TN dalit women sow seeds of equality through land ownership
CHENNAI: For several generations, Thamizharasi’s family has made a living tilling farmlands for land owners. Like the rest of rural Tamil Nadu, in her village in Thirukkalachery, Nagapattinamdistrict, occupational roles are linked to socio-cultural status. As a result, the roles and wages of workers from the oppressed castes remainunchanged, keeping them confined to the lowest decks of social and economic hierarchy.
For women this discrimination is three-tiered — of class, caste and gender. But in the past five years, Thamizharasi, a 57-year-old widow, has made her own fortune. From a time when she made less than `500 a month through daily wage work, she now employs close to 10 men, lends money to those in need and works on land she can call her own. She is one of the many landless dalit women workers forming collectives to acquire not jobs or pay parity, but land — the one asset they believe is their ticket to a life of dignity, economic independence and improved social status.
8/15/2019 TN dalit women sow seeds of equality through land ownership Kalangarai, a Nagapattinam-based NGO that works with widowed Scheduled Caste women in the Cauvery delta, has empowered close to 45 such farmers to practice collective farming – a form of agriculture wherein they acquire farmlands on lease for a year or two, pool in funds and resources, and split profits following harvest.
At Tharangambadi, Vedaranyam and Seerkazhi taluks, 11 such collectives are now working. “The women have for generations been trained in agricultural work. Except that they were so far landless workers tilling, weeding, ploughing and sowing on the farms that belong to dominant castes. Now, they’re using their skillset to work on their own lands,” says Father Kulandaisamy, director of Kalangarai.
From two harvests of cotton, paddy and black gram a year, each collective makes close to a lakh. A part of it is kept aside as savings for the self-help groups and the rest is split among themselves. Over the past eight years, since they started, this account has grown to accommodate more women farmers, employ labourers and even offer financial assistance.
The fight for land ownership becomes significant against a system that doesn’t recognise landless agricultural workers. Because, the census data doesn’t enumerate them, they miss out on important schemes and loan waiver offered to the farming community.
“Members of SC communities are a small group of beneficiaries in the Tamil Nadu Land Reforms (Fixation of Ceiling on Land) Act, 1961. That’s why when you hail from a socially and economically 8/15/2019 TN dalit women sow seeds of equality through land ownership disadvantaged community, land becomes an asset against which you get loans and avail schemes,” says C Lakshmanan, associate professor at Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS).
It is for these reasons that social worker Bernard Fathima Natesan has been pushing landless SC/ST women farmers in Pallur and surrounding villages in Vellore to acquire government land — poromboke and encroached. Close to 80 women farmers belonging to two collectives meet local authorities to identify governmentowned lands and push for patta to begin farming. “We train the women in organic farming, provide the equipment and seeds and push every collective to acquire at least 100 acres of farming land,” she says. “Landless women farmers contribute to a majority of agriculture in our country. Land ownership is the least they must have,” says Fathima.
Claiming their right over the produce, members of the Pallur Dalit Women Collective take home majority of the harvest and sell the rest in their own villages. They also go for MGNREGA work to add to their income.
Lakshmanan also says that when SC women get ownership of land, it stands higher chances of flourishing. “One of the pillars of the caste system is denial of basic rights to women. Men are usually prone to alcoholism and more likely to pledge the land or sell it,” he says.
Gomathi K, who joined one of collectives in Nagapattinam in 2006, three years after she lost her husband, has since paid back a massive debt and sent her daughter to college. “Widows continue to be stigmatised in our village. They used to invite us to carry out certain funeral rituals. But in this collective, we have unanimously 8/15/2019 TN dalit women sow seeds of equality through land ownership pledged to never be party to these traditions,” says the 48-yearold.
Following their economic independence and growth, many have gone on to lend money for auspicious events such as weddings and festivals. “People trust them and take help also because their interest rates are low. It’s almost like their fitting response to a community that had boycotted them for so many years,” says P Agoramoorthy, coordinator of the widows’ self-help groups in Kollidam, Poompuhar and Tharangambadi blocks.
Courtesy : TNN