Thousands of women have joined farmers’ protests on the outskirts of New Delhi to mark International Women’s Day, demanding the abandonment of new agricultural laws that open up the country’s vast agricultural sector to private buyers.
Monday’s protests took place at several sites on the outskirts of the capital, where tens of thousands of farmers have camped for more than three months to protest the laws, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government says are needed to modernize agriculture.
Wearing bright yellow scarves representing the color of mustard fields, the women took center stage at a key site, chanting slogans, holding small marches and giving speeches against the laws.
“This is an important day because it represents the strength of women,” said Veena, a 37-year-old woman from a farming family, who only gave one name in order 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 vast protest site of Tikri.
More than 20,000 women gathered at the site near Delhi’s border with Haryana state, police and event organizers said.
“This is a day that will be run 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 agricultural activist Kavitha Kuruganti.
“This is yet another opportunity to showcase and highlight the contribution of women farmers both to agriculture in India and to this movement.”
Modi “ doesn’t care about women ”
Around 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.
Holding the flags of the agricultural unions, they listened to the women farm leaders speak and chant slogans against the laws. At least 17 participated in a one-day hunger strike.
“The women are sitting here in the open air in protest, but Modi doesn’t care. He doesn’t care about mothers, sisters and daughters. He doesn’t care about women. It’s clear, ”said Mandeep Kaur, a farmer who traveled 1,100 km (680 miles) from Chhattisgarh state to participate in the protests.
Women have been at the forefront of the protests, which have posed one of the biggest challenges for Modi since taking office in 2014.
Many have traveled with the thousands of farmers who arrived at the protest sites in late November and have since organized and led protest marches, run medical camps and huge soup kitchens that feed thousands, and have raised demands for gender equality.
“Today, Modi sends greetings to women across the country on International Women’s Day. Who are these women to whom he sends wishes? We are also like his daughters, but he clearly doesn’t care about us, ”said Babli Singh, a farm manager.
Protests also took place in Jantar Mantar, a district of New Delhi near Parliament where around 100 women held signs denouncing the new laws and calling for their removal.
“Today we find ourselves under attack on all fronts. As women, as peasants, as workers, as young people and students, ”said women’s rights activist Sucharita, who uses only one name. “We oppose the laws that have been passed in favor of business.”
Multiple rounds of talks between the government and farmers have failed to break the deadlock. Farmers rejected the government’s offer to suspend laws for 18 months, saying they would settle for nothing less than a complete repeal.
Modi’s government says the reforms will bring private investment in a large and outdated agricultural sector, improve supply chains and reduce colossal waste.
Agriculture accounts for nearly 15% of India’s $ 2.9 trillion economy and employs around half of its workforce.
Women farmers have as much at stake as men because of new agricultural laws, Kuruganti added.
“Distant and exploitative markets make single women farmers 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 call an “invisible workforce” on India’s vast farmlands.
Almost 75% of rural women in India who work full time are farmers, according to anti-poverty group Oxfam India, and the number is expected to increase as more men migrate to cities to find work. . Yet less than 13 percent of women own the land they cultivate.