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When women join the farmers protest

By RASHME SEHGAL
February 24, 2021 16:14 IST
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From carrying portraits of their sons and husbands who have committed suicide due to agrarian distress to picketing to doing sewa 24x7 at langars, women have shown a rare determination not to capitulate before the government.
Rashme Sehgal reports.

IMAGE: Women attend a Kisan Mahapanchayat in support of the protesting farmers at Bahadurgarh in Haryana's Jhajjar district, February 12, 2021. Photograph: Kamal Singh/PTI Photo
 

India's top andolanjivi Mahatma Gandhi's great grand-daughter Tara Gandhi visited the farmers' protest site at Ghazipur on February 14 to express solidarity with their struggle.

Her presence gave a further boost to the women protestors, many of whom have been participating in the protest for nearly three months.

One of the oldest woman protestors, Jasvinder Singh from Moga district in Punjab, voiced the general sentiment when she says, "We have been here for almost three months and if need be, we plan to stay here for the next six months till these three black farm laws are repealed."

Her words should ring an ominous bell with the government.

This is because the majority of these women from marginal and small landholding farming families had been participating in popular struggles for the last four decades and are willing to fight to the finish.

Having fought militancy in Punjab during the eighties, they are not intimidated by the wire fences, concrete barricades and strips of sharpened nails and iron rods which the Delhi police put in place at Ghazipur on the Delhi-Haryana border and at Singhu on the Delhi-Haryana border post January 26.

They are also willing to rough it out in order to attend the mahapanchayats being organised by the Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait and other affiliated organisations.

IMAGE: Women participate in the agitation at the Singhu border, February 15, 2021. Photograph: PTI Photo

Shanti Devi, a mother of four children, who arrived at Ghazipur along with a group of twenty women from Patna, says, "I am a social activist and a CPI worker. I took part in the demonstration in front of the Buddha Smriti Park when different political parties joined hands to form a human chain in Patna to show solidarity with our farmer comrades on January 29."

Rattling out statistics, Shanti Devi points out that her husband owned a two bigha plot of land on which he grew maize.

"With no MSP (minimum support price) in Bihar, our farmers are dependent on the whims of private buyers. For maize in 2020, farmers in my state were getting a price of Rs 1,000 per quintal as against the official MSP of Rs 1,850."

"For wheat too, our farmers are getting lower prices than what is being offered in Punjab and Haryana. Wheat procurement is only 5,000 tonnes whereas in Madhya Pradesh where the crop yield is the same and where there is MSP, procurement has crossed 13 million tonnes."

"Having brought in these three farm laws, does Modiji expect all of us to end up begging outside his house?" she asks.

IMAGE: Women protestors at the Tikri border, February 14, 2021. Photograph: ANI Photo

Neelam Gupta from West Bengal says her parents own a small plot of land in the in the 24 Parganas.

She migrated to Kolkata where she was running a small boutique which shut down because of the pandemic.

She has travelled from Kolkata to Tigri to express her support.

"I am a social activist. I was very impressed by the way the Sikh men and women farmers had been protesting from November," says Gupta. "I decided to come here personally and see how things are on the ground. Farmers feed us. We must stand shoulder to shoulder with them."

Now that she is here, what has her reaction been?

"The Sikh community has risen enormously in my esteem," she says. "The way the women and menfolk are working around the clock to provide langar and all the essential services. The police did not hesitate to spray water cannons on all these old people who are camping here, yet they did not filch."

"The crowds have thinned somewhat in the past two to three days because people are returning to their farms to harvest their wheat crop. But people will continue to come here in groups of five and six," says Gupta who plans to stay here for another month and do sewa along with the others.

IMAGE: Women protestors at the Singhu border, February 15 2021. Photograph: ANI Photo

Dhamma Sangini, who teaches in the Department of Women's Studies at Nagpur University, has come to study the contribution of women in helping sustain this protest movement.

Sangini has founded the Phule Ambedkarite Friendship Front aimed to help women from the Dalit, tribal and backward communities. "We Ambedkarites want to form alliances with other oppressed groups," she says

"Activities are voluntary and take various shapes -- sewa, langar, kirtan. We have been joined here by a contingent of 100 Adivasi women who are members of the Lok Sangarsh Manch from Maharashtra. They have travelled here at their own expense to express solidarity with the protesting farmers," says Sangini.

Pratibha Shinde, a member of the Lok Sangarsh Manch, feels that even though some Maharashtra farmers may claim they are not directly impacted by these laws, the situation on the ground remains very different.

"Women farmers will be impacted by the introduction of contract farming especially when the sale of seeds and fertilisers will all move into the hands of private actors. It will mean the end of organic farming," says Shinde.

Women from Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Karnataka are also present at the three protest sites.

Large women turnouts mark their strong presence at the mahapanchayats against the farm laws being held across Punjab, Haryana and UP.

Jat women farmers from Haryana and UP, with their faces covered, did not hesitate to attend the mahapanchayat held among the Meo Muslims of the Mewat region in Rajasthan.

IMAGE: Women farmers at the Singhu border, February 15, 2021. Photograph: ANI Photo

Nirmala Devi, a former sarpanch at the Pandwan village in Charkhi Dadri, drove a tractor all the way from Charkhi Dadri to Delhi to participate in the Republic Day parade. If women can rub shoulders with men in all other spheres of life, they too are farmers who can go the whole hog to fight for their rights.

The andolan has also struck a chord with women of Uttarakhand who were initially hesitant to join the protest.

From mid-January, women from the hills of Uttarakhand as also from the plains of Dehra Dun and Haridwar are joining the protest in large numbers.

"A woman who could not join and who helps her husband make rajais (quilts) sent 100 rajais with me to be used by the kisans," says Vimla Devi from Tehri who came along with five other women activists.

"Since we have all our house work to attend to, none of us can stay away from home for a long time. So, we are taking shifts of fifteen days," Vimla Devi adds

The conspiracy to defame the farmers fighting for their survival has infuriated the women folk no end and the massive turnouts of women folk at the Kisan Mahapanchayats is testimony to this.

From carrying portraits of their sons and husbands who have committed suicide due to agrarian distress to picketing to doing sewa 24x7 at langars, women have shown a rare determination not to capitulate before the government.

Such large scale mobilisation is bound to create its own resonance and serve as a bench mark for future women participation in all sections of our society.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com

 

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