Farmers’ protests are strongly gendered in our imagination. Many of us think of women playing only a supporting role there, making chapatis and singing to soothe the menfolk. This is a totally false and jaundiced characterisation. An NCAER estimate is that women comprise a high 42% of India’s agri labour force. Feminisation of agriculture has been pushed by the migration patterns that have defined the 21st century economy, where men seek jobs elsewhere while women stay back to look after the farming.
But even the Chief Justice of India questioned this week why women (and old people) were being kept at the protests. It does seem as if the invisibilisation of female agri work has advanced quite a bit since Mother India, the 1957 film that melodramatically bared how rural women juggle the rolling pin and the plough. The latter has been widely replaced by the tractor. Machines have moved on, mindsets have regressed.
Plus, the patriarchal laws and customs that carry on in states like UP, Punjab and Haryana also ensure that 83% of agricultural land is inherited by male members and less than 2% by female members of the family, as indicated by the IHDS nationwide survey. These archaic practices inflict both grave injustice and heavy economic toll, as women farmers are denied rightful access to markets, credit and other inputs. The nation needs to do a lot of work to correct this denial of rights and entitlements. Recognising women as farmers is just the first baby step.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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