Head Load Workers


Women laboring along the side of the road or on a construction site, with enormous loads balanced expertly on their heads are such a common sight in India that eventually they fade into the landscape like the cows and the traffic.  These women laborers are known as head loaders. With the grace of a heron, they carry as much as 40 kilograms of rocks, stones, bricks, sand and cement on top of their heads that are often draped in their colorful, flowing sarees, teeth clenched around the ends to keep the saree in place over their heads so that it doesn’t slip off.  This need to maintain modesty, a relative of purdah, is more common in the north and a remnant of Mughal India.  I took these photographs in south India where the dress code is a bit more relaxed. Although these workers are gaily dressed and smile easily, their plight is tough.

The construction industry is India’s second largest and fastest growing sector; estimated to employ more than 30 million people. 51%  are women, unskilled, casual and manual and day laborers. Women are rarely admitted into the male dominated skilled trades of carpentry, masonry and plumbing. There is a decided gender bias at play here. The wages are low. There are long periods between jobs. Injuries are common place.

There are, however, little pockets of change as women organize and are beginning to establish trade

Construction Worker

Construction Worker

unions and working standards for themselves. This, though, is a long way off for many but change is in the air.


About ninagrandiose

I am based in NYC but travel regularly to India and Mexico. Both of these countries feel like home. In India I scour the country in search of fabulous textiles to incorporate into my clothing designs. I sit back and let the ambiance and wonder of India seep into my consciousness so I can be inspired to write about what India is for me. I bring a limited number of people to India on exclusive and intimate tours of my favorite hangouts. In Mexico I take in the natural beauty that surrounds me and dance the night away. I constantly give thanks for all this and am pleased to share it all with you.
This entry was posted in adventure, photography, South India, Travel, Uncategorized, Village Life, women's rights and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Head Load Workers

  1. Kongo says:

    What a great story. These women do indeed live in a stark reality most of us in the West can scarcely imagine. I think I would like to learn more about their lives and what they do when they are not clearing loads with their heads. I’m sure they must have great family responsibilities too.

  2. ninagrandiose says:

    Though men in India, especially husbands, are worshiped as gods, women are the backbone of the society. As you can imagine, the women at the bottom rungs have hard lives, looking after their children, keeping their homes spotlessly clean, which could be 1 room for 6 people and preparing meals from scratch which most likely involves collecting water at a distant source. Their joys usually stem from their deeply rooted spirituality and their children’s accomplishments and maybe some monkey business. Thanks for stopping by.

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