With thousands of farmers taking over central Delhi on Friday morning, the Kisan Mukti March was meant to be a grand show of unity and strength under a common umbrella. But hidden among the thousands, were groups who felt they were the last among equals.
These landless labourers said they were at the mercy of big farmers.
“When there is no work to be had, what is the point of talking about wages? When I have no land to cultivate, what is the point of asking for loan waiver and MSP [minimum support prices]?” asked Sunil Kishan, who works in the fields of Bihar’s Nawada district for daily wage.
For most of his contingent marching under the banner of the All India Kisan Mahasabha, the major demands of the protest are not directly relevant, he said.
For women workers, the burden is double. “As a woman, I get ₹100 as daily wage for working in the fields. The men get ₹200. But I work as hard as they do,” said 60-year-old Sunaina Devi from Bihar’s Gaya district.
Though the main focus of the rally was on loan waivers and minimum support price (MSP), Ms. Devi’s demands are far more basic: a ration card, clean water supply, and fair wages. “I do not know anything about loan waivers. Who will even give me a loan,” she asked.
For a group of women from Telangana who have lost their menfolk — fathers, husbands, brothers — to suicide, their grief is worsened by the fact that few of them actually owned the land they cultivated.
“My husband and I cultivated two acres, but when he committed suicide, it reverted to my father-in-law. I do not have any legal rights to it. So to support my sons, I am forced to work as a field labourer for daily wage, including on my father-in-law’s fields,” said K. Rekha of Adilabad district. Even there, she earns ₹150 a day, while male workers earn ₹300.
Precarious situation for some
Some other women said they have continued to cultivate their husbands’ lands, but without any patta or ownership document in their own names. Their situation remains precarious.
K. Surekha’s story is different. When she got married, she and her husband were both landless workers.
However, four years ago, they benefited from a State government scheme to give land to landless Dalits, and received three acres. In accordance with government policy, the land was registered in the name of the woman of the household.
“Two years after that, my husband died. But at least, I still have some land. I still have a livelihood,” she said.