50 years old Kamlesh is the mother of 5 children—3 daughters and 2 sons. Her two daughters are already married and one of the sons has recently joined a job in Mumbai after doing his B.Tech. Kamlesh comes from a farmer’s family and was married into a similar one. Out of her 3 sisters and 2 brothers, one brother became a veterinary doctor — the others could not study due to poverty. But she was good at farming and also adept at stitching, knitting, embroidery, cooking and other household work. Yet all these womanly skills became the cause of many a discomfort after her marriage.
Life after marriage
At the age of 21, Kamlesh got married in a joint family comprising her husband, his two sisters and his three brothers and their wives. Her husband’s parents were dead and his elder brother’s wife, who was the family head, felt threatened by Kamlesh’s accomplishments and made life miserable for her. “My sister-in-law was a terror for everyone and would instigate my husband to beat me. I faced a lot of mental and physical torture. Eventually conditions became so bad that my husband and I had to move out, along with our two daughters and one son.”
Her work and achievements
Her ouster from her in-laws house proved to be the turning point in Kamlesh’s life. She and her husband laboured hard to improve their lot. They did not even have a roof over their head and no one else to fall back upon. It was a ‘do or die’ situation. While Kamlesh was used to working in the fields even before marriage, her husband (though being a farmer’s son) knew nothing about farming. He had aspired to do some white-collar job but had to give up his studies after Class 10 due to his father’s sudden death. Kamlesh taught him the nitty-gritty of farming.
Kamlesh started growing vegetables like cucumber and beans at a time when none of the other villagers were doing so—it was only later that others followed suit seeing the results of her work. Through this then novel venture, and by dint of her hard work, Kamlesh managed to save enough money to buy 4 bighas of land, in addition to the 20 bighas, which her husband got from his ancestral property.
Kamlesh is a member of the Aaroh Mahila Kisaan Manch ('Aaroh' is a campaign for rights and recognition of women farmers in Uttar Pradesh supported by Oxfam India) since the past several years and has been part of several women’s movements. “I was actively involved, with several likeminded women, in a movement to get a liquor shop removed in a nearby village Pather. We sat on a dharna (sit-in) for over 3 months before we could succeed in our mission. This went a long way in controlling alcoholism in the village and saved many families from the disastrous effects of the menfolk frittering away all their earnings on liquor.”
On women farmers
“Women farmers are recognized more as house makers and less as farmers. They should get recognition for their labours outside the home also. It is very important for women farmers to own land/ property/ house jointly with the husband so that the husband is not able to sell anything without the wife’s consent. There have been many cases where a drunkard/gambler husband sold his property leaving his family in the lurch. So there must be some legal documents ensuring the wife’s financial security.”
The land, which her husband inherited, is in his name. But Kamlesh has 4 bighas of land in her name that she had bought. Getting this land registered in her name was a joint decision made by her and her husband—it gives her financial security to tide over any future emergency. Due to this legal ownership of her land, Kamlesh is able to avail of government facilities like buying high quality seeds, manure and pesticides at reasonable prices from the farmers’ cooperative society. She also has a kisan credit card in her name, which helped her to take loan to buy her land.
Women’s education and marriage
Though not educated herself, Kamlesh recognizes the importance of literacy for women. She ensured that her 3 daughters were educated enough—of her two married ones, one has studied till Class 12 and the other is a graduate. Her unmarried daughter is currently doing her graduation. She also believes that girls should not be married before the age of 21 years.
“A small family is a happy family. But it also depends upon individual attitudes. A large family can live happily and a small family can be unhappy. But now the trend is to have not more than two kids and I agree with it. More kids means more expenditure. Having a small family would ensure better education for the children.”
Now and then
Kamlesh has seen a lot of change in farming patterns and techniques in her life. Earlier she would grow only sugarcane that was an annual crop. Proper means of irrigation and good manure were also not available then. So not only was the yield low, but profits were less too. But now she has grown wiser and does multi cropping. Kamlesh told Citizen News Service (CNS): “I grow one or the other crop the whole year round. After cutting the wheat, I plant cucumbers, then 15 days later I sow beans, and after that wheat again; and in between other seasonal vegetables, which I sell in the mandi (main market) at Saharanpur. So my land never remains uncultivated. I have also installed a tube well in my fields and have bought some buffaloes and cows whose dung I use as manure.”
All this has increased productivity and profits have also sky rocketed. “Earlier there was never enough to eat. But now through multi-cropping my earnings have increased manifold. I make a yearly profit of INR 4-5 lakhs—cucumber alone fetches 1 lakh after taking out cost of inputs. Then there is wheat and its husk also to sell.”
“It is very important for women to be self -reliant. They should be empowered enough to stand on their own feet and not be dependent upon others. Self-help is the best help. Earlier my husband did not have any respect for me. But now, over a period of time, he and others have started realizing my worth. I have made a position for myself by my consistent hard work. I have become stronger—emotionally and financially-- with every passing year.”
“Women should fight for their land/property rights and have ownership of land. There is no place of fear in a woman’s life. She should have the courage to move forward along with the men and deal with them sternly if they become a barrier in her advancement. Men need to be shown their place (lifts a rod to set them right).”
(This article written by the author Shobha Shukla, Managing Editor, Citizen News Service (CNS), is part of a soon-to-be-released Oxfam publication: "The Leader Lies In You - Success stories of women farmers in UP". Follow the author on Twitter: @shobha1shukla).