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How the Indian Census turned me into an invisible housewife

Picture of family on mantel
AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi
What would the Census call you?
Published This article is more than 2 years old.

I’m sorry but I don’t have much faith in the figures India’s Census puts out. I’m talking about the “Great Invisible Force” of 160 million jobless women that was reported in the papers a couple of days ago. A significant proportion of working age women confined to their home and hearth doing domestic chores because society and economic policies have failed them. Makes me want to throw in the towel and weep. Not because I’m feeling sorry for these women and the opportunities that might have passed them by (I genuinely feel their pain) but I might have been counted as one of them!

Yes, that’s what I have been reduced to. A statistic, and an incorrect one at that. I’m quite sure there are many others such as me, similarly infuriated when the headlines hit them on the face. Not that there is anything wrong with looking after the home and hearth. I spend a lot of my time doing that too! But in between cooking, doing the laundry and trying to provide the right environment for my tween, I follow my dreams and earn money too. Not that it’s a hell of a lot but I do get by.

Only, the beady-eyed man who came visiting my house collecting Census data did not seem to think so. Wait till I get my hands on him!

To begin with, the manner in which he rang the doorbell, several times in quick succession, ticked me off much before I actually laid eyes on him. Almost as though I’m supposed to drop whatever it is that I am doing and rush to the door because a Very Important Person Designated For Government Work is calling!

After taking in my disheveled appearance (complete with a shabby tee and a shabbier pair of bermudas), he ordered me to get him a glass of water, heading straight into the house without removing his shoes. I stared after him angrily. Sputtering in rage. You see, whenever I am really angry I find that words fail me. and, I am not particularly polite to strangers but you can blame my mother for that—she drilled a deep sense of mistrust with respect to strangers when I was little.

Well, this particular stranger certainly deserved my mistrust.

After plonking himself down at my dining table without invitation and roughly pushing my laptop aside to give himself space, he took out a sheet of papers from a brown case and started taking notes.

Then the questions started. In Hindi.

After asking how many people live in the house, their names, ages and relationships he proceeded to ask about how we earned our living. “Do you own this flat or is it rented?” I couldn’t help but smile at this question. If each part of the country had a favourite question, this would be North India’s top one.  Everyone, including my neighbour to the vegetable vendor has asked me this!

After quizzing me about my husband’s job, he looked at me dismissively, having already made up his mind.

Mr. Beady-Eyed Census Man: You are a housewife, right?

Me (irritable): No, I work

Mr. Beady-Eyed Census Man (looking me up and down): Where do you work?

Me (snappy): I work from home

Mr. Beady-Eyed Census Man (impatiently, clucking his tongue against his teeth): Yes I know, you do housework at home but where is your office?

Me (Shouting): No, I mean my office is at home. I work from home. I am a journalist. I write articles and reports.

Mr. Beady-Eyed Census Man (getting up to leave): Yes, that’s very nice. You like to write. But that’s isn’t a job. That’s a hobby that you do in your spare time. You paint, you sing, you write. You need to go to an office to work. Doing housework isn’t really work and I can’t list a hobby as a profession!

The last thing I remember was the metal door clanging shut after him. I might have had a seizure or collapsed, I don’t really remember. I do know that I hadn’t throttled him. Nothing had been reported in the newspapers the next day.

Beady’s alive and kicking. And we have our Census figures to prove it.

I have slipped into oblivion with one stroke of Beady’s pen. All my hard work of 12 years wasted. I am a part of the Invisible Work Force. For people such as Beady, creatures like me are mutants. Not to be acknowledged on paper. A home is a home and work is work. Work from home is housework and work from an office is a profession. There is no mixing the two. And you know what the worst part is? I know he’s not the only one. There are many, many Beadys out there. God save us!

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

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