The capital and its neighboring regions of India are fevering with farmers-led protests as winter plummeted and COVID-19 rose high. The protests have been going on since November 26, 2020. Started after the Modi-led government enacted three new farm laws, the protest has not come to any direction towards a conclusion, rather has garnered global attention with support from the widespread Indian diaspora.
The three laws enacted were the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; the Farmers Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and farm Services Act 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.
Basically, the law implies that if implemented, the long-established government-guaranteed Minimum Support Price for Agri-products shall be removed, which means farmers are open directly to their clients for carrying businesses. While government puts the laws forward intending to modernize the agriculture sector and reduce the regulations, the farmers worry they have to compete with private corporations and big agribusinesses. The new laws also remove the restrictions on companies buying land and stockpiling goods, which according to farmers make it difficult to reach a fair settlement.
Small landholders (owning less than two hectares) make up 86% of India, who are responsible for 60-80% of food in the country. Half of India’s 1.4 billion people depend on government-regulated prices and markets that provided them regular and secure means of income. With these laws, agriculture will be open to private markets that shall provide small landowners unfair disadvantages.
As such, amidst the global pandemic and nail-biting cold, men and women farmers continued to demonstrate protests at the outskirts of India, mostly peaceful sit-ins but facing an occasional backlash. The protest took to streets on India’s Republican day on January 26, 2021, where at least one was killed and 300 injured. Internets were cut-down and several protests were carried out against the farmers’ advocate by the supporters of the government.
Among all the sights, women farmers, young and old, are one of the major parts of the protest. Women breaking the stereotypes of Indian agrarian patriarchal society, have been at the forefront of the recent mass protests, including anti-CAA protests in Shaheen Bagh.
Women’s role in agriculture is crucial for food production with 60 t0 80 percent of country food produced by women force in India. According to Oxfam India, nearly 75 percent of full-time female workers in rural areas work on farms. Nearly 75 percent of full-time female workers in rural areas work on farms, compared to just 59 percent of men. Of the female agricultural laborers, 81 percent belong to marginalized segments of the population, including Dalits, the lowest rung in India’s caste system, or Indigenous Adivasi communities.
Yet, women face great inequality in the agricultural sector with no equal access to household resources, daily wages, or ownership of farmlands. As per the nationwide India Human Development Survey, barely 2% of women own farmland in India. Without ownership of land, women farmers are also barred from access to credit or government loans targeted for farmers. Furthermore, Oxfam India has stated that about one-third of female cultivators are unpaid workers on family farms and those who work on someone else’s land receive at least 30 percent lower wages than their male counterparts.
One of the major problems India has been facing is increasing rates of farmer suicide due to higher debt and lesser income. Women belonging to suicide-affected families remain more vulnerable to poverty lest the farming income decreases due to any reason. Furthermore, women’s responsibilities in patriarchal agrarian families go beyond farmland as the burden of household chores and caretaking falls upon women.
Thus, the proposed laws, if passed, are predicted to impact women farmers disproportionately. As such, women are seen not just participating but actively leading and managing the protests. In Punjab, women are leading over 100 protests in absence of men. In other protests too, women are managing food, drinks, and cleaning the protest areas. Mostly led by Sikh farmers from Punjab, the protest space reflects the Sikh ethos of langar (free meals), sewa (service), and charhdi kala (high spirits). Women keeping one foot at home and one in protest are joining the force with full power that has amazed the national and international media.
Not just women farmers but also various women from other sectors like journalism, technology, and media are actively advocating farmer’s voices inside and outside India. The poet Rupi Kaur, American author Mina Harris, singer Rihanna, Climate Activist Disha Ravi, and Greta Thunberg, all have spoken in regards to the farmer’s protest in recent times. Although most of the diaspora and international figures faced criticisms for speaking out, women, in general, are leading in the forefront and backstage on the protests.