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One of the fascinating fallouts of the protests by farmers at the border of Delhi has been the emergence of women in the forefront taking charge. Women have also been active in protests against the farm bills in Punjab, says VIVEK GUPTA  from Chandigarh.

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If young women were the star attraction during last year’s anti-CAA protests, it is the women from Punjab villages who caught the nation’s attention by their overwhelming presence at the historic farm protest that continues to choke Delhi borders for over a month now.

They drove tractors, sang songs of rebellion and made highways their new home. Many sociologists saw a new gender awakening in an otherwise patriarchal and male-dominated society even in the agrarian society they come from.

The videoof 74-year-old Navroop Kaur, sarpanch of Nawan village in Jalandhar district, has caught everyone’s attention. She packed nearly a dozen females from her village and herself drove the tractor to Delhi.

“Sooner or later, Modi will have to take these bills back as we are determined not to step back,” says Navroop, who too manages a 27-acre farm on her own.

Writer Amandeep Sandhu who has been keeping a close watch on the farmers’ protest, said: “It was an extraordinary sight that was not seen at previous peasantry protests. Here women had taken up leadership roles, were managing the show, delivering speeches, occupying front rows and mouthing anti-government slogans.”

“Sooner or later, Modi will have to take these bills back as we are determined not to step back,” says Navroop, who too manages a 27-acre farm on her own. 

While Sandhu believed that this remarkable gender awakening would have far-reaching consequences in terms of enlarging public movements and strengthening participatory democracy, this time the women certainly set high standards of courage and perseverance.

Women farmers raising anti-government slogans at Tikri border.

40-year-old Paramjit Pammi of Pitho village of Bathinda’s Rampura Phul Tehsil, who has been at Tikri border since the start of the protest, said, “The day we landed at Tikri after breaking all barriers and hurdles put up by Haryana police, I somehow had a strange feeling about our future survival and whether we would able to make the nation convinced of our cause.”

As the sun rose the next morning, the scene was different. She said that help poured in from all quarters. People from nearby villages came with eatables and opened their homes for hundreds of females accompanying protestors.

While Sandhu believed that this remarkable gender awakening would have far-reaching consequences in terms of enlarging public movements and strengthening participatory democracy, this time the women certainly set high standards of courage and perseverance.

Paramjit, a mother of a 16-year-old boy who entered class 11 earlier this year, said: “Our first priority as protestors was to send the right message among people so that they saw that we were right. I have no hesitation saying that we won this battle. Whatever be the outcome of this struggle, we convinced the larger society that our objection to the centre’s new bills was justified.”

Who looks after the family while she is here? Paramjit responds, “Sometimes, sacrifices have to be made for a large cause.”

Women were motivated to join

Female protestors affiliated to Bharitya Kisan Union (BKU) Ekta-Ugrahan, BKU Dhakunda, Kirti Kisan Union, Punjab Kisan Manch and a couple of other unions, form a large part of groups at Tikri border while their presence is equally noticeable at Singhu border, Gazipur as well as Delhi Agra-Palwal borders too, who have come here from Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and other states. On January 3, 1,500, women will leave Maharashtra to join the protests.

Who looks after the family while she is here? Paramjit responds, “Sometimes, sacrifices have to be made for a large cause.”

In the past few weeks, they brave all odds and stayed put despite Delhi’s cold chilling winter or the lack of toilets, privacy and hygiene.

BKU Ugrahan leader Harinder Bindu, who has played a vital role in unifying rural women in Punjab for this protest.

What has motivated them to stay determined despite so many difficulties?  Forty-one-year-old Harinder Bindu, in-charge of the women’s cell of BKU-Ugrahan has an answer: “If something happens in the family, a female is the first victim. She is the one who is forced to sell jewellery, cut kitchen expenses, or make several other compromises to clear debts. Even landers force men to mortgage wives’ jewellery or other household valuables first.  This awakening that the farm bill will mount financial challenges and plunge the future of the entire family was a great motivation factor that drove women to join this movement.”

Protests in Punjab too

She added that ever since the protest began in Punjab, they have engaged as many as 40,000 women with the stir, which is a significant number given that women till recently were hardly seen in protests. Points out Bindu: “Seeing the participation of females in Punjab farm organisations, our counterparts in Haryana and UP were too motivated to bring women to this protest, which was a great achievement for all of us.”

What has motivated them to stay determined despite so many difficulties?  Forty-one-year-old Harinder Bindu, in-charge of the women’s cell of BKU-Ugrahan has an answer: “If something happens in the family, a female is the first victim. She is the one who is forced to sell jewellery, cut kitchen expenses, or make several other compromises to clear debts. Even landers force men to mortgage wives’ jewellery or other household valuables first.  This awakening that the farm bill will mount financial challenges and plunge the future of the entire family was a great motivation factor that drove women to join this movement.” 

Kamal Kaur, a 44-year-old mother of twin boys from Barnala in Punjab, says that it is wrong to see this as a fight by men alone. In Punjab, there are families where men have committed suicides, leaving their mothers, wives and daughters in a miserable condition.

Since these new central acts will mount fiscal hardships in the rural economy, it makes it even more important that both men and women come together to fight these bills since the survival of the entire family is at stake. “I will not leave Delhi borders until the centre takes back these bills,” she says.

Gurpeet Kaur, a young 22-year protestor from Baras village in Patiala district, who has been the catalyst in bringing over 200 women from her block, says that women protestors are well aware that the three laws will affect them more. “The first impact of low earnings will be on the women’s kitchens,” she said.

Kamal Kaur, a 44-year-old mother of twin boys from Barnala in Punjab, says that it is wrong to see this as a fight by men alone. In Punjab, there are families where men have committed suicides, leaving their mothers, wives and daughters in a miserable condition.

Gurpreet said that there are families that have meagre landholdings. “If they don’t get MSP for their produce and force them to enter into an agreement with corporate firms, women will also be forced to work as bonded labourers in their own fields,” she said.

Most women who have gathered at Tikri and Singhu borders belong to Punjab’s southern districts like Sangrur, Barnala, and Bathinda that are long hit by fragmented land holdings and mounted debts.

Most of the 2000 widows who participated in the protest on December 16 were also from these areas. Gurpreet said that women of these towns have suffered a lot in terms of suicides and rising financial debt. Therefore they are aware that these new acts will further make things worse, she said.

Young or old, passion flares in all

29-year-old Navkiran Kaur, a dentist turned filmmaker from Mansa district in Punjab, who has been actively participating here, says that this is a new kind of protest where females in a true sense have emerged warriors and fighters.

An activist since her college days, Jasbir said that the plight of women in an agrarian society is often ignored despite their vital role in farm and cattle management. This protest is a true sense that gave them space to voice their concerns.

Says Navkiran: “This central idea of this entire peasant movement is to fight for the protection of the land. In a patriarchal society like ours, the land is always associated with men. But when women say that this protest is a fight for their existence too, they are also trying to claim their rightful space in this society, which I believe is the most striking beauty of this protest, which in times to come will change deep-rooted gender prejudices of our society.”

She has also set up a small library at the Tikri border and named it as Bhagat Singh library where people can come and read books.

Navkiran is a daughter of 60-year-old Jasbir Kaur, who is among the leading female farm leaders in Punjab. If one visits the stage of Sanjha Morcha (a joint front of 30 farmers union in Punjab) at Tikri border, Jasbir is seen managing the stage, motivating the crowd, and taking care of female protestors.

An activist since her college days, Jasbir said that the plight of women in an agrarian society is often ignored despite their vital role in farm and cattle management. This protest is a true sense that gave them space to voice their concerns. The women also realised that the crisis in agriculture is not a fight of men alone as they have an equal role to play.

“The farm unions have also understood how important the contribution of females was in mass movements, which, I believe, will change the nature of future protests,” she added.

Bindu said that it was in 2012 when BKU Ugrahan officially launched its women wing from Bathinda. “Since then, we have set up separate women wings in over 10 districts of Punjab,” she informed.

In several videos of farm protests circulating in social media, we have seen grandmothers raising slogans and also helping in cooking and organising langars. (community cooking)

Not an overnight change

Sociology professor Manjit Singh, a former director of Dr. Amdedkar Chair at Chandigarh based Panjab University said that the presence of women at the farm stir was historic in a true sense.

“Not only it awakened the conscious level among women towards social and political matters, but it also made the present stir stronger and result-oriented due to their sheer presence and open new possibilities for future mass public movements,” he said.

He however felt that it was not an overnight change. “If we study the growth of farm unions in Punjab, there were many groups especially those committed to left ideology, which consciously made efforts to engage rural women in their organisations. Somehow this played a major role in increasing the participation of women in this protest,” says Manjit Singh.

The article stated that the farm outfits like BKU Ugrahan held training sessions for families at the time of forming block and village units of women. “How men must look after the family in the absence of females was also part of these training sessions,” it stated.

Harinder Bindu of BKU-Ekta Ugrahan recalls how engaging the women with farmer unions was a major challenge to start with. “We often were ridiculed by village men. But I must say that our male leaders at village and block level played a massive role in convincing them to send their wives in our protests,” she said.

“Another major noticeable change that our male leaders consciously took was to shun consumption of liquor and stop the use of abuses so that females feel comfortable whenever they go out for protests,” she said.

Bindu said that it was in 2012 when BKU Ugrahan officially launched its women wing from Bathinda. “Since then, we have set up separate women wings in over 10 districts of Punjab,” she informed.

Women farmers raising slogans against the government at Singhu border.

She adds that their number is increasing every day. “Our female cadre is so strong that we can alone stage protests with 35000-40000 women any day in Punjab,” she said.

Bindu said that the media began talking about female participation after the protest shifted to Delhi. But the women were equally preoccupied with participating in local protests – in front of toll plazas and Reliance Malls – back in Punjab for over three months now.

“The momentum has not slowed down there even today. They are perfectly juggling between their house chores as well as protesting duties,” she added.

Role of women recognised

The latest third edition of Trolley Times, a four-page newspaper started by farmers outfits, dedicated its cover story on the role and contribution of the women in the on-going stir.

The article stated that the farm outfits like BKU Ugrahan held training sessions for families at the time of forming block and village units of women. “How men must look after the family in the absence of females was also part of these training sessions,” it stated.

According to the piece, there has been a realisation among women in Punjab that as governments would come and go, they needed to come together to get their issues resolved.

courtesyLeaflet

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