I clicked this picture during my stay at a village while working with Pradan, a Delhi-based NGO working with Adivasi communities and women. Right from the moment I decided to capture these three amazing people walking, I had it in my mind that there is a deeper story engraved in this event of walking to their paddy fields. As days progressed, I wanted to write, but couldn’t. I would scribble something down, then two weeks later, brush it off. This mayhem continued for almost a year.
I still wonder how much the story written below gives justice to this amazing picture. Well, when I say ‘amazing’, it is not my photography skills in question, but the multiple layers of stories that are hidden in this photo.
It is 8:58 AM on a sunny Monday morning in October 2015. This is a remote tribal village in Madhya Pradesh (Hirmutola village, Titwa Gram Panchayat, Balaghat Block, Balaghat District). The village predominantly has a population of Gond tribes. Sakun didi (walking in front, belongs to the Gond tribe), with her two kids, is busy walking into their paddy field, which is around four kilometres away from their house, to transport equipment for irrigating the field. The gruelling heat has raised questions on the output of the paddy that will be produced by the end of this kharif.
Not even a single drop of water has fallen from the sky in the last 75 days. Last year, their family could only sell about 20 quintals of rice to the nearby society. Technically, they belong to the tag of farmers — feeding the nation. But the worst-kept secret is that farmers and nurses are the least respected and lowest paid professionals in our country.
Sakun didi is the most schooled woman in the entire hamlet (Class 7 fail is how she prefers to say it) is unaware of this tag. Even if somebody had told her about her farmer tag, she wouldn’t have cared, because these tags don’t matter in her list of priorities. Currently, she is busy bearing the maximum load over her head.
There is a 20-metre-long pipe that she beautifully balances with her right hand. This will be used to irrigate their parched paddy field with the help of a kerosene-fuelled pump, which her husband carried on a bicycle via a different route. This quick fix of using a kerosene pump is also limited, since the government is the only one who supplies kerosene. It is given in limited quantity along with each month’s ration.
In her left hand is her husband’s breakfast that she prepared after waking up at five in the morning. She was also involved in the transplanting of paddy and weeding (remove unwanted plants from an area) of the fields thereafter. The irony is, even after all this hard work, she owns zero square inches of land in The Republic of India — all this, even after doing more than 50% of the farming activities. Even after all this hard work, she is not considered a farmer by the government, only her husband only is!
None of the posters or websites of the Agriculture Department of Madhya Pradesh have a picture of women farmers. But Sakun didi, even after being the most educated woman in the entire hamlet, is unaware of all this. Even if somebody had told her, there is little she could have done about it. Because society decides her identity, she doesn’t!
The small kid running behind (with a sleeveless baniyan, or vest) is Muskhan (their youngest kid). She is in Class 1. She doesn’t have any load (technically) over her head. The girl behind Muskhan, wearing a skirt and white shirt, is Payal (the eldest daughter). She will miss school today. She is busy carrying the tukna (made of bamboo) and the bucket to the paddy fields. The load of womanhood bestowed by patriarchy is slowly catching her. To get a complete picture of them, we should simultaneously look into their house.
Sakun didi does 85% of the house chores. She gets up at 5 AM, brooms the house five times a day, cooks, washes clothes, cleans the house and surrounds it by collecting the cow dung, takes water from the nearby hand-pump, walks two kilometres to the paddy fields, does tilling and weeding under the hot sun, comes back and brooms the house, maintains the vegetable garden, dresses up her kids, takes care of her ill in-laws, sits in for her weekly SHG meeting, and prepares dinner while the rest of the family enjoys watching religious programmes on the TV.
But Sakun didi, even after being the most educated woman in the entire hamlet, is unaware of all these inequalities present in house chores and caregiving. Even if somebody had told her, there is little she could have done about it. Because she is already in the cobweb of patriarchy.
Payal, on the other hand, is being trained and made aware of her being a girl in this society, each and every day. As a result, she has started brooming the house twice a day and washing utensils at times. Her playtime has reduced after Sakun didi’s argued: “लड़कियां इतना नहीं खेलते बेटा (Girls don’t play so much)”. Patriarchy is training her to be the next Sakun didi in line.
One day, I decided to spent time with Payal studying. Her math skills are very evident. When I told her “चलो पड़ते है (Come, let’s study)”, her math textbook was the first she took out with full excitement. She doesn’t need to even write all steps to arrive at the answers. Payal is probably unaware of the powerhouse of talent she is.
Even if somebody had told her, she wouldn’t be giving a damn, because society is wonderfully nurturing her to be what she is “supposed to be’’ rather than “what she wants to be’’. By the time she realises her talents, she will be carrying a 20-metre-long pipe to another paddy field, showing the way to her two kids. What are we doing to the women around us? Desperately putting them in the cobwebs of patriarchy?