Women cultivate a new voice in Indian farm protests

07 January 2021 | Economics

ABHAYA SRIVASTAVA

India's rural landscape is notoriously male-dominated, but thousands of women have become a pillar of the farmer protests blocking roads into New Delhi that have become a huge challenge to the government.

Women of all occupations and ages from those who toil in the fields, to city professionals and grandmothers in wheelchairs are braving the freezing winter temperatures in a bid to make the government withdraw market reforms.

"I am fighting for my children and my grandchildren," said Parminder Kaur, 40, who chants slogans at rallies during the day, then in the evening helps make chapati flatbread and curry to feed the tens of thousands of protesters.

Women have traditionally been the silent backbone of Indian agriculture working the land without the influence that goes with it. Studies have shown how they suffer from poverty, discrimination and domestic violence.

About 85 percent of women in rural areas have some kind of agricultural activity, yet only 13 percent own land, according to anti-poverty activist group Oxfam.

Free market

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been forced onto the back foot over three laws which allow farmers to sell their produce on the free market, after decades of channelling their wheat and rice through state-run markets with a guaranteed minimum price.

Modi insists the reforms will attract badly needed investment to a sector which employs about two-thirds of India's 1.3 billion population, but only contributes about 15 percent to its economy.

However, farmer leaders say the changes will lead to a takeover of the agriculture business by Indian conglomerates.

Kaur's family has two acres (about 8 000 square metres) of land where they grow wheat.

"This land is everything for us, it is like our mother," she said.

Ranjana Kumari, who heads the Centre for Social Research, a Delhi-based non-profit group, said that while women do not own the land, they fear a cut in revenue will badly hit their households. - Nampa/AFP

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