“When female farm workers don’t get income, their kids drop out from school, they marry their daughters at young age, they suffer domestic violence,” said its supervisor Namdev Chopade.
“Basically, the freedom of women gets snatched and patriarchy returns slowly,” she added.
FALLING THROUGH THE CRACKS
As India – Asia’s third-largest economy – wrestles with consistently high unemployment and inflation, advocates and analysts are calling for more support for women in agriculture.
Kulkarni, the academic, said the government needed to create more awareness about climate change risks among women and also provide financial support through access to banking and credit systems.
The federal government has in recent years launched various programmes for women farmers – including the creation of self-help groups to improve access to finance – in a bid to improve agricultural productivity and create sustainable work for rural women.
Yet in Maharashtra, Sunita Mhaiskar, the deputy commissioner of the state’s labour department, said agriculture workers fell into the category of unorganised labourers and that there is currently “no specific act or scheme for female farm workers”.
“All schemes applicable to unorganised sector workers are applicable to them,” she said.
But while informal workers are entitled to insurance and pensions as part of recent labour reforms – the Code on Social Security was approved in 2020 and came into force in July – there is little awareness of this among them, activists warn.
“There is no way that rural farm workers … who do not know how to operate a bank account … get to know about the scheme,” said Deepak Paradkar of labour rights charity Aajeevika Bureau, urging the Indian government to do more to promote the programme.
For now, women such as Devanabai and Meera Babar, a 37-year-old widow from Golegaon in Beed district, have nowhere to turn as increasingly extreme weather denies them farm work.
Babar said she can still afford to send her 13-year-old son to a public school – thanks to savings and money borrowed from lenders, relatives and neighbours – but not her 15-year-old daughter, who she plans to marry off as soon as possible.
“I am experiencing low availability of work at farms due to heavy rains or droughts,” said Babar, explaining how she used to harvest sugarcane and remove weeds for 200 rupees per day.
Now, “I don’t know how I am going to survive with zero income,” she said.