Surviving Stigma: Housing and Land Rights of Farm Widows of Vidarbha, Maharashtra


Surviving Stigma: Housing and Land Rights of Farm Widows of Vidarbha, Maharashtra was published in October 2017 by the organisations Prakriti Resource Centre for Women and Development, Nagpur, and Housing and Land Rights Network, New Delhi.

Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region accounts for a large part of farm suicides in the state. The farmers there – most of whom own less than two hectares of land – have faced worsening drought conditions for decades, along with crop failures and piling debt. A large number of male farmers have taken their lives out of desperation, leaving their wives to tackle the same problems in a society that denies women equal rights.

This report documents information on farm widows in Vidarbha and their struggles to obtain ownership of their land and houses. It contains the results of a survey on the rights and living conditions of 157 farm widows in Vidarbha’s Akola, Amravati, Wardha and Yavatmal districts.

The 44-page publication has seven chapters: Introduction (chapter 1); Background of the Agrarian Crisis in Vidarbha (chapter 2); Objectives and Methodology of the Study (chapter 3); The Human Rights Framework on Housing and Land (chapter 4); Findings and Analysis of the Study (chapter 5); Response to the Crisis in Vidarbha (chapter 6) and Recommendations and Conclusion (chapter 7).


  1. At 44 per cent, Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region has the highest rate of farm suicide in the state. This has resulted in a growing number of families headed by farm widows, who have to cope with the unexpected loss of their husbands, run their households, face the social stigma associated with widowhood, as well as fight for their houses, property and agricultural land.

  2. Land ownership in India is mostly unequal and concentrated in the hands of a few. The state of Maharashtra has seen numerous peasant and social movements which have impacted its agrarian relations. Despite successive governments’ attempts to redistribute land, reform tenancy agreements and reduce inequality in land ownership, the laws were inadequately implemented and people continued to evade them.

  3. Farmers in the Vidarbha region generally borrow money against their land to buy seeds, fertilizers and irrigation equipment, and to pay labourers. Most farmers do not have access to institutional credit and so they resort to private money lenders and rural banks with high interest rates. Unseasonal rain and drought conditions often lead to poor crop yields, pushing cultivators further into poverty. 

  4. Less than 20 per cent of Maharashtra’s farmers have insurance. Despite government subsidies for crop insurance schemes, flawed implementation and delays in settling claims have led to increased distress in the farming community.

  5. The Constitution of India guarantees fundamental rights to its citizens without discrimination. These legal protections are applicable to farm widows too and include their right to life, equality, freedom of movement and residence, and to live with dignity.

  6. The authors faced several problems in conducting their survey of farm widows in four districts of the Vidarbha region: difficulty in transport and poor connectivity, difficulty in locating farm widows in several villages, and the farm widows’ reluctance to speak in the presence of relatives – among others.

  7. The surveyors interviewed 157 farm widows aged 22 to 48, although most of them were between 30 and 40 years. About 9.5 per cent of them had not studied at all, 37.5 per cent had completed their secondary education, 43 per cent studied till high school, and 10 per cent had gone to college or studied further.

  8. Most of the surveyed women – 76 per cent – reported doing farm labour for a living, although some even worked in their own fields. About 11 per cent of them did tailoring, and 5.73 per cent worked as anganwadi or ASHA workers.

  9. Most respondents had no fixed monthly income. The average monthly income of the surveyed women was between Rs. 2,000 and 3,000, including wages, scholarships and pensions, as well as interest from fixed deposits which some families got as part of relief packages. Some respondents reported earning as low as Rs. 1,000 a month.

  10. The interviewed widows all agreed that their households were in debt when their husbands committed suicide. The minimum debt was reported to be Rs. 10,000. The debt was between Rs. 30,000 and 50,000 for 44 per cent of respondents, and between Rs. 100,000 and 300,000 for 45 per cent of them. In many cases, the widows incurred even more debt to sustain their households after their partners passed away. 

  11. The survey found that the families of a large number of respondents offered them some money or a share in agricultural produce after their husbands died. But they denied the widows their right to own the family’s land or house. Two women from Amravati district said they received a small share of land from their marital family after fighting for it.

  12. The survey found that most respondents first received support from their parents and siblings after the death of their husbands. However, such assistance is usually insufficient and short-lived. The government’s relief packages also provided benefits for a short period. In many cases, the widows failed to access benefits due to their grief and the extensive administrative processes involved. Only 10 per cent of respondents went to the government offices and could complete the paperwork for state support by themselves.

    Focus and Factoids by Asif Iqbal. 


Prakriti Resource Centre for Women and Development, Nagpur; Housing and Land Rights Network, New Delhi


Prakriti Resource Centre for Women and Development, Nagpur; Housing and Land Rights Network, New Delhi


Oct, 2017