“We want the reversal of these laws,” says Vishavjot Grewal, who is protesting at Singhu on the Haryana-Delhi border. “We are very attached to our land and we cannot tolerate anyone taking it away from us,” adds the 23-year-old from a family of farmers, who has helped organise protests in Pamal, her village in Ludhiana district, since the three laws were passed in Parliament last September.
The women in her family, like at least 65 per cent of women in rural India (notes Census 2011), are engaged directly or indirectly in farming activities. Not many of them own land, but they are central to farming, where they do most of the work – sowing, transplantation, harvesting, threshing, crop transportation from field to home, food processing, dairying, and more.
Still, on January 11, when the Supreme Court of India passed an order putting the three farm laws on hold, the Chief Justice also reportedly said that women and the elderly must be ‘persuaded’ to go back from the protest sites. But the fallout of these laws concerns and impacts women (and the elderly) too.
The laws the farmers are protesting against are the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 ; the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act , 2020; and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 . The laws have also been criticised as affecting every Indian as they disable the right to legal recourse of all citizens, undermining Article 32 of the Constitution of India.
The laws were first passed as ordinances on June 5, 2020, then introduced as farm bills in Parliament on September 14 and rushed through as Acts on the 20th of that month. The farmers see this legislation as devastating for their livelihoods by expanding the space for large corporate to exercise even greater power over farming. They also undermine the main forms of support to the cultivator, including the minimum support price (MSP), the agricultural produce marketing committees (APMCs), state procurement and more.
“Women are going to be the worst sufferers of the new farm laws. Though very much involved in agriculture, they do not have decision-making powers. The changes in the Essential Commodities Act [for example] will create a lack of food and women will face the brunt of it,” says Mariam Dhawale, general secretary, All India Democratic Women's Association.
And many of these women – young and old – are present and resolute at the farmers protest sites in and around Delhi, while many others who are not farmers, have been coming there to register their support. And many are also there to sell some items, earn a day’s wages, or just eat the plentiful meals offered at the langars .