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Women farmers' "articulation" on land, debt, suicides at massive farmers' rally in Delhi

By Ashalatha, Usha Seethalakshmi, Seema Kulkarni*
The recent kisan rally, held on November 29-30 at Delhi, saw sizable number of women representing various organizations, and also various sections such as women cultivators, who owned land in their name and who farm on their family land, tenant farmers, landless agriculture labourers, adivasi women, wives and daughters of farmers who have committed suicide etc.
Walking in the rally we could meet and interact with women from Punjab, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka.
They reached Delhi after travelling long distances (some have travelled more than 30 hours) in trains, buses and lorries, bore the cold night at Ram Leela Maidan, walked more than 15 kms on November 29 and 30 carrying their bags on their shoulders. We were curious to know what made them come so far leaving their homes, their children, their farms and their work.
Orusu Kavitha (29) from Chinthakunta village Devarakondamandal in Nalgonda district of Telangana said that her husband Kasayya (35) committed suicide in 2015. He owned 4 acres of land and he also leased in 3 acres. He has a debt of Rs 1 lakh in the bank and Rs 3.5 lakh private loans. Since then she has been making repeated trips to the local revenue division office to know the status of her ex-gratia application.
She is eligible for Rs 6 lakh ex-gratia but every time she meets the officials they just turn her away saying the application is still being processed. It is more than three years and every time she goes to the revenue division office situated in Devarakonda she has to spend Rs 200 for travel and also forego the days wage labour. She has two sons (5 and 7 years old) and in laws to feed and pay for children’s school fees. Her in laws refuse to transfer her share of land on her name.
Though she handles all the agriculture work on that land she does not own land. When asked why has she come to Delhi, she said that “many women like me from families where farmers have committed suicide have come to Delhi to demand that compensation should be given to us. We also want to the government to recognize us as famers as we are growing crops on our family land. We do not get any support from the government, we want seeds and all other inputs on subsidy”. She also said single women like her should be given priority in giving support to poor farmers.
Kavitha was not the only one, there were many such women from families where farmers have committed suicide from Adilabad, Warangal, Siddipet and Nalgonda districts of Telangana, Anathapuram from Andhra Pradesh and also form Punjab and Haryana. There were some young girls whose fathers have committed suicide, some of them said that they have discontinued their studies as their mother could not pay the fees when there were three children studying in school and college.
In one case all the two daughters have stopped their education one studying 12th class and other first year in college and started going for wage labour along with their mother to support their family while their younger brother is going to school.
P Balalakshmi (21 years) said her father committed suicide in 2008, he hanged himself to a tree in their field, she was very young and since then her mother and brother had to go through lot of turmoil, at last her mother got compensation of
Rs 1.5 lakh in 2012, but most of the money went to repay the loans as people who lent money were pressuring every day.
Balalakshmi said: 
“After my father died, I started going to the farm along with my mother and brother whenever I am free, in the morning, evenings, Sundays and holidays even while going to school. I learnt farm work. I can handle the bullocks and buffalo which are kept on the field. I used to water them and feed them. I learnt work and became confident, this year I completed bachelor degree and also did a computer course for 6 months. I am looking for a job”. 
She continued, the government should provide jobs to children from farmer suicide families. She does not want to get married but her family, especially her brother and relatives are forcing her to get married. She says if the government can provide jobs to girls like her she can stand on her feet and make decisions about her life.
Umadevi (45) from Srikakulam said that the farmers in her village have lost everything in the Titlicyclone which hit North coastal Andhra and Orissa border on October 11, 2018. It has caused devastation, houses got washed away, standing crops got immersed in water and not a grain of paddy could be harvested from the fields. She says that she came all the way from Srikakulam travelling more than 36 hours in a train to demand the government to give compensation to the damaged house and crops.
Women from Karnataka who came in large numbers said that they came to Delhi to demand that government should help them to continue farming -- they come from drought prone areas of Karnataka , do not have water, they do not get good seeds, they do not get any kind of support from government. They also want government to provide drinking water, housing and good roads. Some of them said we do not have enough land, government should give land to people who are dependent on agriculture.
Women who had come from Punjab came in the morning and were to leave in the evening of the first day itself. They were in a hurry as they had left their children and their livestock behind. They have a lot of work in the field and hence cannot leave home. None of them had land in their name but said they worked very hard at it.
Their families own enough land and they grow wheat and mustard but they do not get enough price for their produce. They were demanding to the government that farmers should be given better prices and farm loans must be waived.
A journalist from Singapore was interviewing a woman farmer from Telangana whose husband had committed suicide. After asking several questions about the suicide, the reasons, and other details at the end he asked whether she knew the name of MS Swaminathan. She said, “No, who is he?” The journalist wanted to know whether these women had any idea why this rally was being held.
Bala Singh (51) a farmer from Hissar district of Haryana, was sitting beside me on the pavement at the Parliament street after walking for 5 km from Ram Leela Maidan. I got into conversation with him and he said that he owned 7 acres of land and he grew wheat and mustard. When I enquired why did he come to Delhi he said that farmers from his place were demanding better prices for the crops they grow.
When asked about loan waiving, which is the second demand of the rally, she said, “jisko dikkat hai, jisko karjaa jyaadaa hai pur o chukaa nahee paatha unko karjamaafee karna chahiye, sabhi ko karjaa maafee karne ki jaroorat nahee hai” ( meaning those who have a problem, those who have high debt and are unable to repay the loans for such farmers loans should be waived, no need to waive the loans of all farmers). It was indeed surprising listening to his realistic response given that the rally focused on loan waiver. ed on listening his answer which was very realistic.
Uma devi from Doddaballapur, Karnataka had the following to say:
“The reason for why we came here is…women work very hard and dedicatedly in agriculture. We have now come to protest. Be it state government or the central government. They keep assuring us that they are with us and they support us. As small farmers we are not able to get any benefits. To pacify us they are saying that they will waive our loans, increase the minimum support price, the central government also assured that they will purchase jowar from us. They are making these statements in the media.
“All these are empty promises. None of these assurances have been fulfilled till now. It’s been four and half –five years now. They said they will implement the Swaminathan committee report. They have been hoodwinking farmers with promises. Today we have come together to protest this attitude. Our goal is simple and clear.Farmers, especially women farmers are not getting any benefits.We demand that they give us benefits in real and definite terms.”

At the rally we met a large number of women from Maharashtra as well. They came from drought prone districts of Osmanabad and Solapur and also from other tribal dominated districts like Nasik, Thane, Palghar, some parts of Nagpur.
We met a group of about 7-8 women from Bhum Taluka of Osmanabad district who were mostly dalit, landless and were at the rally because they had no land, no water, even for drinking or for their livestock. They wanted land so that they could cultivate and get some food. But more importantly they wanted education for their children, better health care, food security and water. They came with a lot of hope from the rally.
Majority of the women from Maharashtra were from the tribal belt and their main demand was related to granting of forest rights. They spoke of their demands as implementation of the Forest rights Act , improving milk dairy prices, irrigation facilities, remunerative price and loan waiver were not very high on their priority. Women from these districts too echoed similar issues and in addition were speaking about school enrolment for children, health facilities, drinking water and irrigation water.
They had also participated in the long march from Nasik to Mumbai held earlier this year in March. They felt that the promises made to them were not fulfilled and hence there was need to come to Delhi. They toiled and worked hard in the fields and forests but they said no one recognised them as farmers.
Men often joined in these discussions and told women to speak about the Swaminathan report and its implementation.
Farmers from the more prosperous districts of Maharashtra were also there. They were mostly men, but they said a few women too were with them. These were farmers from the Kolhapur district of western Maharashtra who were growing sugarcane. They have been associated with the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS)and have been part of the protests for better prices for sugarcane. They were in Delhi for the same reason and also to press for the implementation of the Swaminathan report.
Walking in the kisan rally and interacting with various sections of farmers, especially women farmers, gave us interesting insights into the varied demands of various sections of farmers.
---
*National Facilitation Team, Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch (NFT, MAKAM)

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