Women farmers demand their due

Celebrating the face of determined peaceful resistance, to mark International Women’s Day

Women farmers at the Punjab-Haryana border in Shambhu
Women farmers at the Punjab-Haryana border in Shambhu

Sanskriti Talwar

"It has been over two years since we have returned from Delhi. The government had said they would fulfil all our demands, but no one called us farmers to discuss those demands,” says 60-year-old Charanjit Kaur, resident of Sangrur district in Punjab. She and her family grow wheat, paddy and a few vegetables for household consumption on their two acres of land. “We are fighting for the rights of all the farmers,” she adds.

Charanjit is sitting with her neighbour and friend, Gurmeet Kaur among a group of women at the Shambhu border in Patiala district. The warm afternoon sun is falling on the group. “They (the Haryana government) didn’t even let us go to Delhi,” says Gurmeet. She is referring to the multilayer barricades of concrete walls, iron nails and barbed wires that have been placed on the roads along the Haryana-Punjab borders, and then along the Delhi-Haryana borders, stopping protesting farmers from reaching Delhi.

The farmers gathered here say that the Central government has failed them on many counts: guarantee of minimum support price (MSP) as per the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission, a complete waiver of debts for farmers and farm labourers, justice for the farmers affected in the Lakhimpur-Kheri massacre, arrest of the culprits, a pension scheme for farmers and labourers and compensation to families of farmers who were martyred in the 2020-2021 protest.

Surinder Kaur and her comrades pray for strength to carry on the struggle
Surinder Kaur and her comrades pray for strength to carry on the struggle

A few weeks ago, on 13 February, when these farmers began a peaceful march to the national capital to press for their demands, they were met with tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets fired by the Haryana police to stop them from moving further.

Surinder Kaur’s son is among the protesters at the Shambhu border. “Sade tey mobile, television band hi nahi honde. Asi dekhde hai na sara din gole vajde, tado mann vich haul jeya paenda hai ki sade bache tey vaje naa (our mobile phones and televisions are constantly on. As we see tear gas shelling persisting through the day, we worry for our children’s safety),” she says.

Surinder Kaur is from Khoje Majra village and arrived on the morning of 24 February to participate in the candle march for 22-year-old Shubhkaran Singh, who died following a clash between security personnel and the protesting farmers at another Haryana-Punjab border point in Khanauri.

“We are protesting for our haq (rights), we will not return until our rights are met,” she asserts. The 64-year-old is accompanied by her daughter-in-law and grandchildren. Kaur’s family of six rely on their two acres of farm in Fatehgarh Sahib district where they cultivate wheat and paddy. She says that MSP for just five crops is not enough. “Mitti de bhav laende hai sadi fasal (they buy our crops for next to nothing),” she says referring to the other crops like mustard sold in and around their fields.

“Despite our peaceful protests, why do the police resort to such extreme measures?” asks a worried Devinder Kaur, whose sons have been at the protest site since the beginning. A resident of Landran village in Sahibzada Ajit Singh Nagar district of Punjab, Devinder Kaur too had come with her family — daughters-in-law and grandchildren aged two, seven, and 11.

“The government provides MSP on only two crops: wheat and paddy. Then they ask us to diversify to other crops. How are we to diversify under such circumstances?” Devinder asks. “The maize we grow is bought at a price of Rs 800-900 per quintal, as against the Rs 1,962 per quintal MSP on maize set by the Food Corporation of India for 2022-2023.”

Nearly 200 metres from the barricades, standing on a makeshift stage built on a trolley, farm leaders are delivering speeches and updating protesting farmers on upcoming events scheduled. People are seated on durries spread on the highway; a four-kilometre long caravan of thousands of tractor trolleys stretches towards Punjab.

Parampreet Kaur, 44, a farmer from Punjab’s Rajpura has been at the Shambhu border since 24 February. Tractor trolleys from the villages of Amritsar and Pathankot have four to five women in each one. They stay for the entire day and the next day, other groups of women come.

The lack of toilets at the protest site, they say, is why they cannot stay overnight. “I felt the urge that someone from the family should come in support,” says Parampreet. Her 21-year-old son is ill and could not come. So, she has come instead with her relatives.

The family own 20 acres of land on which they grow wheat and paddy, but since her husband suffered a stroke in 2021, they have not earned anything from the land. “No one is interested in cultivating the land on lease also because the groundwater there has been polluted from the chemicals released from a factory nearby,” she adds.

Amandeep Kaur and her family own 21 acres of farmland in Bhatehri village in Patiala district. They mainly grow wheat and paddy. “The value of our crops remains negligible while they’re in our fields. However, once they leave our possession, they are soldat double the price in the market.”

Speaking about the protest she says, “The protesters are unarmed, yet the government is resorting to using weapons against its own citizens. There is little reason to remain in India. It’s no wonder the youth are leaving the country. Not only are there limited jobs here, but when we assert our rights, we’re met with such treatment.”

Courtesy: People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI). The original article may be accessed here

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