Thousands of farmers across Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand have been protesting the new farm laws since November 26. Women farmers make for at least 15,000 of them.
Back in September 2020, the Centre introduced three controversial farm laws in Parliament. Fearing the impact of those laws on their livelihoods, farmers across the country, especially Punjab, decided to protest. Having been protesting for a couple of months, they started a ‘Dilli Chalo’ movement in November so as to voice their grievances in the national capital. There, they were met with tear gas and water cannons.
The farmers have since been in the news constantly, with five unsuccessful rounds of talks having taken place with the Centre.
On December 9, as they await a sixth round of talks that now stands cancelled, one thing is abundantly clear – women are deeply invested in the future of farmers in India.
Women farmers form a significant part of the farmers protest – one of the largest protests in history.
The contentious farm laws would have the worst effect on women
There are three farm laws that farmers – both men and women – are protesting against: The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, and the Essential Commodities Act. The farmers are concerned that these laws would allow private companies to exploit farmers more.
The most contentious section of the new farm laws is the lack of a mention of the MSP – minimum support price – that protects farmers from exploitation.
The farmers ideally want these laws to be scrapped completely, with the added protection of the MSP mentioned clearly.
Several thousand women are a part of the ‘Dilli Chalo’ movement, both as farmers and as supporters. Harinder Kaur Bindu, leader of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, has been a farmer for over 30 years. She mobilised over 10,000 women to come in support of the men walking towards New Delhi to make their concerns known.
Speaking to The Wire, Harinder says that while these laws affect all farmers everywhere, they are particularly harmful to women.
When we think of the word ‘farmer’, the image that comes to mind is that of a man. But, contrary to popular belief, women have been working in the agricultural sector for decades, that too without much formal or informal acknowledgement. The several women farmers at the Singhu and Tikri borders of New Delhi and Haryana are proof.
Gurmeet, a farmer present at the protest in the Tirki border, told The Quint:
“Women are an integral part of the farming process. We are all farmers. This isn’t just a man’s job. Women do it too. The message being delivered across Punjab is that everyone should reach the national capital. The women who are still at home should also join this movement.”
Harinder says, “If women don’t share the workload with men, then it becomes difficult. We work both inside and outside the house. These days women do not hesitate in stepping out and helping the men in the family. We know how to drive tractors and use fertilisers.”
Speaking of the violence inflicted by state forces on the farmers in the form of water cannons and tear gas, Hardeep, a farmer from Sangrur, says:
Women have also brought in music to support their fellow farmers
In many reports around the farmers’ protests, men have expressed their gratefulness towards their wives and families. Many of them, they say, were able to attend the protests for days at a stretch because their wives were taking care of the farm singlehandedly back home. Women have not just been at the forefront of the protests in the capacity of farmers, but also as support systems to their male counterparts. Many of them have brought in food to feed the protesting farmers, while some have brought in music to keep the morale high.
On December 7, seven women from Charoli village in Uttar Pradesh arrived at a protest site at the Chilla border, carrying dhols and manjiras.
They came in to support their protesting male family members, singing songs in the local dialect and demanding the scrapping of the farm laws. The seven women were aged between 65 and 70 years.
Veerwat Devi, 75, tells Hindustan Times: “My husband, two sons and grandsons have been protesting here for the past six days. We thought that they would return after a day or two. But as the government has not accepted the demands of farmers, even after five rounds of meetings, we decided to come here and support our men. There was no point sitting idle at home while the men in our families fight this battle while braving the chill.”
When asked how long she is planning to stay put, a protester tells a journalist at The Wire with a hint of pride,
“We have 6 months worth of rations with us, and we have enough to last us years back home. We’ll call once, and thousands of our sisters will come, as will the rations. All we have to do is call.”
Women have never shied away from protesting and demanding their rights. As the iconic Shaheen Bagh protests of 2019 tell us, women are equal participants in civic life. It’s important for us to make full use of our civil liberties and speak up against injustice, as these women are.
Says Surinder Kaur, a member of the Kisan Sabha, “ghar bhi sambhalna hai, aandolan bhi sambhalna hai.”
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