On Friday, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the government's decision to repeal the three contentious farm laws that had led to months of protests by farmers, 55-year-old Ravinder Pal Kaur could not contain her tears.
Kaur is one of the thousands of women and farmers, who were at the forefront of protests since last year. A single mother, Kaur had been camping at Singhu border, occasionally making trips to her home town Faridkot in Punjab, where she owns a small landholding.
Speaking to Outlook after the PM's announcement, Kaur says that women farmers would have been the worst impacted if the new agricultural bills were enforced. “Women farmers would have been the worst sufferers if MSP or APMC are abolished as it would leave them helpless against exploitation,” says Kaur.
Another farmer leader, Rajbala Yadav, endorses Kaur’s views. 63- year old Yadav, who hails from the Rewari district in Haryana has also been camping in Delhi's borders for the past year, braving adverse weather and makeshift arrangements. “Many people opened their houses for us. A few hotels also allowed us to use their facilities,” she says.
Ensuring minimum support price (MSP) is crucial for women farmers, she says.
“Without minimum support price (MSP), our household economy will be hit,” she adds. Yadav is waiting for the assurance of the repeal of the three laws from the government—Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce Bill, the Farmers Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill.
Like Kaur and Yadav, scores of women participants in the agitation have tales of the neglect faced by women farmers in India, who remain on the fringes with no ownership on land.
The agitation has seen a steady flow of women from states like Punjab, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, West Bengal as well as Southern states.
No respite from patriarchy?
Though a large chunk of the protestors constitutes women, the patriarchal mindset was in play here too. For instance, the Apex court of India had previously suggested that protesting women, elderly farmers, and children should return home.
During a hearing in January this year, then Chief Justice of India SA Bobde expressed concern over protestors sitting in the severe cold even amid the pandemic.
“We don't understand either why old people and women are kept in the protests. Anyway, that is a different matter” said the CJI, who headed a three-judge bench.
The SC's words came as a huge disappointment to many women participating in the protests. Many felt that the former CJI’s comment reflected the crisis of invisibility faced by Idnian women in agriculture. According to Oxfam India, 85 per cent of rural women work in agriculture, but only around 13 per cent own any land.
Though women constitute a significant workforce in farming, the majority of them remain invisible as they are not included in the definition of a ‘farmer’. The fundamental issue lies with the definition of a 'farmer', which only considers landowners as farmers.
Yadav agrees that women farmers have more battles to fight for. She says that though women work harder than men in the fields, which involves labour-intensive processes, the discrimination is stark.
“If you go to any village, you will note that the work in the field is done by the women and men will be idling around. Women have to play many roles as they have to take care of the houses too,” says Yadav.
Right to land is another important issue and the laws need to change, she says.
According to the Periodic Labor Force Survey 2017-18 (PLFS), though 73.2 per cent of rural women workers are engaged in agriculture in India, women own only 12.8 per cent of landholdings. Kaur feels that with the government withdrawing the three anti-farmer bills, half of the battle is won. “Now that the issue regarding the farm laws is solved, I hope that the rights of women farmers also will be addressed,” she says.