40 Indian women have made moves to start a collective farming plot in the village of Pallur in an effort to increase personal profits and to try to close the gender disparity in agriculture ownership.
Agriculture is a socioeconomic backbone for India, producing the majority of livestock, fruit, vegetables, and forestry. Women are an integral part of the plantation workforce, as two-thirds of women in the workforce are employed through agricultural work. The problem is that while a lot of them are employed through physical labor in fields, they are not recognized for it.
These women are called Dalits, part of a social caste that has often faced discrimination and violence throughout time. In India, there are roughly 167 million Dalits. Though legislation has been passed to make them eligible for land distribution, the majority of these female farmers are still landless, owning just 13 percent of land.
“Throughout history, land ownership has been restricted to people belonging to upper castes, but movements have encouraged thousands of Dalits to take up agriculture as a source of living” Ashok Tangade, a Jamin Adhikar Andolan (JAA) activist, told Times of India. “This has changed the socioeconomic dynamics of the Marathwada villages, especially, in the case of Dalit women. Today, they grow enough to feed their families and are no longer vulnerable to exploitation.”
The 40 women who banded together to purchase a lot of land for farming faced backlash from members from upper castes, who didn’t want the women to own the land because of traditional values, but would allow them to continue working the land instead.
“It’s a constant struggle; it doesn’t stop with getting the land. They have to go against their husbands, the landlords,” said Fatima Burnad, founder of the Society for Rural Education and Development. “But all Dalits, especially the women, must own some land,” she said. “That is how they will be empowered, and challenge the caste bias, and they can do this better as a collective.”
The JAA land rights movement champions for land titles to be made jointly in the husband and wife’s names, rather than the man alone. Their reasoning is that land ownership traditionally correlates with status, thus excluding lower castes, and allowing Dalits to tend to the land has progressively altered local socioeconomic dynamics.
“I tell them, occupy land where you can. Like the Occupy Wall Street movement, it is an act of resistance,” said Burnad.
Women in India are continuing to shift the tide from traditional values to more contemporary ones in the name of equality as they form collectives to champion for ownership of land they work with.
“People do not realise that the fight is not just about our livelihood, it is also about our rights and dignity,” said Kantabai Ichake, a Dalit farmer from Marathwada. “We will continue our fight. We are not scared of the struggle. We will continue to demand that the government transfer land titles to our names.”
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