Kolkata: Namita Sarkar, Pratima Haldar and Jahanara Bibi may never land up in the mighty corridors of the Parliament, Prime Minister’s Office and Supreme Court in Lutyens’ Delhi. Nevertheless, they raised their rugged fists in support of the resolutions passed by the open-air women’s assembly in downtown Kolkata that asked the Narendra Modi government to repeal the pro-corporate farm laws.
They also took exception to the Supreme Court’s suggestion to send back women and elderly who had been participating in the ongoing farmers’ agitation at Delhi borders under the open sky for almost two chilly months. So far more than 70 farmers have lost their lives in their fight against the elements; both celestial and temporal as the participants reminded.
Women’s voices from the below
“How much the top guns at the court and government know the women like us who work in the fields day and night in all seasons? Men get fatigued easily but we are hard nuts, be it by choice or compulsion. We do most of the back-breaking field work-weeding, sowing or harvesting as well as post-harvest thrashing etc. We also take part in taking our produces to local markets and haggling over prices with middlemen. Men relax at home but we don’t have any respite from household chores including taking care of our children. So, why won’t we be more perturbed about the new farm laws as it would affect the entire family and its livelihood?” Pratima, a peasant woman in her twenties, from South 24 parganas shot back.
“We the village women are not like our city sisters. If anybody raises alarm at night about raids by dacoits, cattle-lifters or stealing of our standing crops, we too rush out holding household weapons. Our grandmas and mothers have done it too. They faced landlords and police together. We have inherited their survival instinct. How can we sit at home now when the bigger dacoits are raiding us?” Namita, in her mid thirties, asked.
Both had come to attend the sit-in demonstration, organised by the state chapter of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee. It has been going on in support of the farmer’s siege on Delhi Durbar for more than a week. Today’s women’s assembly was held following the central call to observe the day as Mahila Kisan Diwas.
The Prime Minister and his minions have been trying their best to portray the Punjab farmers as the villains. And the same time they are running a hardsell of the pro-corporate farm laws as beneficial to small holders cum cultivators in rest of the country including Bengal. But Jahanara Bibi and her cross-faith friends from marginal farming families are refusing to buy.
“Today we’re selling our produce mostly vegetables including cauliflower, cabbage, brinjal and tomato at throwaway price to local middlemen. The government is saying that big companies will buy our produces at a better price. But we will buy the same vegetables at a manifold price at market later as these companies hoard and control the supply to the wholesale and retail market,” young Jahanara from Bhangar said.
Listen what Namita Halder, a female farmer speaks about farm laws. Video by Mitali Biswas
Namita pointed out that the forced conversion to crop variety or cash crop cultivation under the corporate contract farming would hardly leave any choice for them. It would adversely affect small farmers and their land. “Contract farming has been introduced to some extent in our areas too. We have mixed experience about small companies and it is still up to our choice. If the same system becomes all pervasive, small holders like us would be compelled to follow the dictates of big companies and their client farmers. What if they insist on floriculture in my land where I now grow vegetables? My family do not know the first and our plot is suitable for the second. Do we have real choice under the new regime?”
The women’s assembly resolutions
Not only corridors of power– Parliament, Supreme Court or government are men-dominated but also the farm protest leadership and the caravans on the roads. It was heartening to see that the podium for solidarity at Dharmatala was left to the women. Leaders of mostly Left women organisations spoke there. Again for a welcome change, many village women, rustic and inarticulate but more authentic addressed their assembled sisters.
Highlighting the fact that women own only 13 per cent of the farmland in the country, the assembly felt that the news laws would further increase landlessness among the women. Instead, it wanted more land ownership to women for their socio-economic empowerment, individual and family security. Many participants spoke about the denial of minimum wages as well as equal wages to women farm hands even under NREGA and other government-sponsored and panchayat-controlled work.
Reflecting the concerns of Bengal farmers, the assembly passed resolutions demanding MSP (Minimum Support Price) for not only rice and wheat but also for all 23 products listed by the government. It asked for guaranteed procurement centres in each panchayat areas, an universal Public Distribution System (PDS) for food crops including rice, wheat, pulses as well as edible oil, potatoes and eggs at subsidised rates.
The Assembly also cared for the sustainable farming; health of farmland and its ecosystem by demanding reinvigoration of the traditional natural and organic farming.