This is the inspirational story of Lilawati-a teacher cum farmer. The mother of 7 children—4 daughters and 3 sons, of whom one son died at the age of 25 years—66 years old Lilawati lives with her retired husband, 2 sons and their wives, a widowed daughter-in-law (who is a teacher) and 5 grandsons and 5 granddaughters. Lilawati, one of five siblings, lost her parents when she was very young. Her elder brother brought up the family. Lilawati could study only till Class 5 and was married off when she was just 15 years old.
Life after marriage
Lilawati was married into a poor family. Her husband was the second of four brothers and was studying in class 6 at the time of marriage. With the cooperation of her in-laws, Lilawati managed to resume her studies, alongside working in the fields, and passed Class 10. She encouraged her husband to study even more and later take up a job at a clothing factory in Shahjahanpur.
Her work and achievements
Lilawati started working on the fields to help tide over a financial crisis. Her family did not object to her working outside the house as they saw the economic benefit of it. In the initial years, besides working on her piece of land, Lilawati would also lease fields of others and earn a living mostly through growing and selling of vegetables. Through multi-cropping, Lilawati grows wheat, paddy, sugarcane and also vegetables like potatoes, okra, bitter gourd, green chilly, and brinjal. When she had less land she grew vegetables on just 1 bigha, but now she grows vegetables on 3 bighas and make a profit of INR 1 lakh per year from sale of vegetables alone.
Earlier she would use chemical fertilizers. So the yield was not good and profits were less too. But later after coming in contact with Aaroh Mahila Kisaan Manch ('Aaroh' is a campaign for rights and recognition of women farmers in Uttar Pradesh supported by Oxfam India), she started growing vegetables with the help of organic manure made by her. This not only increased the yield of the vegetables but also made them tastier and more nutritious and they fetched a higher price. Application of new farming techniques, which she learnt in training workshops at Bantaara ashram, also helped her to grow more with less input costs. Lilawati usually sells her produce in the local market but sometimes goes to the district mandi (market) as well, carrying them on her bicycle.
She is a member of Aaroh Mahila Kisan Manch and has undergone training in vermiculture and trained others too to make vermicompost. She has helped others to realize the potential of organically grown vegetables. She does voluntary work as a ‘prerak’ (motivator) in three villages, motivating them to do organic farming, and inspiring them to empower women. She is also the secretary of district level vegetable producers group in Bantaara, which has 2250 women members.
A go-getter, Lilawati keeps herself updated by undergoing training every month at Bantaara. She has also been to other cities like Lucknow, Pantnagar, Delhi, Faizabad, and Varanasi for trainings. She has been actively involved with the Aaroh campaign since the last 3 years. This has helped her get land registered in the name of women in many cases. Under the Aaroh campaign she has taken part in panel discussions on use of organic manure as an ideal farmer and has even been interviewed by Lucknow Doordarshan (Television).
Lilawati boasts of many awards/certificates and has been felicitated for her work as a woman farmer in Lucknow, Faizabad and Pantnagar. She has received citations of honour from the department of agriculture, and a certificate from Landesa in Delhi.
Apart from being an accomplished farmer, Lilawati also taught in a government school till her retirement in 2008 at the age of 60. After retirement, she still keeps herself busy. Even now she cycles at least 10 km every day and goes to Bantaara often, for some training or the other, or just to be in the company of educated women.
“I constantly fight for the rights of women farmers, despite all odds. I organized a movement to raise voices against the injustices heaped on them. We marched to Lucknow and gave a petition for redressal of our grievances. In the petition we had demanded equal rights for women in their property—like land, house, and bank account. The petition was accepted but action has not been taken as yet”.
[This is what a village woman Ramdevi, had to say about Lilawati: “Lilawati is a great help for women in need. She teaches us how to increase the yield of vegetables through use of organic manure, pesticides. I myself have learned how to make manure from her. She takes us to many meetings to increase our knowledge and self-confidence. She is a great source of encouragement for us and also advises us to have our land in our name but we do not want to go against our family, although this is how it should be”].
Lilawati is full of praises for government schemes for farmers-- “I have got help from many government schemes. Under one such scheme I took loan from the bank in Bantaara to buy good quality seeds (and even distributed it to others). Later when I sold my crops I repaid the loan. This has been a great help. I also have got many machines-- like pesticide sprayer and other farming equipment through government schemes. I have helped other women also to avail these benefits”.
“Many women who do farming are not recognized as farmers. They face violence at the hands of their husbands. Their lives are miserable. Financial crisis is always there. Very often they do not have enough money to feed the family and educate their kids. The more they can grow the better it is. At least they will be able to get two square meals a day. Multi-cropping can help them grow for their own use and also to sell in the market”.
“Women work in the fields but do not have land in their names. If land is in the wife’s name, the husband will not be able to intimidate her or throw her out of the house or indulge in domestic violence. Land ownership is a big weapon in a woman’s hand. It acts as a deterrent for men to beat their wives, sell their farmland, and/or waste money on alcohol” said Lilawati to Citizen News Service (CNS).
“Out of the 40 bighas of land that I own, 5 bighas are in my husband’s name and the rest is in my name. I have registered 2 bighas in the name of my widowed daughter-in-law. I am in the process of getting land registered in the names of other daughters-in-law too”.
Women’s education, marriage and family planning
“I think education is very important in one’s life. Girls should be educated to be economically independent, so that they have something to fall back upon in case there is problem after marriage or even otherwise. Also if they are educated they are better able to educate their children. Unfortunately, due to economic problems I could manage to educate my children only up to class 10”.
“Girls should also not get married at an early age. This not only compels them to leave their studies midway, but also endangers their health. Being immature at that young age, they are also not able to take proper care of their children and look after their education. I did not marry any of my children young”. “Families should be small so that the children get a good life and education. Too many children spell trouble for all”.
“I want women to be independent. They should not be begging for small sums of money from their husbands. Women will have to come out of their homes. It is only through exchange of ideas that we can become more empowered and strengthened. I got the inspiration to move ahead in life by learning from others who had similar achievements. Their lives encouraged me to work for my betterment and I did what I knew best—farming and teaching”.
“I have faced many problems in my life, but with dedication and consistent hard work I have worked my way up the ladder. When my kids were small, it would be an ordeal to buy even a copy or a pen for them. There was never enough money to buy more than one or two pair of clothes in the entire year. But now I have everything. I can even afford to hire a tutor for my grandchildren. Earlier I had only 5 bighas of land, but gradually I managed to buy more—I educated my children and increased my landed property as well. Today I have 40 bighas of land.
I had started work with the wooden plough; today I own two tractors. I have grown from strength to strength. When I had less land I grew vegetables on just 1 bigha, but now I grow vegetables on 3 bighas and make a profit of INR 1 lakh per year from vegetables alone. Today people respect me. I have made a name for myself through my hard work. I have had to cross many hurdles before reaching this milestone of importance.”
“We should live and let live in peace and harmony. My message to other women is to educate their children and have a small family for economic prosperity. Women will have to get rid of misconceptions about they being the weaker sex. They have to demand equal rights in all spheres of life. When men and women work together and share the benefits of their hard labour together, only then can there be real progress and happiness”.
(This article is part of a soon-to-be-released Oxfam India publication: "The Leader Lies In You - Success stories of women farmers in UP")