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Farm Laws: Once ‘Invisible’, Women are Now the Spine Holding the Protests’ Together

‘If we can bear childbirth pain, this burden of extra work is nothing’, say women, who are handling home, hearth and farming in Western UP, Punjab and Haryana, as menfolk are away in Delhi.
women farmers

Meerut: They cook, take care of their children and livestock, and are now also extending support to farmers protesting against the three controversial farm laws. Commonly referred to as ‘housewives’, it would not be wrong to say that these women are the spine of the farmers’ protests that have been going on  for more than 80 days at Delhi’s borders, and are now spreading out. 

Geeta Singh, a resident of Amehra Adipur, a village on the outskirts of Meerut, told Newsclick that her family had suffered significant losses in the last crop season due to inclement weather conditions but had received nothing from the government as compensation.

She said she could not make her way to the protest sites at Delhi’s borders with the others since she had livestock to take care of at home, but she has extended her support to the agitation by sending pua (a kind of sweet bread) to the site for the protesting farmers.

“My husband is unwell and my son is in college. The girls cannot go, so I decided to send something for our brothers who are protesting there in this spine-chilling cold. We know these laws will eat the farmers inside out and that is why I am against it. The protest has to continue till the government announces withdrawal of the laws. We have to support the protest in every possible way, no matter the number of days, as our brothers and sisters have been sitting at the border in the cold,” she said.

Geeta, who holds fort at home, has her own trouble with finances. She  also mentioned that she also sent cow dung cakes to the protest site to be used as fuel for cooking or heating. 

In the village of Sakoti, about 60 kilometers away from the Meerut district headquarters, women folk from about 15 families have taken over farming activity and can be seen working in the sugarcane fields without any males around to help.

Rajvati Dhankar, whose husband is at the Ghazipur Border protesting, took time out from directing others working in her field. “This is the harvesting season and the cane will lose its sweetness if it is kept standing in the field for long. If it is not harvested in time, we will not be able to feed to our children. Even the government’s tea will be tasteless without sugar,” she said.

 Determined to support the farmers’ protest, she said: “This is the time to support members of our family who are protesting. The kaale kanoon (farm laws) have been brought in to give everything to big businessmen and if that happens we will not only become poorer, but also their slaves,” she said, adding: “The cane farmers do not get their dues on time and this year the minimum support price (MSP) of sugarcane was also not increased. However, what has been increasing are the prices of diesel and petrol.”

Upset with the defaming of their protests, Rajvati said: “Forget about profit, we incur losses on many occasions but we still do it (farming) for the country and are now being dubbed terrorists. This is very unfortunate and we will keep supporting the protesters,” she said, adding: “Yes, the protest has resulted in increasing the workload on us but this nothing compared with the hardships we will face if these three laws come into force.”

Notably, a large number of women who work in rural India are full-time farmers and their numbers have been increasing because the men migrate to work in factories and construction sites, according to a OXFAM report. Yet, women have never been considered an important part of the agricultural economy and the popular notion has been that farming is a job for men.

The situation is better in Punjab in terms of how women are an essential part of supporting the protests. 

Ranjit Kaur, a resident of Muktsar in Amritsar, while spraying pesticides on her crop , told Newsclick that support to the “farmers’ protest is very necessary because if they do not extend their support now, then it will be too late for the farmers and everything will go to Adani and Ambani.”

“We have asked our men to return only when the laws are withdrawn by the government. If we can bear the pain of childbirth, then this burden of extra work is nothing. We want the government to listen to us and roll back its decision. We have rolled up our sleeves to do the extra work and take care of farming activity and we will supply food, grain and everything we can from here,” she told Newsclick.

Meanwhile in Haryana’s Bangar area in Jind district, the women folk have joined the fundraising effort and have collected over Rs 1 lakh to extend their support to agitation.

The three laws being opposed are: The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act and The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act.

Richa Singh, an activist based in Sitapur in Uttar Pradesh, who works with farmers, said that women have always helped in farming and have been its spine but have never been considered as a mainstay in agriculture.

 “The women have always been the main force behind agriculture and the way they are supporting the agitation against the farm laws is amazing. People are now considering them a force and it is a good sign of women empowerment. From invisible to visible, we women still have a long way to go and it will not be a cake-walk but we will keep raising our voices till the laws are not rolled back by the government,” she said.

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