- Women’s participation in the protests against the three agriculture laws gave them a chance to assert their disregarded position as farmers in the country, moulding the scope and character of the agitation.
Women’s Participation in Protests
- India has had a long history of protests against the ruling government, be it during the colonial rule of the British, or against the government in independent India.
- Despite the prevalent patriarchal system, women have actively participated in these protests alongside men.
- Women activists, politicians and leaders have emerged from even the most orthodox regions of the country.
- Protests against the State or with a common cause gave them the opportunity to dissent openly, voice out their issues, and create a space for themselves within the larger discourse.
Major Challenges faced by women in agriculture and during the farm protest
- Socio-economic factors: The reasons behind their participation are rooted in the historic conditions and socio-economic factors that affect women throughout the country.
- Patriarchal system: Most women, who participated, came from States where women, especially from rural regions, are disadvantaged by the patriarchal systems that constrain them.
- Denial of land ownership: Though women play a crucial role in the agricultural process in these regions, they are denied land ownership and are expected to do unpaid or exchange labour.
- Lack of State protection mechanisms: With the coming of the farm laws, the already precarious condition of farmers in the country was expected to become even more unstable due to the lack of State protection mechanisms.
- Lack of food security: It directly affected women, who are already burdened with the responsibility of managing the domestic (food) needs of the family.
- Other challenges:
- Societal issues: Women have always subtly challenged society; be it through clothing, gossiping, folk songs mocking their in-laws or expressing eroticism and folk art among others.
- Gender roles: As the division of labour was mostly decided according to gender roles, women were made responsible for cooking, cleaning and taking care of the elders during the protest.
- Harassed and molested: In many of the protest sites they were asked to cover their face while on the podium and in a few instances, they were even harassed and molested.
- Class and caste inequalities: with oppressive structures like the Khap panchayats being reproduced in the sites.
Their role during farm protest
- Equality: From being mere spectators of the movement, they joined the men demanding the repeal of the agriculture laws.
- Responsibility: They took up responsibilities of the production and distribution of food and bringing supplies to the sites.
- Many of them drove themselves in tractors to the protest sites, symbolising their status as farmers.
- Contribution: Women’s dissent, though directed towards the government, questioned and challenged the society that burdens them disproportionately and acts oblivious towards their contributions to farming.
- Defied patriarchal norms: by participating in sporting events primarily associated with masculinity, preparing for the civil services or pursuing higher education, and engaging in mixed caste or mixed religion marriages.
- Added texture: women created songs and slogans that mocked the new laws, discussed the problems of the peasants and workers, and challenged the political system.
- Boosting the morale: Women’s participation in the protests also helped in creating a festive mood, boosting the morale of the protesters as they struggled with harsh conditions (weather, police harassment) at the protest sites.
- Local festivals were celebrated, where gender roles of certain local traditions were subverted.
- Self sufficient: though the initial conditions of the protest sites were unfavorable for women in terms of sanitation and safety, they managed to organise committees to address these issues.
- Gender inclusive: by becoming more gender inclusive, the protest managed to attract more media attention and support from the general public.
- Agrarian politics: women’s participation in the farmer’s protests against the State brought them to the centre stage of agrarian politics and proved that society’s attitude towards women activists and agitators were changing in the right direction.