REPORT: January 24 and 25, 2015 — Karnataka State Farmers’ Association (KRRS) holds Study Camp for Women Farmers

Karnataka State Farmers’ Association (KRRS) holds Study Camp for Women Farmers

January 24 and 25, 2015:

KRRS activists involved in land struggle in Shimoga district

On January 24 and 25, Janapada Loka, a campus filled with Karnataka Folklore, turned green as nearly two hundred women from KRRS participated in a Women’s Study Camp, shawls on their shoulders. The first of its kind since 1987, this Women’s Study Camp was an opportunity for KRRS women to learn about the need for gender justice in agriculture. From the speeches from visiting guests Neela K, Kavitha Rai, Stanley K.V., and Dr. Aruna, to the small group discussions on women’s struggles in each district, KRRS women created a female-friendly space open to laughter, banter, and even kabaddi! (an Indian sport that combines tag with wrestling)

“KRRS has existed for more than 30 years,” Chukki Nanjundaswamy and Nandini Jayaram welcomed guests. “We have tackled challenging social questions like caste and dignity for farmers in that time, but never gender. Women do 70% of agricultural work, yet do not see themselves as farmers – only as farmers’ wives, or daughters! We are here to build a KRRS Women’s Wing – to create and defend a space for women in the farmer’s movement and build the identity of women as farmers.”

Day One

K Neela, Karnataka office-bearer of All-India Democratic Women’s Association and professor in Bidar, North Karnataka

K Neela inaugurated the assembly by debunking many Indian myths about gender. She supported women’s right to 50% of land and property, advocated for women’s reproductive rights (in the face of recent right-wing claims that Hindu women should have 4-5 children), and criticized social taboos related to widows. Memorably, she called out the tendency to blame the victim in rape cases: “Society says that if women wear skimpy clothes or Western wear, they are more likely to get raped. But Western wear can be less revealing than the traditional sari. And, while working in the fields or transplanting paddy, women must hike their sari up above the knee. When a man rapes her, we blame her – ‘Her legs were showing!’ Men also wear lungi, and tie it up revealing their thighs! But how many men get raped for such skimpy dress? We must identify and combat the real causes of rape.”

Kavitha Rai, professor of gender studies at Karnataka Open University, deepened the inquiry: “We think of men as the promoters of patriarchy. But women also promote violence on women, just look at the relationships between daughter-in-law and mother-in-law. Actually, the problem isn’t men or women – the problem is power. Power doesn’t have any gender.”

After a post-lunch community theatre performance, KRRS senior leaders took to the stage to tell the women’s history (her-story?) of KRRS.

Listening to senior women activists’ struggles

Annapurnamma, from Shimoga district, shared, “In the 1980s, loan collectors would come home to confiscate all our things if we defaulted on the loans. The men would jump the back wall, leaving the women at home. The collectors would take our year’s supply of rice and our vessels – but more than losing that, we lost our honour. I had a one month old baby, and I was very shocked. In that pain, my breast milk stopped flowing for a couple of days. With determination, I joined the Raitha Sangha and went village to village to build women’s committees at every level – village, Taluk, District. From that point we started to fight, and no one came into my house for confiscating. I dare anyone to try!”

Raji from Hassan district told, “In my village, I have been a part of many struggles. We fought for electricity bills to be waived by a collective boycott. We refused to pay water bills until each of our homes had a tap. We also fought against the police who had privatized a community fishing pond. We rooted out corruption in our local PDS system, once we were aware of our entitlements. In another instance, a corrupt doctor asked a bribe from the family of a child with appendicitis. With the help of KRRS, we went to the Lokayukta (Anti-Corruption) office and set a trap to catch him red-handed. Now he’s in jail.”

The evening closed prematurely after dinner, only to reignite 15 minutes later in singing and dancing, pulling most activists out of bed to enjoy the unique female-only space for a few more hours.

Maadevi from Shimoga District

Day two

Early morning, small groups formed from each district to discuss and strategize around women’s problems and solutions in each KRRS group’s territory. Each group made a presentation of their discussion.

Mandya district women pointed out the many types of freedoms farmer women need: financial freedom, freedom to make choices, freedom of expression. From Chikballapura, many concrete ideas for direct action came out – dismantling of the scanning centers where sex-selective abortion take place, for example. A campaign to demand equal land rights for women was proposed, as well as a campaign 50% women’s participation in the politicial process (currently the quota is 33%).

Stanley, from Odanai NGO in Mysore, and Dr. Aruna, survivor of a child marriage and now teaching doctor at JSS women’s college, discussed the importance of farmer women’s wellbeing next.

Stanley discussed the link between rural crisis and violence against women – women are migrating into precarious situations, where they are more likely to be sex trafficked or forced to commercialized their body due to distress, “While farmer men commit suicide out of desperation, farmer women go into sex work in order to take care of their families. This issue should be as closely addressed as the farmer suicide crisis.”

In the afternoon, KRRS women sat together and decided how to participate in the KRRS state committee. Women from each district present were selected to attend state committee meetings, quadrupling the number of women hitherto involved at that level.

Embracing the all-female space for some dancing and sports
Men serving women food in a rare role reversal