The recently passed Farmers Bills namely, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion And Facilitation) Bill, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020 – has created a massive stir in the Indian Political Landscape. Not only are these Bills anti-farmers but the whole episode of the unethical proceedings that was witnessed in the Rajya Sabha was equal to murdfarering democracy.
To summarise it, these Bills (now turned into an Act) have brought in the private players to reap benefits out of a system which exploits the farmers, who are mostly marginalised, by not guaranteeing them MSP (Marginal Support Price) in the new Bills which further escalates the agrarian crisis in India. It also means that the Bill evidently tries to create a national framework which is homogeneous by nature and ignores the number of amendments that took place in the states by dismantling the APMC (Agricultural Produce Market Committee) systems. From seeing protests of the opposition leaders in the Parliament, to farmers taking on the streets and agitating against the draconian Bill, the events have built another Pan-Indian Resistance Movement against the current regime. However, what has been witnessed on these morchas and dharnas and the discourses around the issue, is that there is a presence of complete invisibilisation of women farmers and their plight.
Are the Farmer’s protests just another issue which has no place for women’s problems? Are the personal accounts of women farmers, a constant struggle of identity of being a woman and a farmer?
What we see on the ground and media coverage is that most of these protests are being covered as a Social Agrarian Crisis that has major impacts on male farmers and to their legacy. What we all have grossly overlooked is that the age old sufferings of the female farmers, who have been a part of this profession and have over-shared the burden of these crisis for a very long time, have been completely ignored by the state and still face the struggle of having no space in the policy reforms. There has been a deep-rooted ignorance on the policy front and also at the front of redressal on women farmers’ issues.
Let’s talk about the participation of women farmers in the agricultural sector. According to Oxfam Report, In India, the Agriculture sector employs 80% of all economically active women in India which comprises 33% of the agricultural labor force and 48% of the self-employed farmers. However, when it comes to owning the land, only 13% women farmers have complete control over it.
From sowing to harvesting the crops, most of the women do not have proper access to resources in comparison to men. This disparity is greatly affected in their pace of growing crops and establishing their identity. By providing them knowledge on the financial and technical aspects of agriculture, it will bring a great impact on their lives and will also provide them due recognition. Creating a favorable platform for the women will help in bringing them into the mainstream and will also have their proper representation.
In the agricultural landscape, there are multiple reports of farmer suicides that take place all over the country. The major reasons for these suicides are unfavorable policy reformations, accumulated debt crisis, occurrence of natural disasters affecting their fields and low investments and returns have been the primary reasons for this. Due to this, there has been a sharp rise in the existence of farm widows.
According to a report by MAKAAM (Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch), 40 percent of women widows, between 2012 and 2018, were yet to obtain rights of the farmland they cultivated in the districts of Marathwada and Vidharbha in Maharashtra. The suicides of farmers have compelled the women to carry the burden of feeding their children, taking care of household chores providing minimum access to health care with no proper intervention by the state or welfare groups. This causes a grave traumatic experience for the women farmers. If that’s not all, then they are not even considered as farmers thanks to the widespread underreporting of women’s work in the agriculture sector.
While at one side we see the women farmers being outrightly denied of their basic rights, the Dalit and Tribal women farmers, who are much marginalised than the others, face the harshest amount of social and economic exclusion. According to ActionAid, an international development organisation that works to eliminate poverty, 70 percent of Dalit people are landless. Caste-based discrimination heavily continues till date and its social consequences directly impact on dalit women farmers who lose their right to own land, the right to cultivate their own vegetables, their right to sell and, most importantly, they lose their self-esteem. They are completely denied every aspect of farm work which impacts their livelihood and thus, their work goes undervalued.
Dr. Fatima Burnad, a human rights and women’s rights activist who has been advocating the rights of the marginalised women provides a strategy of land distribution and collective farming, which will eradicate the differences of caste/class/patriarchy and all other religious-cultural oppression. In continuing her efforts in bringing an impact on the lives of the minority women, she motivates the dalit women farmers to participate in local governance which will grant the necessary exposure to them and make them good leaders of the community.
In a country, where farming as a profession has been challenged and disrespected at every single occasion, whether it is at policy reforming or underreporting, its consequences are doubly faced by the women of the farming community. The lack of having a gendered friendly policy has created a vacuum where the vulnerabilities of women farmers are left exposed.
The New farmer’s Bills will only deteriorate an already broken agricultural landscape and the crisis this time will be much deeper than one can imagine. It is of utmost importance that the farmer’s protests in India must be seen as an intersectional feminist issue. While we talk about having representation of the marginalised sections of the society, the Indian Feminist Movement must also actively engage with the issues of the farmers especially the staggering data that is available on women farmers.
The personal narratives of women farmers should have a greater platform which can create a sense of solidarity, empathy and a commitment driven policy level intervention that will bring effective change on the rights of women farming community.