India and world are witnessing largest and historical protest against government in various parts of India and around outskirts of capital to demand the repeal of three agricultural laws that they say would destroy their livelihoods. The protest is going on from Mid-October 2020 and still people are camping to put forward their demands in front of the world.
In January, as the New Delhi winter set in, the Chief Justice of India asked lawyers to persuade elderly people and women to leave the protests. In response, women farmers—mostly from the rural states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh—scrambled onto stages, took hold of microphones and roared back a unanimous “No!”
Many Women like Jasbir Kaur, a 74-year-old Farmer got stunned by court’s suggestion that women were mere care workers providing cooking and cleaning services at these sites—though she does do some of that work—rather than equal stakeholders. Jasbir Kaur has been camping at the Ghazipur protest site for over three months, only returning home once.
Indians of all ages, genders, castes and religions have been united by a common goal: to roll back new agricultural laws passed in September by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. The laws, suspended in January by the Supreme Court but not yet repealed, would allow private corporations to buy directly from farmers, which they say would leave them at the mercy of buyers and do away with the traditional wholesale market system or mandis, where they are assured a minimum set price for certain crops.
Women, who form the backbone of Indian agriculture, may be particularly vulnerable to corporate exploitation. According to Oxfam India, 85% of rural women work in agriculture, but only around 13% own any land. “Women are not seen as farmers. Their labor is immense but invisible,” says Jasbir Kaur Nat, a member of the Punjab Kisan Union, who is mobilizing farmers in Tikri, the protest site at the border of Haryana and Delhi.
“This law will kill us, will destroy what little we have,” says Amandeep Kaur, a farmer from Talwandi in Punjab, whose husband died by suicide five years ago, following a bad crop that landed him with a debt of around $7,000.
At the protests in India, women are speaking up. Before now, some women had never stepped out of their homes without a veil, let alone spoken onstage in front of thousands of men. Many arrive at the sites in tractors, a powerful—and previously male—symbol of farming in India. “Women are changing women here,” Nat says, praising the spirit of protest among these women. “They are claiming their identities as farmers.”