Adilabad: When the founding fathers of the Indian republic sat down to write the Constitution, the feature that they gave utmost importance was equality. It was the cornerstone on which the Constitution stands. They wanted to each individual to enjoy equality in opportunity as well as treatment. But even 75 years after independence, successive governments failed to make good this constitutional pledge to several sections of people.
Women are one of the sections who are facing the unjust treatment. Equality still eludes them in every sphere of their lives — be it at home or workplace. The more the women’s field of operations goes farther from the limelight, the more the magnitude of bias increases. Rural India — especially agriculture — is prime example of such inequality between men and women.
Women’s contribution is the key to three-quarters of farm-related operations. If one travels to the hinterland, one could invariably spot many women — wearing a shirt and a trouser over their traditional attire — engaged in farming operations. But the patriarchal structures that run deep in the society make equality a distant dream for them.
The disparity is more pronounced in wages. While a woman gets Rs 200-250, a man gets Rs 400 to 500 per day for their work in agriculture.
According to land owners, who are most often men, defend the wage differential, and claim that men get more wages because of the kind of work that they do. There is a strong notion among the people that men take up “hard work” that women can’t perform and therefore women’s work is quite easy.
While men tile land and spray pesticides, women engage in farm operations by bending their bodies hundreds of times while picking cotton, mirchi, among others, planting paddy, cutting crops, and weeding and sowing seeds. All the farm activities that women perform require a unique skill.
“We do not get equal treatment. Though we work on par with our male counterparts in agriculture, we observed that men face mental pressure as far farming is concerned, unlike women,” said Gunnamma Gunjala, 35, of Thantholi village of Adilabad Rural Mandal.
While stating that women feel safe and secure when they are with their men, Maddikuntla Sujatha of Thantholi insisted that they are not weak and they could fight for their rights, whenever it was required. “We can even question our men. But we always try to be within our limits,” she said.
Despite the work that women undertake require unique skills, women won’t get wages equal to that of their male counterparts in agriculture operations.
Narayana Maddikuntla, considered a big farmer of Adilabad, acknowledged this gap in wages.
He, however, attributes discrimination towards women in wages because of they are considered to be the weaker gender, especially when it comes to working for longer hours, undertaking labour-intensive work, and lifting heavy objects.
While acknowledging that the work done by the women is more important in agriculture and admitting that agricultural activity will not move an inch without the involvement of the women, he dismissed the need to question the status quo.
“This was the tradition that was handed down from our forefathers,” Narayana said.
Things may change; he said if the women foray into areas which are traditionally regarded as male bastions.
According to ‘The Fifty years of Oxfam in India’ document under the title of Right to Gender Equality notes that ‘millions of women in India are not only poor but they are also oppressed.
It further notes that “Individually and collectively, women gain confidence from their improved economic position and take on issues of domestic violence, alcoholism, dowry harassment, equal wages, and harassment by the police or forest department personnel.”
Women farm workers come from the SC, ST, and BC communities. According to the 68th Round of the National Sample Survey, as many as 64.1 per cent of SC and ST women were engaged as workers in agriculture in 2011-12 in India.
The women also are left away from farming operations during the menstruation period.
Going by the names of schemes, the government appears to have ignored the contribution of women agriculturalists. The schemes — ‘Rythu Bidda’, ‘Rythe Raju’, ‘Vyavasayanni Panduga Cheddam and Rythunu Rajunu Cheddam’ — often declare the men to be the key part of the schemes.
MGNREGS AND ITS ROLE:
The central government-sponsored MGNREGS or the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme turned out to be a ray of hope as it pays wages equally to men and women.
According to social activist Chakradhar Buddha, the MGNREG scheme is a testimony to what governments can achieve as far as gender equality wages, working conditions, and the nature of work are concerned.
He noted that the MNREGS has played a pivotal role with regard to women’s participation in rural jobs.
LAND OWNERSHIP AND ITS FALLOUT:
The women’s ownership of agricultural land increased after the distribution of three-acre land under the Dalit Basti scheme by the Y.S Rajasekhar Reddy government in 2004. Apart from this, men have transferred pieces of big land holdings to the women’s names to cash in on the government’s welfare schemes.
The situation, however, continues to remain dismal, especially for those who have lost their husbands. In most cases, the in-laws refuse to transfer the property to their daughter-in-law as they fear that she may remarry which could result in the loss of their property.
Citing the impending marriage of their grandchildren, they put off transferring the property to the woman, making her lose out on the government’s welfare schemes.
MEDIA AND ITS ROLE:
B. Kondal Reddy of an agricultural NGO Rythu Swarajya Vedika said the mainstream media plays a key role in creating a perception among the people about the farmers. It generally depicts a farmer as a man with headgear carrying a plough on his shoulder. While reporting on farmer suicides, he said the media typical report only about male farmers.
He urged the media to use words and symbols that show both male and female ‘farmers’ while writing about or discussing the farmer issues.
DESIGNING MORE INCLUSIVE TOOLS AND POLICIES:
The government should take steps to design agriculture tools that are suitable for women farmers, said S. Ashalatha of ‘Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch’ (MAKAAM).
“The agricultural tools should be lighter in weight and easy to handle to encourage more women to engage in operations like tilling and spraying pesticides. So far, the tools have been developed keeping men in mind,” she explained.
Ashalatha further urged the government to relook at the policies and change the criteria to be recognised as farmers to reflect women’s role and include them as beneficiaries of the government policies.
She underscored the need for effective on-ground implementation ‘gender budget’ so that women get their due share of recognition, avail the benefit of welfare schemes and also enjoy self-respect.
Once their husbands pass away, Ashalatha said women are denied loans and deferred payments for seeds, fertilisers, and pesticides, assuming that women may not be able to repay loans on time.
She also claimed that women were worst affected by the government’s land acquisition for development projects as the onus of repaying loans often fell on them. The increasing “feminisation” of agriculture on account of the migration of men further exacerbated their condition as they were side-lined from decision-making in corporate-driven agriculture.