Karnataka Women and farmer organisations observed ‘Mahila Kisan Diwas’ on 18th January in solidarity with farmers across the country.
This was in response to a national call given for observing ‘ Mahila Kisan Divas’ (Women Farmers Day) by the Samyukt Kisan Morcha that is spearheading the farmers’ agitation for the repeal of the three Farm Laws.
The farm laws are being pushed through without any consultation either with the farming community that will be directly impacted by these legislations or within the Parliament that is the forum for the Executive to debate and discuss public policies and laws before they are passed.
Protests in Kolar and Bangalore
Echoes of this call were heard in two very local actions closer home in Karnataka.
A network of progressive women’s organisations in Kolar comprising of women from more than 20 organisations including that of women, trans communities, Dalit, and farmers organised under the banner of the Pragathipara Sanghatanegala Okoota carried out street play and protests in Kolar.
Around 150 activists marched through the streets of Kolar after performing the play on the farmers’ plight in the centre of town. They protested on the steps of the mini Vidhana Souda and presented to the local administration a memorandum addressed to the Prime Minister of India and the Chief Minister of Karnataka. The memorandum asked them to pay attention to the lakhs of voices out on the streets and repeal the three laws before sitting down with the protesting farmers to seek their opinion on what needs to be done to better the state of agriculture in this country.
There was also a public interaction with women farmers from the Iruliga and Hakki Pikki tribal women in Bannerghatta, Bangalore under the banner of MAKAAM Karnataka.
In an animated session, the Iruliga women who are forest dwellers turned hard-working agriculturists spoke about the continuum of the work within their homes and the work on the fields (including taking care of their cattle) that ensures the successful harvesting of ragi which is their staple food. And all this even as they are struggling to get rights over the land they have been cultivating for several decades which is still being denied to them despite a clear government order granting it for their resettlement and rehabilitation.
MAKAAM, or Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch (Forum For Women Farmers’ Rights) is a nationwide informal forum of individuals and organisations of farming women, of women farmers’ collectives, civil society organisations, researchers, and activists to secure due recognition and rights of women farmers in India.
Women are Farmers too!
The two events while diverse in nature had three messages in common.
- The first that clearly said that women are farmers too.
- Women too are concerned about the three Acts that it is clear should be totally repealed if the sustainable culture of agriculture and the dignity of farmers have to be ensured.
- Women farmers also have a democratic right to protest against anti-people and pro-corporate policies.
These messages and voices become critical in the specific context of the recent paternalistic statement of the honourable Chief Justice of India (CJI) who in the name of “concern” for the elderly and the women participating in the farmers’ agitation in the “bitter cold” of the open outskirts of the capital, solicitously asked their advocates in court to convey to them that he wished that they would go back home.
CJI’s statement shows not only a shocking ignorance of women in agriculture but a not so shocking denial of agency to women who have in fact clearly made known that they are not there to merely feed the men who are apparently in the forefront of the struggle.
Women are also managing accounts, caring for the needy and sick, driving tractors, helping children in their studies, singing songs to keep the morale of the protestors high, and are speaking to the media with utmost clarity and insight on the reasons why they are there. And what according to them is at stake!
The Census 2011 shows that there are 98 million Indian women in agriculture. A People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI) report found that nearly two-thirds of the female workforce is engaged in agriculture, “either as cultivators or agricultural labourers”. The Periodic Labour Force Survey report (2017-2018) shows that 73% of all the rural female workers are agriculturists. The National Council of Applied Economic Research highlighted the gender gap in land ownership in 2018 and mentioned, “Women comprise over 42 percent of the agricultural labour force in the country, signifying increasing feminisation of agriculture, and yet they own less than 2 percent of its farmland.”
For Women Struggle is not an option, its a matter of Survival
And these are the invisible women farmers who have firmly been in the leadership of this struggle, just as much as they lead the process of agriculture itself and bear the burden of crushing farm debts, suicides, shrinking incomes, and the ecological disaster that the current agrarian crisis has produced.
The amendment in the Essential Commodities Act for instance will totally finish the public distribution system. Women know that this will increase hunger and starvation and the main target will be women and girl children. As much as they know that the contract farming act will clearly put the women farmers at the mercy of the contractors with absolutely no chance of redressal.
Infact, the presence of women in this struggle signifies that what is happening on the outskirts of Delhi is no ordinary protest or even a revolt or rebellion. It is a sustained community Satyagraha by those who are also celebrating and trying to protect the sustainable culture and economics of the predominantly agricultural society that India has been. And so the women are there to stay.
As stated by feminists and women’s groups in their open letter to the Government of India “for women farmers, participation in this struggle is not an option from which they may exit, it is a matter of their bare survival.”
And these are the voices that the CJI and the citizens of this country need to hear, understand and stand firmly in solidarity with.
The author is a Women’s rights activist and researcher. She is associated with Gamana Mahila Samuha in Bangalore.