Cliched images of women farmers and their subjugation by market forces

Cliched images of women farmers and their subjugation by market forces
Highlights

Speaking to The Hans India, Fathima pointed out that in Tamil Nadu, the State government has recently been trying to displace residents of 45 villages including Nagai, Kaddur and Thanjavur, to setup an ONGC petroleum hub. According to her there has been stiff resistance against the proposed project in highly fertile lands from women farmers in these villages.

The images of a middle-aged woman wearing a ‘gochi’ above her knees- transplanting paddy crop with her bare feet submerged in muddy waters, bending her back throughout the day in sweltering hot sun or a woman with a sickle harvesting a maize or paddy crop, a woman weeding-out unwanted grass from the paddy fields, a woman preserving the indigenous seeds for the next crop, a woman carrying a ‘thatta’ on her head supported by a twirled rumaal and with ‘saddi’ inside that ‘thatta’ for her and her husband to eat for lunch; are the images which surprisingly fail to make it to a majority of our imaginary brains.

As patriarchal as our society is, a rural woman has only been getting a consolation of being called as a ‘woman farmer’ whereas a male farmer is sympathetically called a ‘farmer.’ Almost three decades after former Chief Minister NT Rama Rao passed a legislation in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh to give equal rights to women in ownership of ancestral property, little has changed. Woman farmers continue to live unappreciated and subordinate lives in rural India. As per records 156 women farmers have committed suicide in Telangana alone, since its formation on June 2, 2014.

“60 to 80 per cent of women work in agriculture, but only 12 per cent of women are holding lands in our country. Man only ploughs, whereas woman preserves the seed, she transplants, sows, weeds, harvests and makes the land ready for the next cropping season. But hardly has a woman farmer been recognized on par with a male farmer,” according to Burned Fathima, who has been championing the cause of women farmers’ movements in Tamil Nadu,.

Speaking to The Hans India, Fathima pointed out that in Tamil Nadu, the State government has recently been trying to displace residents of 45 villages including Nagai, Kaddur and Thanjavur, to setup an ONGC petroleum hub. According to her there has been stiff resistance against the proposed project in highly fertile lands from women farmers in these villages.

But Tamil Nadu police has been sending women farmers and women activists to jail by booking them under the ‘Goondas Act,’ she said and informed that the government was also trying to take back the lands assigned to 30 women belonging to the ‘Irula’ tribe. The women were given two acres of land to cultivate on a hillock ten years ago by the then government. “These are the women who have been preserving indigenous seeds. A tribal woman holding seeds would not be just for herself, but for the entire community,” she asserted.

Situation is not much different in the remote tribal areas of Assam, Manipur or Nagaland. According to Bana Mallika Choudhary, a women’s rights activist based in Assam who runs an organization called ‘NE Thing,’ due to liberal trade policies adopted by governments in the past decade or so, rural women who used to prepare and sell food items were severely getting affected as a result of packaged food products entering the economically porous Morea border-post between Manipur and Myanmar.

As a result small packed food market has completely crashed in Assam, she tells us, attributing the crisis to packed Chinese foods with gibberish-looking contents in Chinese, making it difficult to know the quality and contents in them. These products don’t come directly from China, but are routed through Thailand, she says. Many small-scale industries in rural areas like these and also those involving hand crafted products were going out-of-business due to these reasons, she observed.

Many women's rights activists like Fathima and Bana are up-in-arms against India being a part of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) are being negotiated in Hyderabad this week, in which 16 countries including India, are participating.

“RCEP and FTAs are like the final nail on the coffin and are disastrous for not only women farmers, but also women in the industrial workforce, as latter’s labour rights could be jeopardized in the secretive negotiations,” opined Asha Ramesh, a women’s activist based in Karnataka.

“There are some positive actions coming from the Telangana government with regard to its position on women which could be seen in the way women are being given cheques of Kalyana Lakshmi and Shaadi Mubarak. They are also being given pattas as part of the Land Purchase Scheme (LPS), KCR kits for women and so on.

This definitely indicates the Chief Minister’s commitment towards women’s welfare. Our only appeal to K Chandrashekar Rao is to reconsider his position on supporting the Centre on being part of RCEP and other FTAs which may have a potential adverse impact on women across the country,” appealed Padma, a representative of Rythu Swarajya Vedika, an organization which is playing an instrumental role in the People’s Resistance Movement against RCEP and FTAs.

By Vivek Bhoomi

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