While contemporary India is deciding on the nuances of the farm bill, the other part of our nation is yet to prove its existence as farmers. The perception of a farmer has been ingrained for decades in a very stereotypical fashion. An old mid-50s man, thick moustache and a muddy white attire with a plough. We hardly pondered on the fact that why are farmers always associated with men?
Women involved in agriculture often do not get the same institutional accesses and privilege as men.
Why is there a sudden discomfort in the air while we picture a woman as a farmer? To break the ice, women in agriculture is not a new phenomenon, they were the first to domesticate crops (quoted by the father of agriculture, Mr M.S Swaminathan). Why women are not considered farmers is a question that we need to ponder.
The invisibility of women has been there right from the inception of modern Indian agriculture. Picture this: agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for approximately 58% of the population in our country. This very farming community has no proper definition provided by the government. Farmers have been bifurcated into just two levels by the Census of India- Cultivators and Labourers.
Cultivators are those, who are responsible for the cultivation of their own land or land held by the government and labourers are the ones who merely work on another person’s land for wages. In a nation where there is no clarity on who is actually a farmer, there is no way we can proceed to the next level of gendered visibility. Even though there are no ground rules, people have formulated their own version of the term “farmer“.
People refer to the farmer as a person who is engaged in agricultural activities and owns a piece of land. This is where the root problem begins. Since land and other entitlements are registered in the name of the male member of the household (patriarchy of course), the number of women in agriculture who have their own land is negligible. The luxury of institutional credit, loans, and pensions are awarded to landowners.
Women are indeed the most laborious section of the community- right from sowing, winnowing, harvesting, engaging themselves with the non-mechanized farm occupation. performing reproductive roles, and family caretakers. With the advent of liberalization, there has been mass suicide among farmers in various parts of the nation.
The result of which is that women have been left alone with no assets and money. These farm widows perform all agricultural activities single-handedly but are never referred to as farmers. Similarly, in the case of migration, males travel from rural to urban space in search of employment. Women in their absence are farmers of the land but are they given that recognition? No!
We talk of land rights, issues of farmers, elimination of middlemen but why is the invisibility of women not an issue? Is it not a concern or gender discrimination is yet another fancy word for policymakers? Why does the media just victimize the farm widows and not uphold their working ability? Why is farmer suicide the booming agenda and their counterparts who are still “alive” never a topic of discussion? Why is a woman a caretaker, labourer, cultivator, and gardener but not a farmer?