We put together some experiences of motherhood and mothering that we have been seeing in the lockdown around us. This includes women who spend long hours standing in the sweltering heat to secure a meal for their families day after day, women who are not just trying to create a safe home for their children but also caring for children around who are alone in the lockdown, women who gather their basti’s children to read, play and talk together to make sense of the situation we are all reeling under, women who collectively ensure the safety of their communities.
Mukesh Bai is bringing up her younger four children single-handedly. With the elder two married, and the youngest being only 2 years old, she has seen a lot in her life of 45 years. She says it has been very difficult for children to find everything shut around them, and therefore one has to take extra care of them.
Mukesh Bai shared that her 5 year old daughter has become a little scared of the situation around her. “Even if she doesn’t say it in these words, I can understand because she doesn’t leave me at all now. I think, nowadays, I am speaking much more to the children so that they don’t feel alone.”
They live in a small house partitioned into two rooms, and the heat has made it difficult for everyone to sit cramped inside one space. “We sometimes play Ludo and checkers in our lanes. When it is too hot, we together watch cartoons all the time. My elder son knows how to read so he gets a book from the centre and reads out the story to all of us.”
Durga shared how the children are feeling a little more relaxed now than before, because parents are not drinking and therefore there are no fights at home. She shared that earlier if parents would be fighting and the fight would reach the street, then they would be scared that there would be an accident or something. An Ojha Gond tribal, her community has had a tough life in the city.
A few years back, Durga became the talk of the basti when she filed a report in the police station against her husband for not allowing their elder daughter to study. She did manage to send her daughter to school for a few months but could not keep up with the pressures. Smiling softly, she said, “we dreamt for our children but could not manage.” Today, she is happy that some youngsters of the basti are taking classes in the evening, and the children of the community are studying. Encouragingly, she tells the children to keep up their dreams of an education. The children sit keeping the ‘1 metre’ distance and read under the street light. Recently, a media journalist upon seeing this, clicked a photograph and presented them as ‘homeless children’. Durga asks, “Don’t we have an agency? He could see that the parents are sitting nearby, but called our children homeless.”
“Today, we eat what people give us. It is good when people give dry rations because then we know how much to cook and don’t feel the daily insecurity of whether the ‘packet-givers’ will come or not. I tell the children to not run behind people for food if anyone comes to give. I know they are children, but we have to take precautions so that COVID does not come to our basti.”
May it be Amrapali in Mandwa Basti or Soni in Krishna Nagar, they have been ensuring that a couple of children-headed households manage to get food. Soni shared that she often hides the extra rotis she makes from her mother-in-law, and gives them to the three boys who are living alone adjoining her house. Their parents had gone to the village to get their daughter when the initial fears of a lockdown were ensuing, and have not been able to come back since. Like Soni, Amrapali ensures a group of four children, whose single parent goes out to look for food through the day, have something to eat in the long hours when they are on their own. While Amrapali herself is dependent on the rations reaching bastis through well-wishers, she has been keeping an eye out for the most vulnerable amongst her hard-working neighbours, and trying to arrange for what they need.
Soni shared that her elder son, who is 6, is quite scared of the possibility of the disease. So he always has his towel on his face, and she has to keep telling him that there is no need to do it inside the house, and to only be cautious with strangers or if anyone around is coughing.
She says it is okay for the children to be outside, play with others, etc. “because everyone needs fresh air, so I do let them come out and watch them while they play on the roadside.”
If we buy anything from the market, be it even a melon, we leave it in the sun for a while, then bring it inside the house and wash it well, and use it. She says, “At times, I get helpless and angry when children keep asking for something to be bought from the shops, but then I have to ask myself what is their fault in this. I don’t let their father raise his hand on the children.”
Anju has two children; a 4 year old boy and a 2 year old girl. Anju has been making sure that everyone in the family, particularly the younger children, are following the COVID-19 prevention precautions. This means washing children’s hands if they step out of the house, keeping a can of water and soap water outside the house, she says that, “unless adults do this, how can we expect the children to ensure safety.” People in her basti, Banjari Basti, rely completely on the tanker that comes every alternate day, for all their water needs. Earlier, the children would come with their mothers to fill the water, but now that is not being allowed by the women in the basti.
Put together by Seema and Shivani based on their interactions with members of different communities while doing ration-distribution in parts of Bhopal. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org