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Work Live Dream

Documentation of migrant women workers’ experience in Guwahati city

Researcher: Banamallika Choudhury Field Researcher: Dolly Bhoktiari

Supported by:

ActionAid, Guwahati Regional Office

Swamya Rai, Department of Humanities, IIT Guwahati

Research Partners: NEthing, Guwahati, Women’s Leadership Training Centre, Assam


We would like to thank the 57 migrant women workers who participated in this study and allowed us to document their stories. These women have been leading brave lives in extreme difficulties with little state or social support. They are an inspiration in their resilience. Each and every woman who participated in the study expressed at the beginning that they are willingly participating in the study because they would like to see some changes in their conditions and improve working and living conditions for other women.

We would also like to thank the employers, the experts, the labour contractors and the placement agencies who participated so willingly in the study.

We thank Sawmya Rai from IIT Guwahati who at the first go agreed to support us with her knowledge and guidance. She had agreed at the first mention that the study is needed and will pave way for work in the areas of women, labour and migration in Assam.

We thank ActionAid, Guwahati Regional Office for their shared support towards the project. Their support enabled us to reach us to women in various corners of the city and document their lives. It also gave us endless cups of tea, snacks and food to make the conversations flow easier.

We would like to take the findings of the study forward, share the stories of the women with stakeholders such as the government departments, city planners, employers, house owners and the public. We hope knowing their stories will help us create a supportive society, implement laws better and institutionalize support systems through city planning etc.

Thank You

Banamallika Choudhury

Dolly Bhoktiari




Migration and Women 5


Methodougy: 6

Limitation of the study 7

Challenges 7


Literature review 8

The following documents were read and reviewed for the purpose of understanding legal provisions within India and specifically in Assam for the rights of the worker. The literature shows the gaps that remain particularly in addressing rights of women workers. A comparison between the legal provisions and experiences of the women documented highlight gaps in implementations of laws and programmes. 8

Socio-Economic Profiles of Respondents 16


Who are the migrant women workers in Guwahati? 24

Escape, survive, aspire: WORK 25

What do you do? 26

Wish for a little more 26


Gender, patriarchy, the city and the worker 28



Annex: 36


The need for this study/documentation was felt during a conversation with a young woman who had come looking for a job at NEthing. At the end of the interview the young woman said that although she really needs the job, the timings do not suit her. Could we let her go by 5.30 pm please? (One of our works shifts end at 8 pm). She said her landlord shuts the main gate at 7 pm and she needs to get home before that.

This conversation made us think about the kind of restrictions and difficulties women living in rented houses face in Guwahati. More talks with the women who work with us, women who work in the city revealed a range of difficulties faced by women who come from other places. Finding housing is difficult, they face random restrictions by house owners and employers; they often get paid little, face violence and do not feel safe on the streets.

Clearly there was a range of human rights violations being faced by this group of migrant women in lower income brackets in Guwahati. We felt that documenting the experiences of the women will help raise labour standards, includes women’s needs in city planning and development programmes and address gender inequality.

Migration and Women

The World Migration Report 2018 released by International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates about 244 million migrants, over 44 million internally displaced people and more than 22 million refugees. The number of migrant is at its highest ever and is increasing. The number of migrations within poorer regions like Asia, Africa and Oceania far outnumber number of people moving to higher income countries. And this still does not take into account number of people moving within countries, from rural to urban, running from conflict and impacts of climate change.

Globally women make up for half of the migrant workers population. In the Asia Pacific they make up for more than 50%. These migrant women workers who move from poorer countries from the global south to richer countries like the USA, UK and Europe, work mostly as domestic workers or caregivers. Internal migration within countries and regional migration between poorer countries also constitute of more than half of women workers. They work as cheap factory labours, in the construction industry etc along with being domestic workers and caregivers.

Guwahati, the biggest city in the North-East and parts of eastern India, attracts people from other state of the North-East as well as parts of India. Historically it has seen sudden large migration linked to political moments like the 1971 Bangladesh war as well as a continuous flow of people from its neighbouring areas. The onslaught of globalization and city centric development has given a geometric rise to this migration in the past 3 decades. Increasing industries around the city, growth in the corporate sector, educational institutions, retail outlets and all other linked economic activities have been absorbing migrant workers in large numbers.

Women make up for a significant part of this migrant population in Guwahati city. Coming from the rural and semi-rural areas, these migrant women learn to negotiate work, the spaces of the city and meet their basic needs of shelter, food, health care and education for children etc. A comparatively new city, Guwahati in its policy and public imagination is not kind towards migrant workers especially when they belong to the working class and from socially marginalized groups like tribal and Muslims. In the absence of unions, implementation of labour laws, social security, their rights are violated in various spaces every day. Women workers face additional gender based discriminations, violations and violence. They live in accommodations that are unsafe, below basic standards and put restrictions on their freedom. The cities transport system, public spaces and basic amenities are not sensitive to the need of this large group of working women. Working class women face moral policing by neighbours and larger community on a daily basis. These restrictions often lead to the women having to compromise on their career, family, home, health and other life choices.

This study is aimed towards finding and documenting the overall situation of migrant women workers in different sectors, their stories and identifying the policy and discursive gaps.



Documenting lives and rights of migrant women workers in Guwahati city is a preliminary study on the experiences of women who have come from different parts of the North East region and other parts of India to Guwahati, the biggest city in the North East. This qualitative study aims to understand difficulties, rights violations as well as opportunities for migrant women workers in different sectors, living in different areas and with a varied family and personal background.

The preliminary study throws light on a number of issues faced by women workers like low wages, little or no benefits or social security like maternity life, health insurance, free health care, education etc. Within the city difficulty in finding accommodation and harassment by house owners of neighbours is experienced commonly by single women. Most women are the sole earners or major economic provider for their families and yet earn less than men. Women also have fewer opportunities for building skills and finding better employment. Personal safety, freedom from sexual harassment and time to look after children and parents are some of their main concerns while looking for employment.

Although, this study is preliminary and more in depth assessment should be done for formulating policies, it still clearly points towards the need for implementation of existing laws, formulating supportive policies, social support programmes and addressing social discrimination to make Guwahati a better city for women workers in general and migrant women workers in particular.


The study used individual interviews and groups discussions as its primary methodological tools. 57 women were interviewed for first hand direct information. The study also interviewed some key people like employers, labour suppliers, placement agencies, organisations working for rights of women and workers etc to understand the employment scenario and specific issues faced by women workers.

The research was conducted by a team of two researchers. Banamallika Choudhury, researcher, conducted interviews, facilitates group discussions and gave overall direction to the study. Dolly Bhoktiari, field researcher, collected literature and documents and questionnaire responses.

The research methodology had the following components:

  1. Literature Review: The study looked at existing laws, previous researches and existing urban policies as part of its desk research. Contents of these documents were used to understand labour rights, legal provisions and policy inclusion of women.
  2. First contact questionnaire responses: 57 women working in different sectors were contacted and asked to respond to a preliminary questionnaire. The questionnaire was design to gather key information about the interviewees’ person, social dimension, workplace, family lives, accommodation, benefits and entitlements. This information has been organized in tables to get a sense of the range of issues and information of the interviewees.
  3. In depth Interviews: In depth interviewees of 20 women covering sectors, personal status and experiences of difficulties and violations were done. These interviews capture the stories of the individual women, their reasons for migrating, their experiences of Guwahati city and aspirations.
  4. Interviews with key people: 5 interviews were conducted with employers, factory owner, placement agency and organisations working with women and workers. These interviews capture overall issues of gender, workplace, discriminations faced by women and different communities and emerging trends of migration etc.


The study was intended to be a brief indicative study. The sample size set at 60 is a small one and can at best be indicative and nowhere representative. However, the findings from the study are competent enough to show existing trends of regular discriminations and rights violations.


The study at the field level faced a number of challenges.

a) Employers in formal workplaces were mostly sceptical about these interviews. In two factories the team was denied interviews with the women.

b) In many formal workplaces like factory and large retail outlets there is a third party employer. Eg. In large outlets women working in the cosmetic sales sections are employed by a particular cosmetic company. The store owner therefore would state that they needed permission from the company to allow interviews. In one case where we managed to speak to a company person informed, with condition of anonymity that we will have to speak to the Human Resource person of the region who sits in Kolkata.

c) Women themselves were unsure when in a formal workplace about giving interviews and were often reluctant to share information that could show the employers in bad light. Many also expressed that they did not see how these kind of study of discussion could help them.

d) In a few cases the women did not want to speak about their personal lives and their migrant status. They often said they were ‘local’ at the beginning. Two mentioned they did not want to share their experiences although they have faced violence or harassment as it would trigger bad memories.


Literature review

The following documents were read and reviewed for the purpose of understanding legal provisions within India and specifically in Assam for the rights of the worker. The literature shows the gaps that remain particularly in addressing rights of women workers. A comparison between the legal provisions and experiences of the women documented highlight gaps in implementations of laws and programmes.

There are several acts passed under the labour laws and some of those important acts of the labour law are:

  • The Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923
  • The Payment of Wages Act, 1936
  • The Industrial Dispute Act, 1947
  • The Factories Act, 1948 **
  • The Minimum Wages Act, 1948
  • The Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948 **
  • The Plantation Labour Act, 1951 **
  • The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 **
  • The Payment of Bonus Act, 1965
  • The Beedi and Cigar Workers (Conditions of Employment) Act, 1966 **
  • The Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970 **
  • The Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972
  • The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 **
  • The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986
  • The Sexual Harassment of Women at Wrokplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 **


  • This Act covers all cases of accident arising out of and in the course of employment and the rate of compensation to be paid in a lump sum is determined by a schedule proportionate to the extent of injury and the loss of earning capacity.
  • The younger the worker the higher will be the wage and the greater is the compensation subject to a limit.
  • The act intended to ensure the rehabilitation of the workman himself or of his dependent.
  • The dependent can claim compensation in both cases i.e. death or injury.
  • This law applies to the unorganized sector and to those in the organized sector who are not covered by the Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948 which is conceptually considered to be superior to the Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923.


  • This act ensures that employees receive wages on time and without any unauthorized deductions.
  • The Section-6 of the Act requires that people are paid in cash rather than in kind.


  • This act regulates how employers may address industrial disputes such as lockouts, layoffs, retrenchments, etc. in a peaceful way by negotiations.
  • The law applies to only the organized sectors.
  • It also controls the lawful processes for reconciliation, adjudication of labour disputes.
  • This act extends to whole of India and applies to every industrial establishment carrying on any business, trade, manufacture or distribution of goods and services irrespective of the number of workmen employed therein.


  • The Act is applicable to any factory whereon ten or more workers are working, or were working on any day of the preceding twelve months.
  • This Act fixed the limit of working time in a day for nine (9) hours.
  • Fixation of maximum permissible load for a worker.
  • The Act prohibits the employment of women during night hours.
  • It also prohibits employment of women in hazardous occupations.
  • This Act prohibits employment of women in pressing cotton where a cotton opener is at work.
  • The Act provides for separate and adequately screened bathing and washing facilities.
  • Provisions for restrooms and canteens.
  • Provisions for mandatory benefits.
  • Provision of crèche for the children of the women workers.


  • This Act sets wage rates for any industry that has at least 1000 workers.
  • The number of working hours that are to be fixed for a normal working day as per the act should have one or more intervals or breaks included.
  • At least one day off from an entire week should be given to the employee for rest.
  • Payment for the day decided to be given for rest should be paid at a rate not less than the overtime rate.
  • If an employee is involved in work that categorizes his service in two or more scheduled employments, the employee’s wage will include respective wage rate of all work for the number of hours dedicated at each task.
  • It is mandatory for the employer to maintain records of all employees’ work, wages and receipts.


  • This Act is applicable for workers employed in the organized sector only.
  • for certain periods before and after
  • This Act oversees the provision on medical and cash benefits to the employees and their families.
  • The employees registered under the scheme are entitled to medical treatment for themselves and their dependents, unemployment contingencies and maternity benefit in case of women employees.
  • In case of employment related disablement or death, there is provision for a disablement benefit and a family pension respectively.
  • Insured women workers also get maternity benefit in case of certain contingencies arising out of pregnancy, premature birth of child or miscarriage and death.


  • This Act applies to any land used or intended to be used for growing tea, coffee, rubber, cinchona or cardamom or any other plant which measures 5 hectares or more and in which 115 or more workers are employed on any day of the preceding year.
  • It ensures supply of wholesome drinking water and canteen facilities for all workers, accessible separate latrines and urinals for males and females in every plantation.
  • The Act also ensures medical benefits for the employees and their families to be maintained and made available by the employer.
  • In every plantation where the children of the workers between the ages of six and twelve years exceed the number twenty five, the employer is under obligation to provide educational facilities as may be specified by the State Government.
  • It is the duty of the employer to provide and maintain necessary housing accommodation for every worker and his family.
  • Maximum working hour in a day is fixed at 9 hours a day and 54 hours a week. The worker is entitled to overtime wages at twice the rates of ordinary wages.
  • Women and children can be employed only between the hours of 6am and 7pm unless permitted by the State Government.
  • No child or adolescent will be allowed to work in the plantation unless the employer has a certificate of fitness from the Certifying Surgeon.
  • An adult worker is entitled to one day paid leave for every twenty days of work. A child or adolescent is entitled to one day paid leave for every fifteen days.
  • Every worker is entitled to sickness allowance, provided this is certified by a qualified medical practitioner.
  • Women workers are entitled to maternity allowance and benefits under the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961.


  • This Act aims to regulate the employment of women in certain establishment child birth and provides for maternity and certain benefits.
  • Women can claim benefits under the act everywhere except in factories and the other establishment where the Employees’ State Insurance Act is applicable.
  • Women who are employed, whether directly or through a contractor, and have actually worked in the establishment for a period of minimum 80 days during the last 12 months are eligible to claim the benefits under this act.
  • Cash benefits to women who are absent from work during the maternity leave are not to be less than 2/3rd of her previous earnings.
  • Discharge or dismissal during maternity leave is considered to be void.
  • It also provides a Rs. 1000/- benefit when the employer does not provide pre-natal confinement and post-natal care free of charge. (amended on 15/04/2008)
  • Pregnant employees can request not to perform arduous work, or work which involves long hours of standing, or work which is likely to interfere with the pregnancy.
  • No deduction of pay is permitted during the period of pregnancy of a woman in any circumstances.
  • Women working in factories, mines, plantations, performance establishments and shops with more than 10 employees are entitled to paid maternity leave according to the provisions of the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961.

The Apprentices’ Act, 1961:


  • The Act provides for the payment of bonus in enterprises where 20 or more employees are employed.
  • The bonus should be paid out of profits based on productivity.
  • The maximum bonus including productivity linked bonus that can be paid in any accounting year shall not exceed 20% of the salary or wage of an employee under the Section 31 A of the Act.


  • By virtue of the provisions of the Act, the industrial undertakings shall be maintained dirt free and shall be kept away from the effluvia coming from consumes or other annoyance and shall comply with the norms of cleanliness.
  • The Act also contains provision for overcapacity, first aid facilities and ventilation.
  • The Act forbids the employment of children in such industries and regulates the working hours for women workers in the industrial areas.
  • This Act has a special provision under which The Payment of Wages Act, 1936 and The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 are included.


  • The Act applies to every establishment and contractor who employs or employed twenty or more workmen on any day of the preceding twelve months as contract labour.
  • By this Act the women workers are now permitted to work night shifts too from 10:00pm to 06:00am.
  • According to the Act, the principal employer should ensure that the contractor follows the following clauses:
  • Pays the wages as determined by the Government, if any, or by the Commissioner of Labour.
  • Maintains various registers and records, displays notices, abstracts of the Acts, Rules etc.
  • Issues employment card to his workmen, etc.
  • Provides the following facilities:
  • Canteen (if employing 100 or more workmen in one place) and if the work is likely to last for 6 months or more.
  • Rest rooms where the workmen are required to halt at night and the work is likely to last for 3 months or more
  • Requisite number of latrines and urinals- separate for men and women.
  • Drinking water.
  • Washing facilities.
  • First Aid.
  • Crèche.


  • The Act applies to every factory, mine, oilfield, Plantation, port, railway company and every or establishment within the meaning of law, in relation to shops and establishments in a state, in which 10 or more people are employed or were employed on any day of the preceding 12 months.
  • Gratuity is paid to an employee on termination of employment after he has rendered services for not less than 5 years on his Superannuation, Retirement or Resignation, or on Death or Disablement due to accident or disease.
  • Completion of continuous service of 5 years is not required where termination of employment is due to death or disablement. In such cases mandatory gratuity is payable.
  • Gratuity is paid at a rate of 15 days wages for every completed year of service or part thereof in excess of 6 months.


  • THE Act ensures the duty of the employer to pay equal remuneration to men and women workers for the same work or work of a similar nature.
  • No employer should reduce the rate of remuneration of any worker for the purpose of complying with the cause to pay equally to both men and women workers.
  • This Act ensures that no discrimination is to be made while recruiting men and women workers.


  • This Act prohibits the engagement of children in certain employments and to regulate the conditions of work of children in certain other employments.


  • This Act is applicable to an establishment which employs building workers directly or through a contractor.
  • Subject to the provisions of the Act, every building worker registered as a beneficiary under this Act shall be entitled to the benefits provided by the Board from its Fund under this Act.
  • The Act ensures separate latrines and urinals for both men and women in every place where building or other construction work is carried on.
  • The employer shall provide, free of charges and within the worksite or as near to it as may be possible, temporary living accommodation to all building workers employed by him for such period as the building or other construction work is in progress.
  • In every place where more than 50 women building workers are employed there shall be provided and maintained a suitable room or rooms for the use of children under the age of 6 years of such female workers.


  • The Act will ensure that women are protected against sexual harassment at all workplaces, be it public or private.
  • The Act defines sexual harassment at the work place and creates a mechanism for redressal of complaints. It also provides safeguards against false or malicious charges.
  • The Act also covers concepts of ‘quid pro quo harassment’ and ‘hostile work environment’ as forms of sexual harassment if it occurs in connection with an act or behavior of sexual harassment.
  • The Act requires employers to conduct education and sensitization programs and develop policies against sexual harassment, among other obligations.
  • Non-compliance with provisions of the Act shall be punishable with a fine up to Rs. 50,000/-. Repeated violations may lead to higher penalties and cancellation of licence or registration to conduct business.

Acts marked as (**) are directly related with the rights of the women workers in India.

ILO conventions ratified by India:

India has ratified 47 conventions and 1 protocol of the International Labour Organisations. These ratifications signify India’s intentions to bring in internationally agreed upon standards of into the labour laws and practices of the country.


C029 - Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29)

C100 - Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 (No. 100)

C105 - Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105)

C111 - Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111)

C138 - Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138)Minimum age specified: 14 years

C182 - Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182)

Governance (Priority)

C081 - Labour Inspection Convention, 1947 (No. 81)Excluding Part II

C122 - Employment Policy Convention, 1964 (No. 122)

C144 - Tripartite Consultation (International Labour Standards) Convention, 1976 (No. 144)


C001 - Hours of Work (Industry) Convention, 1919 (No. 1)

C002 - Unemployment Convention, 1919 (No. 2)

C004 - Night Work (Women) Convention, 1919 (No. 4)

C005 - Minimum Age (Industry) Convention, 1919 (No. 5)

C006 - Night Work of Young Persons (Industry) Convention, 1919 (No. 6)

C011 - Right of Association (Agriculture) Convention, 1921 (No. 11)

C014 - Weekly Rest (Industry) Convention, 1921 (No. 14)

C015 - Minimum Age (Trimmers and Stokers) Convention, 1921 (No. 15)

C016 - Medical Examination of Young Persons (Sea) Convention, 1921 (No. 16)

C018 - Workmen's Compensation (Occupational Diseases) Convention, 1925 (No. 18)

C019 - Equality of Treatment (Accident Compensation) Convention, 1925 (No. 19)

C021 - Inspection of Emigrants Convention, 1926 (No. 21)

C022 - Seamen's Articles of Agreement Convention, 1926 (No. 22)

C026 - Minimum Wage-Fixing Machinery Convention, 1928 (No. 26)

C027 - Marking of Weight (Packages Transported by Vessels) Convention, 1929 (No. 27)

C032 - Protection against Accidents (Dockers) Convention (Revised), 1932 (No. 32)

C041 - Night Work (Women) Convention (Revised), 1934 (No. 41)

C042 - Workmen's Compensation (Occupational Diseases)

C045 - Underground Work (Women) Convention, 1935 (No. 45)

C080 - Final Articles Revision Convention, 1946 (No. 80)

C088 - Employment Service Convention, 1948 (No. 88)

C089 - Night Work (Women) Convention (Revised), 1948 (No. 89)P089 - Protocol of 1990 to the Night Work (Women) Convention (Revised), 1948 ratified on 21 Nov 2003 (In Force)Has ratified the Protocol of 1990

C090 - Night Work of Young Persons (Industry) Convention (Revised), 1948 (No. 90)

C107 - Indigenous and Tribal Populations Convention, 1957 (No. 107)

C108 - Seafarers' Identity Documents Convention, 1958 (No. 108)

C115 - Radiation Protection Convention, 1960 (No. 115)

C116 - Final Articles Revision Convention, 1961 (No. 116)

C118 - Equality of Treatment (Social Security) Convention, 1962 (No. 118)Has accepted Branches (a) to (c)

C123 - Minimum Age (Underground Work) Convention, 1965 (No. 123)Minimum age specified: 18 years

C127 - Maximum Weight Convention, 1967 (No. 127)

C136 - Benzene Convention, 1971 (No. 136)

C141 - Rural Workers' Organisations Convention, 1975 (No. 141)

C142 - Human Resources Development Convention, 1975 (No. 142)

C147 - Merchant Shipping (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1976 (No. 147)

C160 - Labour Statistics Convention, 1985 (No. 160)Acceptance of Article 8 of Part II has been specified pursuant to Article 16, paragraph 2, of the Convention.

C174 - Prevention of Major Industrial Accidents Convention, 1993 (No. 174)

C185 - Seafarers' Identity Documents Convention (Revised), 2003 (No. 185)

Assam’s urban development and urban poor policies:

Assam has a number of urban development policies and programmes that are aimed at providing better living conditions and basic services to the urban population. In Guwahati, the Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority is responsible for implementing the city master plan, the sum development policy, water and sewage management and the Smart City project. However, there is no programme that address the need of the urban poor like affordable housing and transportation etc.

Socio-Economic Profiles of Respondents

Places of origin:

Languages Spoken:

34 out of the 37 participants spoke more than one language. Most spoke more than 2. One participant spoke 6 languages.



Relationship status



Divorced;/ separated


Has a partner







Identity based on language, religion, ethnicity. The categories have been retained as they have identified themselves.

Number of children:

Living with family? Yes: 20 No: 17

Sole Earner? No: 28 Yes: 9

Major contributor? NO: 2 Occasionally: 2 Yes: 33


Formal Training? Yes: 13 No 24

Working Hours:


Unspecified leave policy: 30 out of 37

Weekly Holidays: Yes 11 No 26

Maternity Benefits: Yes: 2 NO: 4 Not sure/ never been informed: 31

Health Insurance: ESIC: 4 Private: 1 No: 32

EPF: Yes: 5 No: 32

Childcare benefits or facilities: NO: 37


Shared or Individual?

Individual: 5

Shared: 32

Shared with:

Colleagues: 5 Family: 11 Husband: 4 Mother: 1 Roommates: 3 Son: 2 Sister 1 Friends: 3 Daughter: 1 Cousins: 1

Safety in residence: Yes: 34 No: 3

Bullied around residence? Yes: 6 No: 31

Restrictions on entry time and movement: Yes: 13 No: 24


Regular Water Supply?

Yes: 27

No: 6

Yes but dirty water: 3

Have to buy water: 1


Other Amenities:

Cooking fuel:

Regular Supply?


Feel safe in the city? Yes: 25 No: 12

Feel safe while travelling at night: Yes: 5 No: 31

Experienced violence in personal life? Yes: 10 No: 36

Experienced violence or sexual harassment at workplace? : NO 37


Who are the migrant women workers in Guwahati?

Barbie Enterprise is a Guwahati based placement agency that provides placement services to the hotel and restaurant industry in Guwahti. Its proprietor Padum Hazarika estimates around 500 migrant women per month come to him every month. They come from all the states. Few from outside of North-East, Padum observes. He also mentions that people from states like Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram who come to Guwahati city often first come to study and or do some skill building course. Hence they get better jobs, particularly the women.

Majority of our respondents from across the sectors are from Assam. As the study had a focus on poor, working class women, we found less people from other states in the establishments we visited.

They identified themselves to be from 17 different groups based on religion, language, caste, ethnicity etc. We have retained the categories mentioned by the participants themselves. The question asked to them was – What people are you?/Which community you belong to?/ ‘Ki manuh?’

Some interesting observations we made in these identification are:

  1. Non-brahmin Assamese identified themselves as Assamese
  2. Brahmin Assamese identified themselves as Brahmins
  3. Non-brahmin Nepalis identified themselves as Nepali
  4. Brahmin Nepalis identified themselves as Nepali-Brahmin
  5. Muslims identified themselves by their religion whether they were Assamese or Bengali speaking
  6. Hindu Bengalis identified themselves as Bengalis
  7. Manipuris and Bihari identified themselves from their state of origin
  8. Khasis and Bodos identified themselves by their tribe and language
  9. Ahom, Koch, Koch Rajbangshi, Mising, Rabha and Deori identified themselves by their tribe
  10. One person identified herself as Kaivarta or schedule caste

These migrants speak 11 languages including English and Hindi. Barring 3, all speak more than 1 language. 21 spoke 3 or more. The maximum number of languages spoken by one person is 6.

The most common languages are Assamese, Hindi, Bengali, English and Nepali. Most women expressed that they faced little or no difficulty in communicating while traversing the city. Many expressed that they would like to learn English. Mini Prabha Deori from Lakhimpur, Assam who works as beautician says, “I wish to learn English and how to operate the computer. It will help me in getting better jobs.”

Kajal Basphor, from Bihar who works as a Sweeper in Guwahati University says she cannot speak any other language than Bihari and Hindi. She says, “Humse koi aur bhasa sikhai nahi jata. Oxomia to hum bujhta hai lekin bolei nahi pata.” – I cannot learn any language. I understand Assamese but I cannot speak at all.

The range of identities show the diversity and amalgamation of communities in Guwahati city. The experiences of women from these identities are however not always the same.

Most women who have a Mangloid look said they face harassment on the street because of their look. This included Bodo, Mising, Rabha, Deori, Ahom and Manipuri. The Manipuri participants expressed that not knowing Assamese and looking the way they do, they are often called ‘Chinky’ on the street and get comments from men very often. Mini Prabha Deori says, ‘I do get teased on the street. Particularly at night when they cannot see that I am married. But mostly when I speak back to them in Assamese get quiet. “

Escape, survive, aspire: WORK

‘Why do you work? We asked the women during group discussions. Their responses varied from the predictable ‘to look after my family’ to ‘be closer to my boyfriend’.

Majority of women said they work because they have to look after their families. Their families include their parents, children and sometimes husbands.

Some said they work because they do not like to be dependent on their families. Puja Chetry, who works as an waitress says, ‘When I failed my class X exam, I was at home and my brothers would often taunt me. I decided to run away from home and find myself some work. I do not have to support my family. They are doing okay. But I like the fact that I do not have to ask anyone for money and no one can tell me anything.”

Another participant, who wishes to remain undisclosed on this account says she is in Guwahati to be closer to her boyfriend. Her boyfriend had moved to the city before. They wanted to be together but they cannot marry immediately as he does not earn enough. So she decided to find a job in Guwahati so that at least they could meet and spend time together. “We are saving money and would like to get married soon. But our jobs do not pay us much and we can hardly save anything. In the meantime at least we can go out or talk on the phone freely.” She works as a sales person in a retail outlet.

The stories of women include escaping violent marriages, being sent to the city as a child, escaping flood and poverty etc. Many said, they have to work to survive, for a better future for their children. Surjo Bano, who runs a small paan-tea shop in Jalukbari says, “I lost my parents early and then we lost our home to the river. I came to the city with some people from the village when I was 7 years old. I used to beg as no one would give me work. When I grew up a bit I started doing odd jobs in people’s houses.”

What do you do?

We found the women in 15 different workplaces across the city. They were in bars, beauty parlours, as tailors, nurses, domestic worker, in hotels and restaurants, factories, as sales girls in shops, as sales and marketing executive for companies, providing security to shops and homes and run paan shops and do odd jobs like collecting trash and washing dishes after a party to make ends meet.

Their working hours extended from 5 to 24 hours. The bouncers in bars had the shortest working hour of 5 hours. But they worked from 6 pm to 11 pm. The women who worked as live in domestic workers mentioned their working hour as 24 hours. Formal workplaces like factories, large retail outlets and the university seem to maintain the prescribed legal working hours of 8 hours a day. Most small-medium businesses have working hours up to 10.

‘We should shift our focus from the conventional to the new when talking about women in work as in Guwahati we see more and more women in unconventional work.’ – a participant at a meeting of women entrepreneurs in Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship. She qualified ‘conventional’ workplaces for women as beauty parlours, domestic work and shops. She says she has been seeing more and more women in hotels, restaurants, bars etc.

We found our participants in the usual ones like domestic work, nursing, restaurants, factories, beauty parlour and shops. The unusual ones we found were bars, security personnel, petrol pump attendant.

Wish for a little more

Padum the placement agent says, “the poorer and more desperate they are, more they get exploited by the employer. Although I do not place people for anything less that 5500 a month, I know a lot of places and people who earn about three to four thousand a month. Women earn less and because often they are in dire situations they accept these kinds of salaries”

Padum’s observation is bleak and most likely true. The income range for the women we met started from about 3000 to 17000 rupees a month. Majority earned in the range of 5000-10000.

The lowest earner is Surjo Bano, who has a small shop. She has to look after 3 children with her earning of about 3000-4000 rupees a month. When ends don’t meet she would even collect trash and sell it.

The highest earner is Sita Chetri, who works as a marketing executive for a cosmetic company. She earns 17,000 a month. She is a graduate and has been living in the city for 17 years. She lives in a paying guest accommodation in Guwahati while her husband and children are in Maranhat in Assam.

At present the minimum wage for unskilled labour is 7500 rupees a month, that for semi skilled 8700 and for skilled 10500. In all these categories these women earn less than minimum wage. There is no inspection of labour laws and employers often get away by showing workers as unskilled in sectors like hotel and retails.

Workers are also often kept as contractual even in formal setups like factories. These allows employers to not provide benefits like maternity leave, paid leave, child care, PF, gratuity etc.

Every woman we talked to expressed one common desire: to earn a little more. When we asked them what do they think their biggest problem is they said, money. When we asked them what their wishes were, they said a little bit more money.

Is there job satisfaction? Most women said they were happy with the jobs they had. Although they wanted more money to be able to be ‘comfortable’, some felt they did not have enough education or skill to get better or different jobs. Majida who works in a restaurant and is a widowed mother of a 9 year old girl says, “I cannot think of going anywhere from here. This place pays me better than the last one. They provide me with accommodation and food and I feel safe here. I just wish they will increase my salary a little bit so that I can save some money.” Majida earns 6500 rupees a month. When asked how much more would make her happy, she says, a bit irritated, “Money is never enough. But I will be happy even if they give me 500 rupees more. I got a raise of 500 rupees this year. I was hoping it would be 1000. But they said I earn from tips anyway.”

Home is where…

Mostly in rented places shared with family or friends. 6 out of 37 participants had accommodation provided by the employers. 2 have their own houses. 3 live in paying guest accommodations.

Most of their salaries go into paying rent. They pay 1200 to 3000 rupees a month towards accommodation. Most of these are single room accommodations shared by 2-5 women. They try to find housing in areas close to their workplaces. But sometimes it is difficult. Shanti Das, who lives along in a small room has to walk for about half an hour every day to get to work. The area does not have public transport. ‘I could not find a room close to my work. Most people did not want to give me a room as I live alone. I am the second wife of my husband and he comes visiting sometimes. This has created problems with landlords.

5 out of the 6 whose accommodation is provided by employer work in the same hotel. 1 works in a ‘high end’ beauty salon. ‘This helps us ensure punctuality, give people enough rest during breaks and maintain a roster in case some employees take leave etc.’ – Riyaz Ali, the manager of the hotel says. The employers also quote a higher salary and deduct certain amount as payments towards accommodations. Usually men are given spaces on terraces and corridors to sleep at night in the name of accommodation. Providing accommodation for women employees is not common in hotels.’ Padum observes. ‘People find it difficult to provide accommodation to women as it involves risks.’

Riyaz, the manager informed that in their hotel about 7 women and 20 men get shared rooms with attached bathrooms. They have so far not had any ‘incident’ because of the women. There have been one case of a love affair between employees in 2 years. The employees were asked to sort it out themselves and maintain ‘professional behaviour’ within the hotel premise.

The common problems they identified with their housing conditions are,

1)High rent – although the amount of rent they pay is less than 3000 in all cases, they felt most of their salary goes into rent.

2) Quality of places to rent – as they cannot afford high rents, in most cases the kind of accommodation they can afford are very basic, kachcha or semi pucca single rooms with no kitchen or attached toilets. In monsoon they often face problems of water leakage. Water supply is not consistent and toilets are unhygienic and shared between more than 6-10 people.

3) Accessibility and public transport: The women prefer their accommodations to be closer to the workplace as this saves them money, time and renders safety. It is however often not possible for them to find housing close to their working place. Shanti Das walks for about 30 minutes to get to her place which does not have bus connectivity. She has to work till 9 pm. She says, “I feel so scared while going back home that I walk really fast. Initially I got blisters on my feet from this. I cannot afford a rickshaw every day. The market is also far from where I am. Only on Sundays when I do my grocery shopping I take a rickshaw on the way back.”

Women also reported that public transport accessibility is a problem especially later at night as in most routes, particularly in winters buses do not operate after 8.30 pm.

Violence and violations: More than 50% of the women reported facing violence in their homes. The reporting is particularly frequent amongst married women and almost all the married women stated that they were abused by their husbands. In some cases their husbands’ families too are perpetrators of the violence. There are few severe cases of violence. Of the women who had gone to the police, they either faced apathy or did not want to carry on with the case. Champa Das, who works as a cleaner in a private school says, “I went to the police when I could not take the beatings any more. They told me they will arrest my husband. But I just wanted them to warn him not to do this anymore. He was taken to the police station and asked to give in writing that he will not beat me up any more. He did that and has not touched me since. We do not live together any more. This was 2 years ago.”

Gender, patriarchy, the city and the worker

Women form more than half of the poorest workers of the world. Migrant women workers often leave their traditional role of being the caregiver – mother, daughter, daughter-in law and wife and move to a new place. They become a single person, live with friends and colleagues and navigate new territories of work and living in a new city. Although they remain responsible for their families, but their daily routine often take them away from the domestic routine of cooking, cleaning and looking after the family. For married women who live with their husband and family, the burden though becomes double. In the whole we notice the imposition of gender norms, internalisation of gender roles as well as a challenge to all of these in the lives of the women we met through this study.

In discussions about why they work, most women stated a compulsion out which they have moved out of home to work. We asked if they worked at home too. All of then answered yes. When asked what they would like to do in almost an equal number of women gave opposite answers. Most married women said they would not like to work. They would like to be home and look after their families. Particularly their children. Most single women said they would like to continue work as it is ‘important now a days.’ Pompi Roy, 23 from Bongaigaon says, “I would like to go back and live with my family. But it very necessary to be independent and not bother anyone. I will continue to work even if I get married. That way we can have a better life together. I only wish my job paid me better. I would like to find a better job but don’t get time to look for one.”

When we talked about sexual harassment on the street or at workplace, most women initially would say they have not faced anything. But when asked if they felt safe moving around, especially at night, almost everyone said no. In the discussions many participants said it, “dependent on the woman’s behaviour” how they get treated by other people. Later in the decision about society and if they had anything to tell the society a majority said, “society should change their thinking”. Asked to qualify, Bandita Das said, “people are constantly bothered about what women are wearing, who they are talking to, whether they wear make up or not etc. This should change. Every women is doing what she can to make a living. We should let the women be.” Majida Begum says, when she wanted to come to the city to work people said, “why should a woman go out and work?” But she knew she wanted to send her daughter to school and had to get out of home and earn money to do that.

Most of these women are either the sole earner or the major contributor to their family income. They are also single mothers. They however do not seem to think of themselves as the head of the family. When asked who is the head of their family they would mention their husbands, fathers or brothers even when they did not earn, are younger or unwell.

At the workplace they feel less important than their male colleagues. “There are more men in our workplace then women. When it comes to making a decision about work timing, leave or decisions like whether we should get health insurance, it is often the men’s opinion that makes the decision. “, says


KALAPANA KALITA, 22, Works in a packaging factory, from Nagaon, Assam

Kalpana Kalita is a 22 year old married woman with a 2 year old daughter who is separated from her husband and stays here with her parents. She stays in an area called Gakhir Chowk in Garchuk. Currently Kalpana is working in a packaging factory located in Boragaon which is purely an industrial area having innumerable factories.

While Kalapana goes for work her mother looks after her 2 year old daughter. Kalpana grieves that her daughter often falls sick and she cannot look after her as she has to report to her duties. On asking why she has to work, Kalpana said that she has to earn her and her daughter’s living as her father’s and brother’s income is not sufficient. She is indeed very grateful to her parents that despite the obstacles caused from the society, her family supported her to leave her abusive husband and brought her back to their home. Kalpana currently lives in a rented place with her family in a nearby area of her workplace. She says that the drinking water available in their area is not clean and hence they have to live in that petty condition as they cannot afford a better place which will require a higher amount of rent.

While talking about the city, Kalpana mentioned that she and her colleagues while returning from work always carries a paper-cutter with them as they don’t feel secured or safe travelling alone at night. The company where she is currently working pays the salary on time and so she is not willing to look for another job as she feels secured their as the behavior and conduct of the supervisor, manager and the fellow employees are very good. The only grievance she has is that her salary is very low compared to the working hours. So she along with her fellow colleagues wants a little hike in their salaries.


DebikaKakati is an 18 year old girl who has just come to Guwahati looking for a job. She belongs to Nagaon where she was living with her family. She shifted to the city with her whole family as her father was also looking for a new job. Debika completed he higher secondary exams and immediately came along with her family here in search of a job. She is currently working as a security personel in a departmental store in the zoo road. She is a direct employee for a security solutions and consultancy service.

Her only concern is to earn money to meet the regular needs of her family as her father’s sole earning is not sufficient. Debika is being paid by the security agency which doesn’t provide a single holiday throughout the week which makes it clear that she is supposed to work all the 365 days in a year. Whenever she has to take leave her salary gets deducted. According to her company policies if an employee takes leave then one of her colleague has to compensate by overworking, to which eventually no one agrees to. The company also deducts money from their salaries for their uniforms and other dresses provided by the company. Moreover, the payment of salary is also very irregular. Similarly the behavior of the supervisor with the employees is not at all satisfactory.Once Debika was severely sick and down with high fever and applied for leave but was denied on no particular ground. Hence, she was bound to stand there and work.

She says that it is very necessary for her to work as her family depends on her salary and for that even if she wanted to continue pursuing her higher education she couldn’t afford to do so. Debika says that it is a little difficult to travel around the city as it is new to her. But she didn’t complain about any misbehavior caused to her by anyone in the public or at her workplace. Whereas she admits that her colleagues are supportive and caring.

SONA BIWAS, 21, TAILOR, Koch Behar, West Bengal

Sona Biswas is a 21 year old unmarried girl originally belonging to Koch Behar. She is working as a tailor in a local tailoring shop in Hatigaon, Guwahati. She stays here with her sister who is also working, whereas her parents live in Koch Behar. Sona stays in a rented house just behind her workplace so that she doesn’t have to spend extra money for travelling. She says that wherever she has to go if it is a manageable distance to cover on foot she prefers walking rather than taking any public vehicles.

Sona gets her payment from the shop on weekly basis. If she doesn’t work for a day then there is no money for that particular day. Even though dissatisfied with the amount of money she earns, she is bound to work as she has to survive on her own can cannot depend on her parents for it. According to her she prefers to stay in the Hatigaon area as she finds it secured and safe both for her sister and herself. She told that the market area is nearby and they face no hassle in getting anything they require. The only thing that bothers her is that she cannot get employment in her hometown and that she has to struggle very hard to earn her living in the city.

Sona also grieves saying that she wanted to go to school but she couldn’t manage as her family couldn’t afford her and her sister’s education. So from a very young age she began to work and earn money along with her sister and parents. Hence after a certain age she shifted to Guwahati with her sister and began working here. The only thing Sona desires now is a little hike in her salary as the amount of Rupees 2500 that she earns monthly is insufficient for her survival in the city.

SHANTI DAS, 32, CHEF, Udalguri, near Bhutan-Assam border

Shanti is a chef working in a coffee shop in the heart of Guwahati and lives in a residential area nearby which requires a 30 minutes’ walk from her workplace. She usually walks as it becomes difficult for her to bear the travelling expenses. She was married at the age of 15 to a man who was 21 years old then. She has two kids, a daughter and a son. After around 18 years of their marriage her husband died of some severe disease. After the death of her husband she had to take all the financial responsibilities of her family. Her’s was a joint family where she was the only bread earner. Gradually her in-laws began to misbehave with her and tortured her mentally and physically. Around four years back she began to work in the girls’ hostel of a reputed boarding school in the city. There she worked for around one and a half year and then took a new job in a hotel in Paltan Bazaar. There she met a guy who wanted to marry her and accordingly they got married after a few months. Even after getting married for the second time she continued to stay with her first husband’s family as her second husband was already married with kids. She agreed to marry this person even after knowing about his first wife and family. After a year or so of her marriage she was compelled to leave her family and kids as she was being severely tortured by her first mother-in-law.

Shanti now stays alone in a rented place where her husband comes on alternate days as he is also looking after his first wife and his kids. She says that it becomes very difficult at times to survive in the city as it is very expensive and staying away from her children is also very painful. She is always very worried about her kids because they are regularly being harassed by their grandmother and aunt. Even though she bears all their expenses they are being tortured and bullied every now and then.

Shanti reaches her workplace by 9:30AM every day and leaves for home after 8:00PM. She doesn’t feel much comfortable while going back home as most of the times she was teased by the passersby. She admits that it scares her and claims that there is no security in the city for women travelling during late hours. Also the place where she stays is a little remote area where no kind of public transportation is available. So she is bound to walk even during the later hours of the day.

When asked about why she has to work, she told that it is for her survival and also for the survival of her children. She also has to look after her own mother who stays nearby and depends on her for many things.

PUJA CHETTRY, 18 years, WAITRESS, from MAJBAT, Darang

Puja is single and is in a relationship with a man. She studies till Class X. She is from a joint family.

“I have 3 brothers. And parents. After I failed class X I had to sit at home. I was getting bored and also my brothers would taunt me often. I decided to find a job. A man from our village said there is work in a factory. A friend from I came out of the house to find work. I told only my mother. They got to know only after sometime where I was. I like to work for myself. “I have a boyfriend whom I wish to marry one day. He will not let me work after marriage.”

Puja has been living in Guwahati for a year and this is her 2nd job. In her earlier job she worked in a company in Lakhara for 2 months for just 2 thousand rupees.

Now she earns 6500 a month with accommodation and food. She gets one day leave in a week. There is no healthcare benefits. Puja says,” The healthcare system is getting worse. There is no medicine available in the hospitals. Whatever facilities we used to get earlier we don’t even get that now. If we have to do tests most of the time they are not working. GMC is too crowded many days go to waste if you have to go to GMC.”

Puja feels the city not safe at night. They do not go out at night and if they do they always take a male colleague along.

SURJO BANO, 37, Fakiraganj, Assam

Surjo Bano moved to Guwahati city when she was seven years old. She first she lost her parents and then they lost their homes to the river in flood. She moved to the city with some people from her village. Since she was too young to work she used to beg on the streets of Guwahati. When she was little older she did odd jobs in people’s houses like washing dishes after a function or washing clothes when a death occurs in a family. She also worked as a rag picker. She would pick plastics and sell it to a man near Jalukbari.

Surjo got married at the age of 14. She has 5 children. She and her husband opened a small paan-tea shop and were managing to run their families. They two elder daughters married. Then her husband passed away from an illness. She says the doctors did not inform her what her husband suffered from. Her husband’s illness took away whatever they had. She had to spend more than 90 thousand rupees. After he died she went back to rag picking and doing odd jobs. Then she borrowed little money from people she knew and started the shop again. She sends 2 of her sons to schools now and lives in a rented room.

The room she rents is within a compound where many others families live. She pays 1200 rupees for the room and shared the only tube well and the toilet with more than 20 people. If they complain about anything not working at the accommodation, the land lord simply asks them to leave. The neighbours often fight with each other for water and access to toilet. Surjo says she even got beaten up by her neighbour a few times. She feels because she is alone people can abuse her easily.

Sujo Bano suffered domestic violence regularly when she went to school.

Surjo has a ration card and gets rice and kerosene on it. She collects firewood from the nearby areas and cooks with that mostly. Her sons go to school and gets books from school. She has to buy them other supplies like copies and pens. She has been approaching the ‘office’ for a house for many years but has not got anything till now.

GITA ChOUDHURY, 28 married, from Nalbari Muaklmua .

Gita came to Guwahati city about 11 years ago, married at the age of 14. When she was about 7 years old her parents left her with a family in their village during flood. They had gone to save their belongings and rebuild their home. The family gave her away to another family as a domestic worker in Managaldai. Although she was a domestic worker, the family sent her to school. This was the family of doctor. She had an accident while going to school and lost her memory. She could not go back to school after that. She also forgot about her parents and past life. She got married at the age of 14 and came to Guwahati.

In her in laws place she faced regular abuse and torture. The violence became severe when she got pregnant and the family found out that she was carrying a girl. Her mother in law would kick her in the stomach in order for her to lose the baby. Her husband beat her everyday too. She gave birth to a premature baby at 6 months 6 days. The doctors in Guwahati Medical College kept the baby in the hospital for a long time. She was released the next day after giving birth. After coming home her husband beat her up and hung her by the neck. Someone saw this and saved her. She does not know who it is. She was bleeding through her eyes and nose. And she regained her memory after this incident. She still continued to stay with the family. Now they would beat the daughter too.

Four years ago the husband attacked the daughter with a machete and injured her in the leg. She had to be taken to the hospital and was in GMC for 10 days. Gita went to Dispur police station to file a complaint against her husband. The police did not believe her and did not file an FIR. She decided to leave her husband then.

She took up odd jobs with families and shops, rented a tiny room and tried to make ends meet for her and her daughter. Her daughter needed frequent medical care as the slightest of ailment would make her very ill.

Her parents in the meantime had been looking for her and found her after 18 years. Gita says her parents had ‘become poor looking for me.” This was one year after she had left her husband.

She then heard about Maitrai the NGO that trains women on domestic work and runs a placement service. She has been working with a family since then. Her daughter lives with her parents in the village.

Gita too is unwell at the moment and not going to work. They get 10 days of paid leave for illness as part of their contract. She will be going back to the same place to work. She earns 4500 rupees a month which will increase to 5000 when she completes a year in October 2017.

Gita has a ration card and gets rice and 2 litres of kerosene every month from the PDF shop. She has no medical insurance. She has to buy medicine for her own illness which the doctor has not told her what exactly it is. She gets severe stomach pain and has problem breathing. During these attacks she has to be given an injection that cost 1500-1800 rupees.

Gita was born in a Muslim family, the familes she grew up with and married and now she has converted to Christianity. She says she does not know the rituals or rules of any of these religions. But she hopes God will keep her alive to look after her children.

She thinks it is the family she works with, some neighbors, the NGO and other women like her at the NGO who will help and support her in life.

MAJIDA BEGUM, 24, WAITRESS, from Baihata Charilai which is about 40 km from Guwahati.

Majida works as waitress in a restaurant which is in a hotel in the Paltan Bazar area. Her husband died 3 years ago and she has a 6 year old daughter.

Majida left her husbands home after he passed away and came back to her parents house. She has her brother, mother, sister inlaw at home. She had to look for work after her husband died. She found a job at a company where they packed plastic glasses. They earned about 4000 rupees a month. The money was not enough as she had to pay rent, send money home and look after her old mother’s health.

She went to a placement agency about which she heard from someone at the company. Through the placement agency she found the current job in the restaurant. She earns 6500 in this job and her accommodation and food is provided by the hotel. This helps her save some money. Her major expenditure is her mothers treatment which costs her about 1000-2000 rupees a month. Her mother is suffering from pain and buys medicine and injections from the pharmacy frequently.

Majida suffered violence by her husband. She had earlier agreed for an indepth interview where she could talk more about her life and her experiences in the city. But during the interview she expressed that she does not want to talk about her life as it would bring back bad memories. She said she wanted to avoidl “old things and concentrate on bringing up her daughter well.”

Majida says, “I have come to the city out of compulsion. I have no interest in going out or seeing things or exploring the city. I want to save some money, go back to the village, live with my daughter.” When asked what she could do in the village she said, “may be open a shop.” She does not have much education or any specific skills.

KAJAL BASPHOR, does not know her age, works in Guwahati university as a Sweeper, from BIHAR.

Kajoal got her job at the University when her husband passed away 2 years back.

Kajal was married earlier in Guwahati. But her previous husband left her. She went back to Bihar. Her 2nd husband (who worked at the University) was also married earlier. His first wife died, leaving behind 3 children. Kajal got married to him through a cousin. She did not know that he was an old man and had 3 children. She later had 1 child with him.

Kajal earns around 8000 rupees a month and a pension from her husband. Her total income amounts to around 15000 a month. However her job is a contractual one and she does not get paid for holidays and leaves including Saturday and Sundays when the University is closed. In most months she gets around 8000 rupees in hand. But she has not been getting her salary for 3 months. She says, “the head has to write for me to get the salary. But he does not write.”

She lives in her own house in the Sweeper colony next to the University. She looks after 3 children from her husband’s previous marriage and her own. Their eldest daughter is married. The two sons go to school but the daughter who is around 16 does not go to school.

Kajal says she feels very “weak and lazy”. The doctor told her she has “less blood”. But the University hospital does not provide any medicine and she cannot afford to go to a private doctor. Only in emergency they go to a private doctor. But she prefers the private doctor as she has to buy medicine anyway and the private doctors treat her better than the University one.

She says Bihar is better as they get, ”housing, water, electricity, doctor, school and everything free in Bihar.” “Modij says we all will get everything, but in reality we get nothing.”

Kajal expressed several time in her interview that she wanted to study. But her parents died when she was very young. She grew up with her uncle in a joint family. So she could not study.


Mili has been living in Guwahati city for 20 years on and off. She first came to Guwahati, married at the age of 12. Her ex-husband who is also from Baihata Chariali, took her back home saying they will live in the village. He however left her in the village and came back to Guwahati. Mili followed her husband. This to and fro continued along with a violent marriage. She has suffered multiple injuries from her husband’s violent attacks on her. Her in-laws however have been supportive.

Her son is 5 years old and is not able to walk or stand up. Mili decided to leave her husband. She works as a part time domestic help in a number of household in Guwahati. She lives in a rented house with her son. One of her present employers are have connected her to an organization working with disability to get support for her son. The NGO maitrai also has helped her a lot in finding jobs and looking after her son.

Mili feels at least in Guwahati she can work and live on her own without a violent husband.


The study highlights the daily difficulties, discriminations and rights violations faced by women migrant workers in Guwahati city clearly. Almost all of the participants are paid below minimum wage. Most do not get maternity benefits. Childcare benefits are nil. The case stories show the violations ofwomen’s human rights in the forms of domestic violence, restrictions on movement, police atrocities, absence of free healthcare, housing and sanitation facilities, safety standards and welfare benefits.

In addition the women face gender based discriminations like lower paid jobs for women with similar credentials, lack of opportunity at workplace for leadership role and a general assumptions of women being incompetent at their jobs. In sectors where women are wanted like the service industry employers expectations are also based on women’s traditional gender roles rather than specific qualifications or interest of the woman employee.

In the absence of union the women have little support to demand fairness and justice in employment and other areas. In a city unknown to them, they remain isolated and deprived of rights. Access to information on rights, space and resources to build capacities and enhance understanding are also absent.

In order to address poverty and gender inequality it is imperative that the state and civil society take measures to improve the working and living conditions of women.

This study aims to inform and start discussions in this regard to bring in measures to mobilise the women, enhance their capacities and formulate policies to address the vast gaps in attaining rights. This report will be shared with a range of stakeholders including the civil society, media, the government and the employers to activate the much needed discussions and actions.


Guiding Questionnaire

Personal information:



Marital status:


Educational qualification:

Place of origin:

Languages spoken:

Number of years in Guwahati:

You live with your family/colleague/friend:

Social group




Family information:

Nuclear or Joint family:

No. of members in the family:

No. of adults:

No. of children:

No. of earning members in the family:

Do you contribute to family income?

Are you the only earning member in the family?

Do you live with your family?

Work Place



Working since:

Previous work place:

Working hours:

Break for refreshment:


Leave with pay:

Leave without pay:

Maternity benefits:

Child care:

Other benefits:

Weekly holidays:

Regularity in payment of salary:

Any formal training of the work:

Any other skill development training:

Benefit of Employees’ Provident Fund:

Any training provided by the organization you are currently working in?

Any health care facility provided by the organization?


Do you live alone?

Residence in Guwahati:

Rented/owned/hostel/paying guest:

Is it a shared or individual residence?

If shared, then with whom?

Community residential area:


Any problem of water logging/artificial flash flood:

Regular water supply:

Tap water/ other provisions:

Common/individual bathrooms and urinals:

Sanitation facilities:

Cooking facility

LPG or kerosene stove:

Supply of fuel:

Nearest market area:

Communication facility:

Safety in the locality:

Ever being bullied or teased around your residence:

Are there any restrictions regarding the entry time:


Do you go for regular health check up?

You access health care in government/private hospitals:

Do you have any chronic health problem?

Do you take regular medication?

What is the amount of expense for your own health care?

Do you have any health insurance?

Government/Private insurance organization:

Covered illness/disease of your policy:

Covered expense limit of your policy:

Is there any member in the family who needs regular medical care?

What kind of treatment/care?

Where do go for their treatment?

Expense of their treatment:

Do you get medicine from the Government hospital?


No. of children:

No. of girls and age:

No. of boys and age:

Do they go to school?

Government/private school:

Expenses for their education:

Health issues if any:

Expenses for their health care:

Do they live with you?

Who looks after them when you go to work?

Do they get any scholarship from the government?

Do they get the benefit of midday meals of the government?

Are their books provided by the government?


Transportation within the city:

Transportation to workplace:

Are the neighbours friendly?

Do you travel alone in the late hours?

Do you feel safe to travel around the city in the late hours?

Were you ever harassed or teased in a public place?

Do you want to share the story?


Did you ever face violence/harassment at workplace?

Did you ever face violence/harassment at home?

If yes, do you want to share the story with us?

Did you report about such incident to any person or authority?

Were any actions taken in the matter?

Did you ever approach the police in such matters?

How was their response?

Did they take any action?


Do you have any insurance policy provided by the government?

Have you ever attended any state funded training/skill development program?

Did you ever work in any government organisations/ government aided projects?

Do you have a ration card in your own name?

Do you have an LPG connection in your own name?

Did you take the LPG connection under the state funded scheme of the ‘UjjwalaYojana’?

Have you ever availed any other facility provided by the government?

Published by: NEthing, Ground Foor (behind shops), Seujee Enclave, Maniram Dewan Road, Chandmari, Guwahati 781003