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Ignored Even In Death: The Plight Of Women Farmers In India

Posted by Sumantra Mukherjee in Society
December 15, 2017

The Modi government is leaving no stone unturned to woo farmers. ‘Mahila Kisan Diwas’ or the Day of Women Agriculturists was celebrated on October 15. It was organised in association with the Ministry of Women and Child Development. Sri Radha Mohan Singh, honourable Minister of Agriculture, was thumping his chest for such a historic reform.

During that period, I was traveling across Andhra Pradesh. At a time when the state was all set to create a heavenly capital over 33,000 acres of fertile land along the Krishna river; without questioning the land acquisition policy of the state, I would like to draw your attention to this old man sitting on the chair with the photo of his wife. I met him at a farmers’ meeting in Anantapur. Anantapur is quite infamous for a large number of suicides. And the shade of misery was perceptible when we saw widows holding the portraits of their beloved who found it easier to embrace the noose of death than being bullied by moneylenders mercilessly.


Photo Credits: Sumantra Mukherjee

“Why did your wife commit suicide?” Perhaps the most ludicrous question which he never ever thought that he will have to bump into, until that day when he had to look at the corpse of his deceased wife lying in front of him and there was a tehsildar and the police, who were more interested in seeing the Land Patta rather than empathising with the grave loss of the family.

This is because the government does not recognise those people as farmers who do not have a claim to land under their name in Patta. Alas! No compensation for the family as her name was not on a Patta. So, the government does not recognise her death as a ‘farmer’s death’. By the way, women don’t seem to be entitled to own a name on the Patta in a society, where the term ‘equality’ only exists in the Preamble and land being a state subject is not governed by the Constitution under a uniform law that applies equally to all citizens – but rather is governed by personal laws, which tend to discriminate against women when it comes to land inheritance, and ownership in these societies dominated by patriarchy.

Pulling together my guts and keeping my etiquette aside, I dared to ask him why.

“My wife and I – we were from the Lambada community and we owned three acres of land. We had four children – three daughters and one son. My wife used to look after the farming on our land and our three daughters used to assist her. My son and I used to go out for working as labourers – on the fields or households. The last four years were declared as drought in the Anantapur district. We had a loan of ₹3,70,000 out of which ₹3,00,000 were taken from a moneylender at an interest of 24%. per annum and  the remaining ₹70,000 was from a bank. The last time we made a profit was in 2013.

The cost of cultivation in the three acres is around ₹60,000 to ₹70,000 and because we have very low irrigation facilities, we are completely dependent upon rain-fed farming. Since the cost of cultivation is ₹60,000, the yield is not even 18 kilos per acre which is not even enough to give us enough earnings so that we can sow seeds next time. We mainly grow groundnuts. Until and unless the seed is strong and fat, it’s not useful to extract oil from it. Whereas the groundnuts that we cultivated were so thin and brittle that if you rub, they will break easily. After meeting the cost of cultivation, and with the leftover money, after we married off our daughter – nothing was left as savings that could have been invested in the next crop season. Drought burdened our shoulders with debt. There was nothing left for us other than bearing the bullies and humiliation of the moneylenders. The only thing that was left for my wife was to embrace the noose of death.”

A majority of women farmers who embrace their deaths in the name of suicide do not have their name on the Pattas and the governments deny recognising these women just because they don’t own Pattas. Women constitute close to 65% of all agricultural workers. An even greater share, 74% of the rural workforce, is female. They are labeled as ‘agricultural labourers’.

Haryana and Punjab have a lot of women farmers. However, they don’t have women farmers’ suicides because they don’t even admit that even women can be farmers. So, in these two states, the category of female suicides is alarmingly increasing because it’s the teenage girls and women who are doing the job of farming. In case, if they commit suicide, their name is included in that list. Not a single penny of compensation for them. When a teenage girl who is studying in a school has to dropout and has to help her parents in agriculture; if she commits suicide, it is labeled as a ‘student suicide’. When a daughter of a farmer commits suicide after helplessly looking at her parents misery and seeing that her marriage and its dowry is just adding burden to their debt-ridden shoulders; these are said to be a farmer’s personal problem and thus being a mere supplementary adversity, finds no space in the conscience of the wise men in this so called ‘civilization’.

A woman working in the farm has to wake up early morning, cook food for her family, take care of her husband and children, do all the household chores, go out to the farm and do farming assiduously. Her life is balanced between her home and her field. The true Sashaktikaran (empowerment) of a woman will be when the government and the so-called ‘intellectuals’ of our civilisation stop thinking that she can’t be a farmer and recognise her as the bona fide farmer of India who feeds the country. And her death, too, must be recognised as a grave loss for the nation and she must be revered as a martyr who fought against all odds to feed the nation, rather than treating her as a helpless woman who does not have an identity based on her occupation just because of her gender.

featured image provided by author.