Farming falls under male domain. But Kalawati has been into for the last 30-35 years since her early childhood. She comes from a family of small farmers. Hers is a ‘joint and happy family’ where she lives with her husband, one daughter, two sons, one daughter-in-law and one granddaughter.
Besides tending to her crops and doing all the labour intensive work (like sowing/growing of vegetables, mustard, gram wheat, paddy, sugarcane, and cutting of sugarcane), she also tends to her cows and buffalos, with very little help from her husband. While the grains she grows are consumed in the family, she is able to earn money through sale of buffalo milk. Kalawati concedes that there is a lot of difference in today’s farming as compared to earlier days. Earlier there was no proper arrangement of manure and watering the crops. Now things have improved drastically. With better availability of manure and water and improved farming techniques, the crop yield has increased.
Kalawati is an elected member of Kaachha village Panchayat , bock Bhitti, district Ambedkarnagar in Uttar Pradesh and she is also an active member of Aaroh Mahila Kisaan Manch (‘Aaroh’ is a campaign for rights and recognition of women farmers in 345 villages across 70 districts in Uttar Pradesh supported by Oxfam India), where all women farmer members work together to improve their farming skills. She has been part of this Manch since the last 10 years. She loves to take part in their meetings and rallies and raise moral boosting slogans. Other women labourers/ farmers look upon her as a sort of leader. If there is some work involving farm labour – like sugarcane cutting – women workers contact her because of her ability to negotiate for better prices. Then she arranges for a group of women to do that work and distributes the money as wages among them.
Realizing their utility for poor women, Kalawati has formed a women’s self-help group (SHG). According to her, “SHGs are really very helpful for women like us. Today our group has Rs 35,000 in the bank, which is a big boon for all of us in times of need.”
Women farmers, like Kalawati, labour hard, but there is very little recognition of their work. “Our menfolk do not even lift a glass of water and expect us to do all household chores besides labouring in the fields. Now there is a slight change in their attitude as we have started demanding some care from them.”
Kalawati feels very bad that even though women do a lot of farming work, they are not recognized as farmers—the word farmer still implies men only. The biggest problem of women farmers is that their workload is twofold—they have to do domestic work as well as work in the fields. They have to manage family and farming both.
“There is one and a half bigha of land, which is in my husband’s name. Earlier it belonged to his father and after his death it came to my husband. There is no land in my name. We too have our rights, but when we ask for them we are sweet talked and blackmailed emotionally—the husband would say everything belongs to you only. There must be legal papers to prove our ownership too,”says Kalawati
Kalawati has seen a sea change in her 42 years of life. There is a huge difference in the Kalawati of today and yesteryears. Her thinking has changed and her outlook has broadened. Her economic condition too has improved drastically. “Even though I do not have enough land to grow crops to sell in the market, there is at least enough food in the family for all. I also earn by working on other people’s farms and by selling milk. Our economic condition has improved a lot,” she says.
Today, other women of her village take inspiration from Kalawati. They have seen her grow from nobody — who did not have enough for two square meals a day — to somebody of substance by way of money and woman power. Today she is recognized as a woman leader.
“I believe in self-help.Women are very laborious and industrious but they perhaps lack in self-confidence and hence are diffident to move ahead and become self-reliant.They feel intimidated by their husbands and refuse to join the work force, even though they internally wish to. I encourage them to work outside their homes to improve their financial and social status”.
(Shobha Shukla is Managing Editor of Citizen News Service)