India, May 7 -- Manjari Begum's days are long, with back-breaking labour under the searing sun - waking up at 4am to tend to her poultry, sweep her mud courtyard and sprinkle it with water, snap twigs and small branches to tie together and mend the makeshift fence that separates her house from that of her brother-in-law, before starting to cook for her eight children.

Then, her real workday begins.

Her husband, Mohammad Jumman, 45, has been away working on a construction site in Meerut for a decade. Like most other men in the Muslim-majority village of Chandodayi in Bihar's Araria district, he returns home once a year around Eid, if at all. His earnings are based on the whims of the middlemen, and so does the flow of money back home. Be...