Source: The Wire

Farm Protest through Gender-Diverse Eyes: From Monocultures to Pluriversity

In tiny pockets of the country, gender-diverse farmers are tilling and sowing in ways that do not damage the soil, environment, or people’s health. There is a need to include these pockets of diversity into the ongoing discussions on farm laws, writes SAMHITA BAROOAH.

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THE farmer protest has been on for the last few months along the borders of Delhi. As perceptions about the protest unfold, the movement is growing more intense, and the collective consciousness of the farmers is growing stronger too. This protest began with a diversity of farmers blended into groups, unions, and organised spaces, prepared to resist despite violent suppression.

The social expectation was also that the farmers should be strategic in a politically-volatile scenario where there are consistent provocations from multiple ends of people’s politics. There has been a constant effort to stifle the prominent voices of the movement, targeted integrity-assassination of the emerging and prominent farmer leaders, and attempts to spread disbelief of and disregard towards their cause.

There has also been a constant collapse of conscientious reporting, which has led to fabricated imageries of a series of events being circulated, all tailored to the demands of politics.

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There has also been a full-blown demonstration of toxic patriarchy, through the deployment of barricades, uniformed personnel, disjointed civic amenities, closure of borders of the national capital in the name of national security, and so on. This has indeed instilled a growing fear amongst farmer communities, who are seeking change and transformation.

There has been a constant effort to stifle the prominent voices of the farmer movement, targeted integrity-assassination of the emerging and prominent farmer leaders, and attempts to spread disbelief of and disregard towards their cause. 

India has witnessed many mutinies for peace, freedom, co-existence, dignity, and hope, in the last eight decades and Delhi had witnessed multiple such events too.

This protest of farmers symbolises another such struggle, for survival and sustenance.

It comes at a time when people across the nation are being cajoled into taking out loans, even as they are promised self-reliance. They are being offered jobs that come without any social security or reliability. Packages after packages are being customised in the name of the people, but they only bring reassurances for the powerful pennied classes of India.

What can a landless, tractor-less, non-male, subsistence, organic, woman farmer do? Gender diverse farmers without land, capital, proof of identity, and having no livestock, water, electricity, tractor, or power tiller, have a practically negligible role in this community struggle for survival and justice, equity, and compassion.

Farmers are not homogenous but form diverse categories across the country. Some are self-consciously proud of their contribution to the agrarian economy, some prefer to tag themselves as farm-owners, farm innovators, or as scientific farmers and producers. But many farmers are not yet aware of their identity as farmers or their priceless contribution to knowledge diversity, species-diversity, or to the country’s bio- and agro-diversity and therefore its food and nutrition security.

Also Read: Why Are Landless, Marginal and Small Farmers the Backbone of the Delhi Protest?

Many women and non-male farmers co-create, withstand, revive and restore the health of both the soil and the living organisms in and around farms. Yet they are constantly pressured with agrarian sexism and oppressed by the distinct gender stereotypes that dictate terms in the farming sector. If a farmer family receives a tractor by some stroke of luck, favour, and convenience, women and non-male farmers are forbidden to have access to or ownership over them.

Even women’s work is confined to the home as per her life-cycle shifts. In this context, farmers in rural and peri-urban pockets of India–the Dalit, Adivasi, dependent, generational, custodian, diversity-securing farmers across genders, who work tirelessly within the norms dictated by nature in their home gardens, common farms, Jhum lands, community forest farms, collective water bodies, terrace ecosystems, and in the food, fodder, fuel, herbs, fruits and seed farms–sustain lifelines rather than economic livelihoods.

The Naga women farmers, Dalit women farmers of the Deccan region, the tribal farmers of forest farms in different parts of India, the fish-farmers of coastal India, the pastoralist farmers of western and northern India, the mountain farmers of northern, southern and north-eastern India, the riverine and wetland food crop farmers of Manipur, Tripura, Assam, and the custodians of sacred groves and fish sanctuaries of Meghalaya, the Western Ghats, and central India are the pathfinders of climate-resilient biodiverse agroecology.

These farmers produce, sustain, regenerate and restore seeds and entire food chains, marking their presence from below the soil to across the atmosphere. In this way, they ensure health, sustenance, and ecological security—they have a role to play in every element of symbiosis, among humans and in nature.

Lack of resources to monetise such farm activities have ensured that the diverse knowledge base and know-how about farming techniques (which are much more sustainable than the huge economic costs involved in machine-led farming that caters to market needs alone).

Farm activities are not only human-centric but also nature-centric; they must be designed and reimagined to withstand climatic and biodiversity variations, which are mostly caused by human intervention and activity.

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Today, the women and gender-diverse self-sufficient subsistence farmers are immune to the farm laws, as they find themselves realising Swaraj in the real sense, by owning their ancestral seeds, manure, fodder, ecological knowledge of biodiversity, and resources for future health and family security. But such dreams will be very soon shattered with the monocultures of rural export-oriented farms.

Home-grown, indigenous, non-toxic, and organic women and gender-diverse farmers are shrinking in the mad rush for exports and a monetised agrarian economy.

Women farmers in Nagaland SourceL Caritas India

In this regard, the Naga women farmers, Dalit women farmers of the Deccan region, the tribal farmers of forest farms in different parts of India, the fish-farmers of coastal India, the pastoralist farmers of western and northern India, the mountain farmers of northern, southern and north-eastern India, the riverine and wetland food crop farmers of Manipur, Tripura, Assam, and the custodians of sacred groves and fish sanctuaries of Meghalaya, the Western Ghats, and central India are the pathfinders of climate-resilient biodiverse agroecology in tiny pockets of the country. Agroecology is the application of eco-principles to agricultural systems and practices.

These are the communities of farmers whose perspectives are oriented to a solidarity-based regenerative economy that can ensure good health and social, cultural, community, and family security, which has indirect resource-securing advantages.

Such farmers might be agender or women, but they are making sure that the diversity of farms, species, tastes, food choices, seasons, cultural, and collective value-driven efforts are restored and regenerated equitably across generations.

A self-sufficient healthy population is a cause of concern for the consumption-driven monetised economy. It can close down the shops of the multiple businesses that exist outside the food-farm sectors but grow only on the basis that farming is done in a mechanised and inorganic way.

All women and agender farmers at the Singhu border protests are concerned about the future of their families, farmlands, forests, and food crops which they provide to the nation. Food, nutrition, and immunity security are the long-term measures required to withstand the health concerns that peaked during the COVID-19 pandemic, and towards a cancer-free society.

A self-sufficient healthy population is a cause of concern for the consumption-driven monetised economy. It can close down the shops of the multiple businesses that exist outside the food-farm sectors but grow only on the basis that farming is done in a mechanised and inorganic way.

Also Read: India’s Irony: Women Remain Marginal to Gender Budgets

Hence there is resistance to the farmers’ protest, and water-cannons are being used to defend the farm laws. In this way, linear policies and the predominant patriarchal structural violence are reflected through recent events.

Women and gender-diverse farmers are withstanding the brunt of the current economic model and the ecological damage and climate change it is causing. The use of inappropriate technologies, lack of know-how, and a socio-cultural dynamic that favours the heteronormative masculine identity of farmers is also a burden on such farmers.

Today, farmers are attempting to co-create spaces for themselves. Within this space, gender-diverse farmers are ensuring that their identities, discourses, and diversity, restores the queerness of the social and natural commons. They represent that which is life-giving and not life-threatening. The pluriversity that is inherent in the commons is claiming queer spaces to restore hope and survival.

(Dr. Samhita Barooah, based in Assam, works in the areas of research and education. The views are personal.)

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