Niranjan Naik lives in the Hardkhursi village of India’s Kalahandi district, along with his wife Kanshula and their three children. Niranjan is 33, but has been handicapped since a childhood case of polio damaged his lower limbs. Though he can walk with difficulty, he is unable to participate in physically demanding activities, namely agricultural activities and other physical labor that may otherwise support his family. He receives a monthly stipend of Rs. 300 (approximately $4.79 USD) from the Indian government’s safety net program for handicapped persons and their families. The family also has a small patch of land (less than an acre) on which they grow paddy.
Niranjan’s wife Kanshula, who is 30, takes up the majority of the activities outside their home, which are often considered to be men’s activities. She provides her family with some financial support by taking up daily labor and completes most of the paddy work. In addition to these outside activities, Kanshula also has the sole responsibility of managing all household chores. Her day starts before sunrise; Around 4:30 in the morning, Kanshula begins these chores (which include cleaning the house, fetching water, washing clothes, preparing and sending their oldest son and daughter to school, and cooking) before leaving to work outside of the house. When Kanshula returns from her daily labor, she finishes the remaining household chores and cooks dinner for the family.
During her absence, Niranjan takes care of their youngest son and purchases household items from the village store. However, his involvement in household activities is limited to just these activities. Though Kanshula is overburdened, she accepts this lifestyle as her fate and predetermined by destiny.
Kanshula is also the secretary of the Maa Gayatri self-help group, with which Pathways has engaged for the last year. Through this group and other capacity-building initiatives, Pathways is also engaged with men and boys of the village to address existing gender stereotypes that result in imbalanced workload sharing between spouses; most of the time, the village’s women are tasked with larger workloads than their male counterparts.
Rajesh, the community resource person from Pathways, initiated several dialogue sessions with Hardkhursi boys and men – including Niranjan – with the intent to facilitate changes in their attitudes. In these dialogues, Rajesh focused on the issue of workload sharing and used several tools developed for the Pathways Farmer Field and Business School, such as the “Daily Clock.” These activities were designed to help men in the community reflect on this issue and think about how they can contribute to more equal workload sharing.
While touring the village at a later point, Rajesh found Niranjan engaged in a rather unusual task – cleaning rice. Rajesh curiously approached Niranjan and asked about this task. To Rajesh’s pleasant surprise, Niranjan asserted that he is trying to help his wife and said, “[Kanshula] has gone out for work; before she comes [home,] I am cleaning the rice and will keep it on the stove so that when she comes back it is easier for her.” Upon further inquiry Niranjan mentioned, “I want to help her; previously my thinking was influenced and molded by tradition, but I want to change now … when she is doing almost all the work outside the home, I should take up some of the responsibilities”.
After congratulating Niranjan for taking on this new attitude, Rajesh continued his tour of the village with a big smile of achievement on his face. He could feel the wave of change that is slowly taking over the village, and knew that Niranjan is just the beginning.
Contributor: Pranati Mohanraj, CARE India