At home on the fields, despite biases

Shini Vinod operating the harvest machine at a polder near Chengalam in Kottayam.  

The days are gone when women labourers, armed with sickles and spirited by an ageless array of folk songs, used to swarm the polders of North and Upper Kuttanad during harvest seasons.

Over the years, machines began replacing them as the face of paddy farming across the region. The constraints in adapting to the farming equipment have driven the women further away from these fields, limiting their roles mostly to homestead cultivation.

Amidst this diminishing role of women in modern-day farming, 41-year-old Shini Vinod stands tall as a proud farm worker. The first and arguably the only woman who operates a paddy harvest machine, she has been the cynosure of all eyes ever since harvesting of ‘the Punja crop’ took off across the polder networks of Kottayam in the second half of November.

A native of North Paravur, near Ernakulam, Ms. Vinod has been to fields on harvesting machines for four years now. An active Kudumbasree worker, Ms. Vinod underwent training in the operation of various farm equipment along with six other women in 2013 and has also worked as a demonstrator of these equipment on behalf of the State Agricultural Department.

Ms. Vinod was drafted to the farming operations here in view of an acute shortage of machines and workers experienced by the farmers to complete the harvesting operations. “I usually enter the field once the sun goes up and the moisture content on the paddy evaporates and work until 7 p.m. with just a couple of breaks in between. The department has fixed my wage as ₹300 per hour while the polder collectives have offered me accommodation facilities,” she said.

But with the intermittent showers playing a spoilsport, this mother of two has chosen not to stay back here after work for the time being.

According to Ms. Vinod, the biggest hurdle women faces in engaging with the farm machines is the inherent gender bias in their design. “Operating these machines is no small feat as it requires a lot of upper body strength. My body gets completely exhausted at the end of the day. The advent of Japanese machines, however, has made things much easier although it is a long way to go,” noted Ms. Vinod.

Beena George, principal agriculture officer, Kottayam, said the entry of Ms. Vinod into farm equipment operation augured well for the community. “Let there be more women who follow her footsteps and ensure gender equity in agriculture,” the official said.

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2022 10:16:41 AM |

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