Women's home-based income generation as a strategy towards poverty survival : dynamics of the 'khannawalli' (mealmaking) activity of Bombay

Abbott, Dina (1994). Women's home-based income generation as a strategy towards poverty survival : dynamics of the 'khannawalli' (mealmaking) activity of Bombay. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000de50


For generations. the "khannawallis" have supplied daily cooked meals for thousands of single male migrant textile workers who live in appalling conditions in Bombay. In this way. they have become essential to Bombay's industrial development and daily functioning. However. the activity remains "invisible" and very little notice is taken of the women or their work. This thesis uses the khannawalli activity as a case study to understand the dynamics and problematics of women's home-based income generation.

By exploring the Marxist and the feminist discourse on the "informal" sector; women; and poverty. the thesis comes to the conclusion that the best way of analyse the khannawalli activity is by adopting a "livelihoods system" approach. In doing so. it suggests that women's home-based income activities are better understood as strategies towards survival. rather than small entrepreneurial activities. Understood in this way, the central point of analysis becomes the access each individual has to the resources and opportunities necessary to start and maintain an activity.

An analysis based on access is able to draw out social differentiation between individual operators and their operations. It also enables a comment on individual relationships. both within the household and outside of it. Altogether. this develops an understanding of how women's home-based income activities operate. and what problems they create. Furthermore, by setting the activity within a historical context. this case study is also able to look at recent changes that have affected the khannawalli activity. Whilst some of these changes have been detrimental to the activity, the khannawallis have proved that it is possible. even for those in the "informal" sector to address their future by organising themselves. The khannawallis show that women in poverty are not simply the passive recipients of their destiny.

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