instead spend it on the betterment of family and kids and of course on YOURSELF!
Woman 1: If I will refuse to give him money, he will beat me and not let me work. (Laughing)
My Friend: Beat him instead. (jokingly)
Me: Why don’t you all women unite and speak against it?
Woman 1: This is the village. Life is like this in the village. I just want to educate my kids so that they grow up into better human beings. They will make our life better one day.
Woman 2: Ruko! Ruko! (Stop-Stop)
It was time for them to get down… They said Shukriya (Thank-you) to us and went to the fields to work. As our car took a turn from their fields I saw them diverting the route of river water to irrigate their crops.
- The second woman was an old lady and mother of the son with whom the first woman was married. She didn’t say anything throughout the conversation. She was able to understand Hindi but unable to speak it well
- Both the women had no line of complaint on their face while she was interacting with me, rather she narrated it to me with a smiling face
- It was an hour drive to their fields.
So how many of you knew that women are the breadwinner in most families of Spiti, Lahaul?
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