Posted by Devanshi Varandani
While Unveiling the faces of the widows of Vidarbha, a minuscule fragment of attention from the farmer suicides, has been diverted to the lives of the families of the deceased farmers.
The Indian agrarian society has lately witnessed a downfall in the agriculture sector, leading to an upsurge in the number of farmer suicides and distressed widows. Undeniably, the most prominent consequence of the suicides is widowhood.
A limited amount of work has been done on the impact of the agrarian crisis on the widows and the families involved. Thus, centring these women, Kota Neelima, a political author, and a journalist, in her book, “Widows of Vidarbha: Making of Shadows” describes the troubled lives of 16 widows, to whom the state has conveniently turned a blind eye.
This book reflects on the lives of the widows of Vidarbha over a period of 3 years, contemplating the transition from hopelessness and misery to optimism and a promising future.
The book has been researched and written based on intense field work done by the author and repetitive visits to Vidarbha. One of the distinctive aspects of the book is that the stories display emotions in an explicit way. Instead of stepping back from portraying the sore point of these widows, the author noticeably dominates sensitiveness in every possible way.
The 18 anecdotes in the book, in a subtle yet effective way, discusses 4 key topics: Identity crisis in the patriarchal society; the urgency of providing quality education to the young generation as an incumbent on the government. Next, the book stresses on the transition in the dreams and hopes of the family members after the demise of farmers. Lastly, the approach of the state and politics.
Identity crises and patriarchy
This book pertinently argues against the existing notion of gender stereotyping, and reflects on the lives of the widows of Vidarbha over a period of 3 years, contemplating, the transition from hopelessness and misery to optimism and a promising future. In the collection of anecdotes, one of the key unfoldings is the discomfort our society faces with the triumph of a widow. The root cause is primarily because of the underlying issue of identity crisis. The author, over and over questions the status and identity of a woman without her husband; recognized as mere shadows of their companions, lacking a sense of individuality. Challenging the existing norms of gender roles, a widow, not seeking validation from the society is considered to defy the idea of behaving like a victim.
The empirical indication observed in the book exhibits the concept of intersectionality, which is a focal point when considered from the social perspective. In India, women are already deemed as the weaker sex, on top of that, a woman who is from a lower economic class, a widow, and a single mother is likely to be subjected to unfairness to a greater extent, resulting into multiple forms of discrimination.
The state and politics
Kota Neelima has done substantial work in comprehending the approach of the state towards the widows. Most of the interviewees bluntly stated that they believed that the state was solely responsible for the death of their spouses. There were women who distrusted the government to such an extent that the thought of applying for any welfare scheme was not even considered.
Widows of Vidarbha Shows that Families are not ready to sell their lands, as that is all they have. With shattered dreams, rebuilding themselves is one of the bravest acts.
Every single rupee was robbed from the already poor farmers. Because of the faulty approaches of the government, farmers were ready to take loans from money lenders at higher interest rates, but not from the government. Hitting at the pain point of the defaulters, the government officials severely humiliated the farmers for repayment of loans. Unable to pay the school fees and see their children starve, is, by all means, a nightmare and a horrifying sight for a parent (p. xxv). The unquestionable reason behind most of the deaths is the loss of dignity and honor that they had to face. The definition of normal and usual have been different for farmers. Failing for a farmer is normal (p. 188).
Redefining dreams: Abhorrence towards being a farmer
In the struggle for survival, associating with the agrarian industry is considered as a foolish option. The word agriculture is looked down upon with sheer abhorrence and displeasure. The book describes how the society viewed men and distinguished them. A graduate man with a government job was considered a good match for a woman, and a farmer, unsurprisingly a bad match (p. 37). The core reason behind this thought process was predominantly the financial insecurity attached with being a farmer. Since the beginning of the crisis, there has been a direct relationship between poverty and lack of opportunities with respect to agriculture. The sad part is that most of the farmers are well versed with farming only. With lack of education, they are unable to work elsewhere. Families are not ready to sell their lands, as that is all they have. With shattered dreams, rebuilding themselves is one of the bravest acts.
Education as an incumbent on the government
Most of the families believe that given an option, they would never want their children to engage in farming. However, unable to afford a good education, their children have been forced to make a living out of agriculture. The lack of education has a considerable impact on a widow’s circumstances (p. 218). Nevertheless, we must also understand that without equal opportunities, expecting children to grow and have a great future would be unfair. Maybe these children lack education, but through strong efforts of the government, skills can be developed in them, which would in turn help them create a decent, if not a bright future for themselves.
Death has never been a solution to any problem. The state and the community have considered the widows of these farmers as invisible people; mere objects who are shifted from the centre to the corners without their husbands. Silently struggling with their lives, they have shown immense courage to rebuild their families. Death portrayed a heavy symbolic violence towards the widows. Invisible people are often subjected to invisible violence. These widows have learned to succeed financially, mentally and most important, emotionally.
Devanshi Varandani is an enthusiast in writing for the social sector, and intends to bring in a positive change in the society, through writing.
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