Women Farmers and Children Attend Parliament as Farmers' Bills are Tabled

They travelled from Haryana to Delhi to lend their support to the two private member Bills seeking ‘freedom from indebtedness’ and ‘guaranteed remunerative prices’.

New Delhi: As Member of Parliament Raju Shetti introduced two private member Bills – called the ‘Kisan Mukti Bills’ – in the Lok Sabha on August 3, a group of women farmers and schoolchildren born into farmer families were in the parliament to witness the process. The group travelled from Rewari in Haryana to Delhi on the morning of August 3 to lend their support to the two private member Bills seeking ‘freedom from indebtedness’ and ‘guaranteed remunerative prices’.

Shetti, who is also a member of the All India Kisan Sangarsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) – a coalition of around 200 farmer organisations formed after the Mandsaur agitation of last year ­– tabled the two Bills, which have the support of 21 political parties. The Farmers’ Freedom from Indebtedness Bill, 2018 proposes the right of farmers to a one-time complete loan waiver and the right to receive institutional credit. Whereas, the Farmers’ Right to Guaranteed Remunerative Minimum Support Prices for Agricultural Commodities Bill, 2018 seeks the right for farmers to obtain the Minimum Support Price at least 50% above the comprehensive cost of production.

On the hot and muggy August afternoon, the group from Rewari sat on the lawn outside the parliament as they awaited entry. The children from the Senior Secondary School, Khori, a village in Rewari, had arrived in their school bus. They were dressed in their school uniforms – red and white chequered shirts and grey trousers – and their student identity cards hung prominently around their necks.

Students from the Senior Secondary School, Khori. Credit: Bani Bedi

As they sat flanked by the India Gate on one side and the Rashtrapati Bhawan on the other, a member of the AIKSCC briefed them about the structures surrounding them: the president’s residence, the India Gate and the Rajpath. Pointing towards the National Museum, he explained how the history of India, starting from the Harappan civilisation, could be traced in its exhibits. The students listened attentively, looking around in amazement and pointing out different buildings to each other.

The group also consisted of a few women farmers from villages around Rewari. Bhateri, 60, from Goliyaki village, is a farmer who works on her family’s field and also on those of others. “We women work at home and the fields both. Koi bhaav nahi deta humein (we get no attention for it),” she said. “Yet we feel strongly about farmers’ issues and are here to show full support for these Bills.”

Bhateri sat with three other women, two of whom were dressed in salwar-kameez and could sit more comfortably on the grass. Dressed in an earthy brown saari with a purple and green print, she was not comfortable, but she had a point to make. “It is a little difficult to sit on the grass in a saari, but I don’t wear suits like they do. I am always in a saari. I spent Rs 500 on this one. So why should I come to Delhi dressed differently?” she said as she laughed and readjusted her saari.

Kusum (L) and Bhateri. Credit: Bani Bedi

Kusum, also from Goliyaki village, has participated in farmer protests before. She thinks women’s participation in these is important because of how hard they work, but she understands why most women cannot attend. “If the crop needs water in the middle of the night, I manage that. I do the housework, I work as many hours on the field as my husband does, and I also take care of the animals,” she told The Wire. “It is difficult for women to leave their children and homes and come out to protest. I can manage because my son has grown up.”

Satyavati, 60, said a major problem in Goliyaki was water availability. “Drinking water itself is so expensive. We rely on the monsoon for our crops, and it fails us too often. Water for irrigation is too costly,” she said. Satyavati had voted for the BJP in 2014, putting her faith in Narendra Modi after being disillusioned by other political parties. But she has now realised this government is not working for the farmers, she said.

Satyavati is a member of a self-help group comprising 24 women. “The group is functioning well, but it has not progressed beyond a point,” she said. “We pool in money and take small loans from the collected money. It does not help beyond this.” This is her only source of credit. Without a land title to her name, she is not recognised as a ‘farmer’ by the government and cannot access institutional credit available to farmers.

Satyavati (L) and Santosh. Credit: Bani Bedi

Satyavati explained that when farmers are in debt, women have to come up with other ways to finance their children’s education and health care. “Women sell milk and take up odd jobs to pay for their children’s fees and care. We are dedicated to our children’s education.”

“When my daughter was taking her M.A. exams, my husband asked her for help in the field. I went to the field instead while stayed home to cook food. She spent days making rotis with one hand and holding a textbook in the other. When we didn’t have electricity, my children would study in the light of diyas.”

Santosh, who sat to the right of Bhateri on the grass, was participating in an AIKSCC event for the first time. She came all the way from Rewari because she thought it was an important cause. “I heard the women in the village say this gathering would help the cause of the farmers. I also heard about the Bills. I think I’ll be attending more such protests now onwards.”

The students, all of whom came from Rewari and are children of farmers, said they work in the fields sometimes after school. This was their first visit to New Delhi and were very excited to be here.

The girls in the group said they all aspire to continue studying after school. Monika said she wants to study engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). She is prepared to work as hard as necessary, she said. Mahima said she wants to study for a B.Com. degree while others want to pursue Sanskrit, or geography, or medicine.

But none of them wants to join their parents’ line of work. “Farming just means losses, doesn’t it?” Mahima asked matter-of-factly. “We have seen our parents suffer. We don’t want to be farmers and suffer like they do.”

Mansi said when she grows up, she will become a journalist and raise the issues that have plagued her family. “I want to write reports which everyone will read,” she said.

The children from the Senior Secondary School, Khori, lined up with their identity cards in hand. Finally, it was time to enter the parliament. They have learnt about the Lok Sabha in school, and now they have the opportunity to see whether their lawmakers will work to solve farmers’ problems or not.

Bani Bedi is an intern at The Wire.