Words by Tavishi Kathuria
Women have been an unseen, yet significant face of protest sites in the Indian history. From the time of the Independence struggle to farm law bills, women have shown immense power, raised their voices, alarmed the country in their own unique ways.
One such portrayal of importance women hold in the Indian society, Indian economy and Indian protests was done on Monday, January 18 celebrated as the Mahila Kisan Diwas.
Women farmers and their family members showcased tractor rallies against the three farm laws for which Indian Farmers have been protesting. The protest entered day 55 on January 18. It was wholly managed by women, only women speakers staged their speeches, took out paidal marches, did PT shows and addressed their fellow protesters. This was also the rehearsal for the 26 January, Republic Day tractor parade by women farmers.
The ‘Mahila Kisan Diwas’ programme aims to honour women for their incredible contribution in the protests and work of women’s groups in every field.
Despite nine rounds of discussions with the Indian farmers government has failed to satisfy the farmers and the protest continues against the three farm laws namely, The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act 2020, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Price Assurance and Agricultural Services Agreement Act 2020, and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act — with the aim to reform the farm sector. However, the Supreme Court has put a stay on these laws and formed a committee of experts to examine the matter.
Women all over the country might not have been able to reach on grounds with protestors in Delhi but their spirits are high, their anger is burning and their support to their famer sisters and brothers is strong. Despite being away from the parliament street and not being in the media highlights women from Bengal, Patiala and many other regions of India celebrated the Mahila Kisan Diwas feeling the need to be in the front line, leading the crowd and maintaining the legacy of their mothers and grandmothers to fight for what is right, to not sit and wait for the war to be over but to take out their weapons and revolt.
A young woman protestor at the Bengal protest site in a sit-in demonstration organised by All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee says “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 produce 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”. Highlighting the fact that women own only 13 percent of the farmland in the country, the assembly felt that the new 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.
The assembly in Bengal 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.
On the other hand potestors in Patiala, took roads to demonstrate tractor rallies, foot march and other shows, organised solely by women protestors, while men stayed away. While, Khatkar toll plaza protest site registered the largest number of women protesters for the first time.
In Gujarat and Maharashtra thousands of women celebrated Mahila Kisan Diwas at the Shahjahanpur farmer protest, said the Sayukta Kisan Morcha (SKM). Women took charge of the event at the Shahjahanpur-Kheda border along the Jaipur-Delhi Highway with cultural programs, street plays and speeches by women leaders.
According to the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) over 300 districts saw women farmers protesting, highlighting over 75 percent of agricultural work is done by women and the three farm laws affect them most of all.
While the farm laws are yet to be imposed, the farmer leaders are yet to meet the government again and discuss their issues, this movement will be remembered for the pioneering contribution of women in the coming times where women took roads to support their farmer brothers and sisters. Owned the protest, took leadership of organisation, raised their voices, fought for themselves and their communities’ demands. Ridiculed the norm of village women being unaware, unknown and uneducated of the world around them.