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Saturday, February 04, 2012

India, Rights of Women over land, livelihood and natural resources

Women contribute maximum to Indian economy but are still neglected

"Women contribute 63 percent to agricultural production, in their hands lie the welfare of the whole family and society; they are the keepers of the commons and the indigenous seed heritage of the country. Yet, they are almost completely in the unorganized sector (71%) having no assets or economic security. Even though Indian economy is growing at a rate of 9%, 52% of women of the country suffer from malnutrition; they go hungry even when the granaries are full and overflowing."

Sujata Mahapatra

 

“Women contribute 63 percent to agricultural production, in their hands lie the welfare of the whole family and society; they are the keepers of the commons and the indigenous seed heritage of the country. Yet, they are almost completely in the unorganized sector (71%) having no assets or economic security. Even though Indian economy is growing at a rate of 9%, 52% of women of the country suffer from malnutrition; they go hungry even when the granaries are full and overflowing.” This was what was the hitting point of the two days national level consultation programme organised in Bhubaneswar by Welthungerhilfe in collaboration with Agragamee – an Odisha based organisation involved in development works and activism – to provide a voice to the women suppressed behind the culture of silence. Theme of the consultation was "Rights of Women on land, livelihood and natural resources".

“Women in India make the major work force in the agricultural sector. If you take the whole of India more than 71% of women work as agricultural labourers which becomes 82% when it is confined to rural India only. That means women are doing most of the works that include sowing, weeding, harvesting, carrying etc. So much of work is done by women, but what do they get in return? This is a big question”, said one of the organising members Vidhya Das of Agragamee while presenting the issues concerning women living in rural and tribal India adding that, “the women subsidise our food produces by over 60% and contributing about one lakh crore to the agricultural economy and a total of two lakh crore to the entire Indian economy. But the benefit is going to the corporates and women still remain neglected.”

Citing at the conflict over ownership of natural resources, a former Secretary to the Government of India KB Saxena said in his key note address that, “There is a great amount of disturbance in the society and one of the key reasons is the question of who takes control of natural resources?” The state is in a rush to push out people from the ambit of agriculture. There is crass commercialization of natural resources mostly propagated by the state.  He requested everyone to become part of this struggle to connect people with their natural resources especially that of women. It is the forest that gives women especially tribal women the significance and space which establishes their status in the family, society, preserving these rights is central to preserving the existence of tribal women.

“Women are increasingly contributing towards land based activities especially agriculture and yet they are the most marginalized group. They are denied control and ownership rights over the land. The need of the hour is to bring about policies keeping the women farmers central to the development of land based farming activities to bring about a second agricultural revolution”, said Aurobindo Behera, Member Board of Revenue in his inaugural address.

Professor Ramesh Sharan from Ranchi University underlined that the linkages between commons, agriculture and natural resources need to be established to bring justice to women who have historically been declined their basic rights. He further equated the status of women to that of Dalits. Mr. Laurent LE DANOIS of the European Union in his speech highlighted that the differences between women and men needs to be brought to the table.  When we talk about rights do we talk about human rights, are we talking about state legislations or the customary rights of tribal people....what is the bigger picture?

Community leader, Sumani Jhodia emphasised that women have to face a Herculean struggle in land, even though they were main workers on the land. Vasavi Kiro, Member Women’s Commission pointed out that inherent in the Forest Rights Act was that cases against the Forest dwellers would be withdrawn. This was not taken up, and has lead to much unrest and discontent. She pointed out that these are some of the issues which lead to left wing extremism in the tribal regions. The key thematic issues dealt with included the following as mentioned below. There was a conscious effort made into not just discussing thematic issues but also pushing the envelope by asking certain key questions.

         Land, Livelihood and Food Security - Whose burden and whose benefit?

         State, community, women and Forest - Who comes last?

         Existing laws and Policies - How much are they in favour of women?

         Role of Community, Civil Society, Media and State - Who does what?

The discussion highlighted women’s Herculean efforts in protecting and rejuvenating the commons, and also underlined the extent to which women’s unpaid and underpaid work supported and subsidised the national economy and food production in this country.  Just a back of the envelope calculation shows that women in agriculture, at a minimum wage rate of Rs.100 per day, are underpaid to the extent of Rs.93000 crores per year. Thus, Rs.93000 crores is the extent to which women have been subsidising food production in this country every year.

The conference has been instrumental in facilitating an active and rigorous dialogue between women from the grassroots, hidden behind the culture of silence, academics, policy makers, civil society representatives, and activists. It is essential that there is essential documentation, and coverage of the issues raised herein for taking the policy issues forward, and correcting the historical injustice to the poor rural and tribal women in this country.

The consultation brought together tribal and rural women, women community leaders, academicians, civil society representatives, and government officials from states such as Orissa, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh to discuss the several issues, the legal options and spaces, and work out a way forward. Key participants included Swadhina (Jharkhand), Anandi (Gujarat), SCRIA (Rajasthan) RCDC, Vasundhara, FES (Orissa), IGSSS (Madhya Pradesh), NFFPFW. The initiative is under the ambit of the European Union co-funded project, ‘Empowering Women: Access and ownership over land and land based activities through education, legal literacy and advocacy in rural India’.

(Sujata Mahapatra is a Bhubaneswar based TV Journalist representing 'India TV' in Odisha)

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