Governments in India define farmers as those who own land, which is usually not the case with women
Women farmers from six states demanded a comprehensive agriculture policy that would recognise them and offer relief and compensation to the kin of male farmers who had commit suicide, at a recent event in the national capital.
Around 60 women farmers from Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Punjab took part in a two-day conclave in New Delhi, organised by the Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manach (Makam), an advocacy group campaigning for the rights of women farmers.
The state governments’ criteria on who is a farmer is exclusive and is being used to manipulate farmers suicide identification data, field studies by Makam have claimed.
A lot of women are engaged in farming in India but are not categorised as farmers since land titles are usually held by men. ‘Women farmers’ in India are usually widows, who take up farming to support their children after the deaths of their farmer husbands.
The official definition of a farmer also means that most tenant farmers or sharecroppers do not get recognition or compensation.
Farm widows who are now farmers, claimed at the meet that they did not even get the ex-gratia amount due to them after their husband’s deaths. Instead, they were made to go through a traumatic process to claim the ex-gratia amount.
“When men commit suicide in Telangana, women have to get at least 13 certificates from an insensitive bureaucracy to claim ex-gratia.
This adds to the trauma of losing a husband, repaying existing debts and being the bread winner for the children,” Kavitha Kuruganti of Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (Asha), which is part of Makam, said.
The total number of farmer suicides in India between 1995 and 2018 was 353,802 according to the National Crime Records Bureau. About 86 per cent of these (303,597) are men and the rest (50,188) are women. Telangana had the maximum number of suicides by women farmers, followed by Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.
Vidya More, a widow and farmer from Maharashtra, narrated how her life changed after her husband committed suicide due to indebtedness.
“Government criteria excludes widowed farmers instead of including them,” More claimed. “My husband didn’t find a place in the list of farmers who committed suicide as he was under the influence of alcohol besides pesticides,” she added.
After her husband’s death, More has struggled to get social security benefits like pension. She has not received any payment under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi or PM-Kisan, which allocates Rs 6,000 to each farmer in three installments. This, in spite of the fact that she has submitted all the required documents.
More wants to reopen of her husband’s case so that he can be considered as a farmer and get government support.
“Because I am the only adult in the household, I cannot take my surplus marketable grains to the local market,” another woman farmer, 60-year-old Chowdamma from Karnataka’s Kolar district, said.
Her husband owed Rs 2 lakh to the local money lender. He consumed pesticide as he was unable to repay the amount. Chowdamma took him to Bengaluru for treatment. Despite the fact that she spent Rs 3 lakh on his treatment, he died.
“My loan was not waived off because it was not institutional. Besides, other health expenses had been added to it,” Chowdamma, a mother of five children, said.
Makam sought an inclusive approach for:
Makam delegates met Union Minister of State for Agriculture and Farmer’s Welfare Purshottam Rupala on January 27. “Rupala assured us that he would look into the women farmers’ issue,” Kuruganti said.
On January 28, a Makam delegation also met the chairperson and member secretary of the National Commission for Women, who assured them that it would act on the issue.
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