With most of their kin protesting in Delhi, Haryana farmers, particularly women, keep farms running, livelihoods alive
The involvement of women like Santosh Sandhu, particularly from the state of Haryana, which is not known for being progressive, is noteworthy, especially given that they're tending to households as well as farmlands.
Her eyelids are heavy, feet swollen, and back is stiff, but there is no respite for 58-year-old Santosh Sandhu. She wakes up at 3 am, and goes to bed at 11 in the night these days. Normally her day would start at 5 am, and conclude by 8 or 9 at night. “I have hardly gotten three-four hours of sleep in the past few weeks,” she said. “I don't even have time to fall sick.”
A farmer with four acres of farmland in the village of Gagsina in Haryana’s Karnal district, Sandhu has had an exhausting three months. On top of her own farm and livestock, she is helping take care of the farmlands and livestock of three other families. “They are protesting for our rights at the borders,” she says. “We have to have each other’s back.”
While the farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, continue to camp at protest sites, fellow villagers back home are doubling up to look after their farmlands. Sandhu is one among them.
More than half of Gagsina — with a population of nearly 8,000 — is camping at Singhu, which is 100 kilometers away along the Delhi-Haryana border. “In their absence, the rest of the village is helping keep their livelihoods intact,” says Sandhu.
Sandhu and her husband have eight buffaloes and a cow. They decided to help their three neighbours, who have nine bullafoes between them. “My husband and I have to milk them twice a day, and feed them once in the morning,” she says. “Then we water our wheat crop and head to their farms to water theirs, and spray pesticides and fertilisers if needed. One of my neighbours also cultivates sugarcane, which the labourers are harvesting currently. We have to see that through too.”
Even though villagers back home have pitched in to help, majority of the workload falls on women becauseit is an added responsibility on top of all their other household chores. "I have to cook for the family, do dishes and wash clothes. That is taken for granted,” she says, adding, “We will continue to do this even if the protests go on for six months or six years. The farm laws have to go. Every village is doing what we are. "
At a time when Sandhu is working her fingers to the bones, her 35-year-old son Pradeep is shackled to his bed. “I have a bad leg because of polio,” he says. “But I still manage to get some work done. On 21 January, when I was returning from the protest, I met with an accident and I broke my other leg as well. I had to be admitted to the hospital, and I still can’t move properly. I feel bad that I can’t help my mother."
The involvement of women like Sandhu, particularly from the state of Haryana, which is not known for being progressive, is noteworthy.
“Men may be more in numbers at the border, but women are equal partners in this protest,” says Santosh Singh. Santosh, 62, has four acres of land which she cultivates for wheat and paddy, in the same village.
Her 25-year-old son Navin has been camping at Singhu from the first day of the protest. “He worked as a recovery agent with a finance company and earned Rs 12,000 a month,” said Santosh's husband, Kewal.
“He quit his job and joined the protests. The farmers are committed to the cause and we are in it together. We might be looking after our neighbours' farms now, but when we take their place at Singhu, they will do the same for us,” he added.
Farmers, however, concede that the already uphill task would get worse around mid-April, when the wheat crop is supposed to be harvested. “That is the time the work will multiply,” said Kewal. “We need more hands in the village at the time. We are already working 14-16 hours a day.”
An overwhelming majority of the farmers in Haryana follow the same crop cycle. They cultivate paddy in the kharif season (June to November), and wheat in rabi (December to April). “Rice is a much more labour intensive,” he said. “So we have to hire labourers at the time. We cannot manage on our own.”
However, for the wheat harvest, Kewal added, they mostly work on the fields themselves and save up on labour costs. “I think more farmers would have to return from the protest sites in April," he said. "Not everyone would be able to hire labourers to harvest the wheat crop. But the protest won’t be abandoned. We have figured a way out so far. We will figure something out again."
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