While farmers (largely males, some ladies) from Punjab, Haryana and different components of the nation collect on the border of the nationwide capital to protest towards the newly-passed farm legal guidelines, there may be one other actuality that lies behind the glare of mainstream TV debates and Twitter hashtags: the ladies farmers of Bundelkhand — who’re nonetheless far away from the political centre, nonetheless out toiling within the fields, nonetheless ready on previous guarantees.
For a special report on Rashtriya Kisan Diwas (National Farmers’ Day), our bureau chief Meera spoke to farm union leaders in Banda and on ground at the Singhu and Tikri protest sites via Zoom, however ladies farmers have been largely lacking from these political minefields. They have been out within the precise fields, the place courtesy them, all of the farm work continues to be occurring, regardless that farmers from throughout the nation are persevering with to congregate and mobilise on the nationwide capital borders.
Through everything of 2020, by the coronavirus pandemic and the next lockdowns, we reported how women farmers in Bundelkhand couldn’t afford to “work from home” and continued to work of their fields — often with out masks, ample well being data and even primary provisions. Just a few months in the past, 15 October was celebrated as Rashtriya Mahila Kisan Diwas, however the mahila kisan, ‘woman farmer’ has a long history of being magicked out of land information, employment information and even the title of ‘farmer’. While a lot ado was made about free ration beneath PM Garib Kalyan Yojana, and the announcement of direct bank transfers to financial institution accounts of every day wage staff, we discovered that almost all of those initiatives didn’t attain women farmers, whilst their workloads grew.
The majority of Khabar Lahariya reporters are from farming households or have been farmers themselves. While some come from landowning households and others from landless ones, most belong to Dalit or OBC communities, who’re essentially the most susceptible to any poorly designed or carried out insurance policies. They know — from their lived and noticed expertise, in addition to their years of reporting within the hinterland — what a mahila kisan is likely to be interested by when she wakes at 4 am to cook dinner, then head to the fields till nightfall whereas additionally dealing with childcare, tending livestock, care of the aged, defending the crop from grazing cattle from the gaushalas close by and the myriad duties that devour her days.
The unseen girl farmer
Farming has all the time been a girl’s sport in India. They kind the silent, unacknowledged spine of the agrarian economic system and farm tradition, tirelessly working away in excessive and hostile circumstances. Most of the non-mechanised farming actions resembling sowing, winnowing and harvesting are solely achieved by ladies labourers. Recent statistics launched by the University of Maryland and the National Council of Applied Economic Research state that girls represent 42 p.c of the agricultural labour pressure however personal solely 2 p.c of agricultural land.
For the ladies farmers of Uttar Pradesh, who’re seen in every single place, however not often seen in official coverage, the brand new farm payments current larger challenges even whereas their results are poorly understood. In Banda, Vibha Khare of the native Market Committee defined, “If the market fee is only for inside the mandi, then all the traders will go outside the market. This will lead to exploitation of the farmers.”
For occasion, Mahoba’s paan is known throughout Uttar Pradesh, however the ladies who harvest these betel leaves aren’t reaping the earnings. Earlier this 12 months, in the course of the first wave of the pandemic, KL’s senior reporter Suneeta visited some ladies engaged on a paan farm in Mahoba. Phoolarani, a farm labourer, earns a meagre Rs 150 toiling by the day from 9 am to six pm in one of many betel leaf farms, sitting on their haunches with solely a 30-minute lunch squeezed in between. “It’s back-breaking work and not even enough to feed my family. These days I feel like leaving this work and finding something else,” she says.
(Above: A farmer in Banda. Photo © Khabar Lahariya.)
The lockdown and rains have severely affected paan gross sales, additional lowering their entry to the technique of manufacturing. “If I had my own farm, it would be different. Everything has become so expensive — the rent, kerosene, farm equipment, diesel etc., that we have no choice but to do khet mazdoori (daily wage farm labour),” provides Phoolarani. Maiki, an older farmer, says she’s spent everything of her youth rising and harvesting betel leaves. Her household enjoys consuming paan however it by no means caught her fancy. The KL reporter notices the farm crammed with solely feminine labourers and Maiki is fast to point out that the “Maalik prefers us as we do the same work for Rs 150 that men charge Rs 200-250 for.”
But the vast majority of ladies farmers from essentially the most marginalised and oppressed areas of rural Uttar Pradesh can hardly concern themselves with the farm payments, identical to they might hardly concern themselves with the pandemic. “We searched high and low,” says KL bureau chief Meera, describing the search for mahila kisan opinions on the farm payments. “But the story of rural India is that the level of precarity is so high that people are only concerned with their immediate daily work — their crops and food for the day.”
For essentially the most half, ladies farmers aren’t but even conscious of the farm payments. They are consumed as a substitute by the every day issues that preceded the passage of those payments — like immense loans, no good harvest due to drought, water shortage and the growing prices of irrigation. As our reporters Meera, Geeta and Suneeta requested the ladies to remark, the frequent chorus within the fields was: “Nobody has given us any information. We don’t know anything about this. We are poor, we labour all day. We are not educated. How will we know?”
“We start working in the fields from 8 in the morning till 8 in the night. Often we go hours without eating or drinking water,” says Aarti, a 35-year previous girl from the Sehariya farming group in Bargadh, Chitrakoot. Like lots of her feminine friends, she too would not have a lot details about the continued farmers’ protests as a result of “Nobody tells us anything, be it the government, officials or even the Pradhan. We are illiterate farmers, and everyone just takes advantage of that. We did go to some rallies and told them about our struggles but till date we have received no relief, no benefits.”
A Land of Her Own
Leading agriculture scientist and Rajya Sabha (2007-13) member Prof MS Swaminathan introduced The Women Farmers’ Entitlements Bill, 2011 in the Parliament on 11 May 2012. However, it ‘lapsed’ on April 10, 2013 without any support or interest to see it through. As stated in this PARI network report, Prof Swaminathan, in the Bill’s ‘Statement of Objects and Reasons’, noted that the dire consequences for women are compounded when agricultural distress, such as drought or erratic monsoon impels rural men to move to towns and cities in search of employment. “This had led to ‘an increasing feminisation of agriculture’, and women farmers experienced several handicaps related to land titles, access to credit, inputs, insurance, technology and the market.” Prof Swaminathan took note of the skewed gender dynamics in India’s agricultural sector and prosed this bill to safeguard the livelihoods of rural women. According to this report, the bill “sought to provide for the gender-specific needs of women farmers, protect their entitlements, and empower them with rights over agricultural land and water resources, and also access to credit, among other things.”
Phoolkali, a farmer from Kothi village in Chitrakoot, laments, “We don’t have much land, and it’s a lot of hard, laborious work that goes into farming. I do all the sowing, tilling, cutting, winnowing etc. During the harvest I am on standby, be it day or night. But it’s been 3 years since I stopped working on my own land. My 1.5 bigha land was flooded, so now no vehicle can even go there. In recent times I have only worked as a farm labourer wherever I could find work. I don’t know much about the farm bills, but the Modi government is yet to give me money for the 1.5 bigha land that I’ve lost. But what to even expect from the government didi…” and on that despairing note, she trails off.
Equal pay for equal work, a land of her own, and being front and centre of policy not political lip-service — that’s the faraway dream for India’s mahila kisan. So the next time you see powerful images of the protests led by male Indian farmers splashed across your screens and dailies, don’t forget the mahila kisaan tending to her fields away from the glare of the cameras, still putting food on our plates.
Written by Ritika Bhatia for Khabar Lahariya, based on field reporting by Meera Devi, Geeta Devi and Suneeta Devi.
Banner image: Farmers in Banda. Photo © Khabar Lahariya.
Khabar Lahariya is India’s only grassroots, feminist news and media platform, run by an all-women team of reporters, editors and media practitioners, reporting on media-dark geographies of the north Indian hinterland.