ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Continuing Saga of Women’s Work during COVID-19

This paper employs a social reproduction framework to argue that the two main institutions of capitalism—the markets and the state—have failed to adequately provide for the working people of India during the pandemic while fostering gender inequities. While the demand for gender equity in the domestic sphere and the workplace is not new, the pandemic further underscores its urgency.


The author wishes to thank the editors of the special issue, the anonymous reviewers, and Panayiotis Manolakos for their comments, suggestions, and engagement with the paper. She also wishes to acknowledge Adreeta Das for her research assistance.

On 18 April 2020, 12-year-old Jamlo Makdam from Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district, who worked in the chilli fields of Kannaiguda village in Telangana, died after fleeing the stringent and sudden national lockdown imposed on account of COVID-19. She walked 150 kilometres (km) in three days before succumbing to exhaustion and dehydration, less than 50 km from her home. Jamlo’s story is ostensibly one of the incompetency of the central and state governments that did not plan for safe and affordable transportation of the more than 50 million low-wage migrant workers engaged in informal work who were desperate to return home. Yet, it is also the story of the economy that does not provide sufficient decent employment to rural and urban men and women. It is the story of a state that does not ensure that workers are guaranteed decent wages and job security, that child labour laws are implemented, nor does it guarantee an adequate social safety net to its denizens. It is the story of the vast majority of the working people in the country who survive, who are already atmanirbhar (self-reliant) on gendered household labour that the capitalist economy and the state take for granted and the exhaustion of an immiserated workforce. Jamlo’s and other similar stories are but extraordinary instances of the everyday struggles of the working classes in India.

The nationwide lockdown starting on 24 March 2020 with a four-hour notice, eventually lasted for 45 days and restricted the economy and the mobility of the entire Indian population of 1.3 billion. The paper uses Shivji’s (2017) concept of “working people,”1 the class of toilers, which includes peasants, proletarians, semi-proletarians, and those engaged in petty commodity production to pose this question: How are the working people surviving the pandemic in India?

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Updated On : 16th Jun, 2021
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