Women farmers attend a protest against farm laws on the occassion of International Women's Day at Haryana-Delhi border on Monday. Reuters
Gulf Today Report
Thousands of women joined protests by farmers on the outskirts of Delhi on Monday to mark International Women's Day, demanding the scrapping of new laws that open up agriculture produce markets to private buyers.
Since December, many farmers accompanied by their families have camped at three sites on the outskirts of the Indian capital to oppose the biggest farm reforms in decades, which they say hurt them.
The demonstrations were held at multiple sites on the fringes of New Delhi where tens of thousands of farmers have camped for more than three months to protest against the laws they say will leave them poorer and at the mercy of big corporations.
About 100 women wearing yellow and green scarfs sat cross-legged in front of a makeshift stage in Ghazipur, one of the many protest sites.
Holding the flags of farm unions, they listened to female farm leaders speak from the stage and chanted slogans against the laws. At least 17 took part in a day-long hunger strike.
Wearing bright yellow scarves representing the colour of mustard fields, the women took centrestage at one key site, chanting slogans, holding small marches, and making speeches through loudspeakers to target the laws.
"This is an important day as it represents women's strength," said Veena, a 37-year-old from a farming family, who gave only one name in order to protect her identity.
"I believe if us women are united, then we can achieve our target much quicker," added Veena, who travelled from the northern state of Punjab to the sprawling Tikri protest spot.
More than 20,000 women gathered at the site near Delhi's border with the state of Haryana, police and event organisers said.
"This is a day that will be managed and controlled by women, the speakers will be women, there will be a lot of feminist perspectives brought in, and discussions on what these laws mean for women farmers," said farm activist Kavitha Kuruganti.
"It is one more occasion to showcase and highlight the contribution of women farmers both in agriculture in India as well as to this movement."
"Women farmers have as much at stake as men from the new laws," Kuruganti added.
"Markets that are distant as well as exploitative make single women farmers more vulnerable, and in any case a patriarchal society has discriminated and made them vulnerable."
India says the reforms will bring private investment into a vast and antiquated farm sector, improve supply chains and cut colossal waste.
Faced with the protests, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government offered to suspend the laws for 18 months, but the farmers have refused to back down, demanding their repeal.
"Women are sitting here, out in the open, in protest, but Modi doesn’t care. He doesn’t care about mothers, sisters, and daughters. He doesn’t care about women. That’s clear,” said Mandeep Kaur, a female farmer who traveled 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) from Chhattisgarh state to participate in the protests.
"Today Modi is sending wishes to women across the country on International Women’s Day. Who are these women he is sending wishes to? We are also like his daughters, but he clearly doesn’t care about us,” said Babli Singh, a farm leader.
International Women’s Day, sponsored by the United Nations since 1975, celebrates women’s achievements and aims to further their rights.
Women often embody what agricultural experts call an "invisible workforce” on India’s vast farmlands that often goes unnoticed.
Nearly 75% of rural women in India who work full-time are farmers, according to the anti-poverty group Oxfam India, and the numbers are expected to rise as more men migrate to cities for jobs. Yet, less than 13% of women own the land they till.
Demonstrations were also held at Jantar Mantar, an area of New Delhi near Parliament where about 100 women held placards denouncing the new laws and calling for their withdrawal.
"Today we are finding ourselves under attack at all fronts. As women, as peasants, as workers, as youth and students," said women rights activist Sucharita, who uses one name. "We are opposed to the laws that have been passed in favour of corporations.
Women have been at the forefront of the protests, which have posed one of the biggest challenges to Modi since he took office in 2014.
Many accompanied thousands of male farmers who arrived at the protest sites in late November and have since organised and led protest marches, run medical camps and massive soup kitchens that feed thousands, and raised demands for gender equality.
The protests demanding the repeal of new agricultural laws have grown into a rebellion that is rattling Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. On Tuesday, more than 10,000 tractors and thousands more people on foot or horseback tried to advance into the capital,
Tens of thousands of farmers have been camped on the outskirts of the capital, New Delhi, for almost two months, protesting against what they say are laws designed to benefit large private buyers at the expense of growers.
Angry at what they see as laws benefiting large private buyers at the expense of producers, tens of thousands of farmers have been camped at protest sites on the outskirts of the capital New Delhi for over two months.
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The farmer indicated that during his work he wanted to move a tree but he lost his balance and fell from a crane, due to the negligence and the employer's failure to provide security and safety means to protect workers from work risk.