Thousands of women have joined the protests of farmers on the outskirts of New Delhi on International Women’s Day, calling for the repeal of new agricultural laws that open up the country’s vast agricultural sector to private buyers.
The demonstrations on Monday took place in several locations on the outskirts of the capital, where tens of thousands of farmers have been camping for more than three months to protest the laws that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government said is necessary to modernize agriculture.
Women farmers protest against the farming laws near the border between Haryana and Delhi [Danish Siddiqui/Reuters]The women wore bright yellow scarves, representing the color of mustard fields, and stood in the center of attention in an important place. They sang slogans, held little marches and made speeches against the law.
“This is an important day as it represents the strength of women,” said Veena, a 37-year-old from a farming family who only gave a name to protect her identity.
“I believe that if we women are united, we can achieve our goal much faster,” added Veena, who traveled from the northern state of Punjab to the sprawling Tikri protest site.
More than 20,000 women gathered at the site near the border between Delhi and Haryana state, police and organizers announced.
“This is a day that is administered and controlled by women, the speakers will be women, there will be a lot of feminist perspectives and discussions about what these laws mean for women farmers,” said farm activist Kavitha Kuruganti.
“It is another opportunity to demonstrate and highlight the contribution of women farmers to agriculture in India as well as to this movement.”
Modes ‘don’t care about women’
About 100 women sat cross-legged in front of a makeshift stage in Ghazipur, one of the protest sites on Delhi’s border with the state of Uttar Pradesh.
Women farmers protest against the farm laws outside of New Delhi [Danish Siddiqui/Reuters]They held trade union flags and listened as female farm managers talked and sang anti-law slogans. At least 17 took part in a one-day hunger strike.
“Women sit out here in the open to protest, but Modi doesn’t care. He doesn’t care about mothers, sisters and daughters. He doesn’t care about women. That’s clear, ”said Mandeep Kaur, a peasant woman 1,100 km from Chhattisgarh state to take part in the protests.
Women led the protests that have posed one of the greatest challenges Modi has faced since taking office in 2014.
Many traveled with thousands of male farmers who arrived at the protest venues in late November and have since organized and led protest marches, ran medical camps and huge soup kitchens that feed thousands, and made demands for gender equality.
“Today, on International Women’s Day, Modi sends wishes to women across the country. Who are these women to whom he sends wishes? We’re like his daughters too, but he clearly doesn’t care about us, ”said Babli Singh, a farm manager.
Demonstrations also took place in Jantar Mantar, an area in New Delhi near Parliament, where around 100 women held posters denouncing the new laws and demanding their withdrawal.
“Today we are attacked on all fronts. As women, as farmers, as workers, as young people and students, ”said the women’s rights activist Sucharita, who uses a name. “We are against the laws that were passed in favor of companies.”
Women farmers protest against the farming laws near the border between Haryana and Delhi [Danish Siddiqui/Reuters]Several rounds of talks between the government and the farmers did not manage to end the impasse. Farmers have turned down a government offer to put the laws on hold for 18 months, saying they will settle for no less than a complete repeal.
Modi’s government says the reforms will bring private investment into a huge and obsolete agricultural sector, improve supply chains, and reduce colossal waste.
Agriculture accounts for nearly 15 percent of India’s $ 2.9 trillion economy and employs about half of the workforce.
Kuruganti added that women peasant women have just as much at stake as men from the new agricultural laws.
“Markets that are both distant and exploitative make single peasant women more vulnerable, and in any case a patriarchal society has discriminated against and made them vulnerable.”
International Women’s Day, sponsored by the United Nations since 1975, celebrates the achievements of women and aims to promote their rights.
Women often embody what agricultural experts refer to as the “invisible workforce” on India’s vast farmland.
Nearly 75 percent of rural women who work full-time in India are farmers, according to anti-poverty group Oxfam India, and the number is expected to increase as more men move to cities to find work. Yet less than 13 percent of women own the land they cultivate.
Women farmers in India protest against agricultural laws on the occasion of International Women’s Day [Danish Siddiqui/Reuters]