Women break into the mail domain of traditional farming, turn food growers in remote village of India’s Bihar state
Varsha Jawalgekar brings us the inspiring report of a group of women in her district Patna who have mastered the art of traditional farming including tilling the land with bullocks. The women have also formed a group and are collectively doing everything that was until now done only by men in their community: Ploughing, transplanting, weeding, irrigating, applying manure and harvesting. In short, these women have become a group of master farmers.
In India women have been traditionally called ‘Annadatri’ – a Sanskrit word which means food provider. But they have never been perceived as food growers. The business of growing food has been recognized as a male domain for centuries.
Today, academics say that farming in almost half of the land in India has more contribution of women than men, because men are busy working elsewhere – construction sites, factories etc. In overall farm production, women’s average contribution is estimated at 55% to 66% of the total labour.
But the shift in cultural attitudes towards women is yet to happen.
A big reason for this is, in the patriarchal society of India, the ownership of the land belongs to men. As we see in Varsha’s video, only 1% of women in Bihar – one of the most underdeveloped states of India – are owners of land. Though the state has a long going land rights movement, it has been focused on land for the landless, regardless of gender. Single ownership in the woman’s name – or joint ownership in both names — is still a sensitive topic, despite central and state government laws which allow equality of ownership.
However, the collective farming by village women of Patna now brings the focus back to the need of a gender dimension to land rights movement.
Varsha feels that wherever land is owned and managed by women, there are signs that they use it as collateral to borrow money to start up micro-businesses which generate a steady income. The women also grow in confidence and demand services from the government for themselves and their children.
If the women of village have access to land, they can provide food for the family instead of needing money to buy it.This is what is happening in Bara village today. With enough food coming in, the women of the village can soon have time to look for other ways of earning money, by making and selling handicrafts, for example. This means they are able to buy clothes, school books or medicine.
Varsha says that there may be a long way to go until women in her community get equal rights to own land, but through this farming effort, the women of Bara village have taken a bold step towards that.