Dalit activist Nodeep Kaur comes from a family of activists and her parents have been associated with farmers’ union in Punjab. In 2014, her mother Swaranjeet Kaur led protest demanding justice for a minor Dalit girl who was gang raped in their village. She faced multiple death threats.
“I am who I am today because of my mother. Our society is not created equal, there is so much caste based bias and if you are a woman, and a woman from my background Dalit, its a bigger challenge. From a very young age I learnt to fight not just for myself but for others as well,” said Nodeep. She told IPS, “I am a woman, I am Dalit and I am giving voice to the people who are often very easily suppressed.”
During the lockdown in 2020, Nodeep joined a local workers’ rights organization called Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan (MAS) in the Kundli Industrial Area in Haryana. In January Nodeep was accused of allegedly manhandling management and staff of an industrial area during a protest and also assaulting the police team.
Nodeep had been participating in the farmers’ protest against the central government’s new agricultural reforms as well. She was taken into custody and accused in three separate cases and was charged under sections of the Indian law which included, attempt to murder, extortion, unlawful assembly, rioting and criminal intimidation. She has been granted bail, but her cases are still pending.
Nodeep has become one of the strongest voices that is leading the farmers protest in the country.
“This solidarity that you see today between the farmers and the working class is so powerful. Can you imagine what all can happen now that we are all united and standing up for each other?” says Nodeep. “My battle started with fighting for unpaid wages and unfair treatments of the working class in an Industrial area, and from there, today, I am here supporting and giving my voice to the farmers. I don’t know how or when it happened, but they call me their leader, and I am not going to let them down.”
“Do you know why we call Nodeep our leader? She is just like us farmers, strong and resilient. Nothing can stop her, and when she goes up on the stage and talks, everybody listens,” says *Kiranjeet, a 57-year old farmer from Punjab. “Nodeep is the future, we need youngsters like her, and so many other sisters who came out to support us. When one woman speaks, so many others join her. Our husbands have gone back home, its crop cutting season and now we are going to be here for the next few months, it’s our right and our fight,”
The farmers protest is considered to be one of the biggest protests that has taken place in india, not just for its size and magnanimity but also because it has put women in the forefront who are now often seen leading the protest.
“This is a revolution, we are here to raise our voices, if we don’t do this today, what will our future generations have,” says *Ratinder Kaur, a 65-year-old farmer from Punjab. “How can anyone tell us we can’t participate? We women are farmers too, we go to the field, we farm, we do other labour incentive work and we also look after our families,”
OXFAM states that nearly 80% of the full-time workers on Indian farms are women, they comprise 33% of the agricultural labor force and 48 % of the self-employed farmers yet only about 13% women own land. The agrarian societies in India are extremely patriarchal societies, characterized by deeply entrenched feudal structures where women and men rarely have equal access to resources. Gender based discrimnation continues to thrive in the country in different ways, for the women farmers in India, they are yet to be recognized as farmers in Indian policies, ”thereby denying them of institutional supports of the bank, insurance, cooperatives, and government departments,” says OXFAM.
The farmers protest is not the first time women in India took on leadership roles in both political movements and mass protests. Women constituted a significant proportion of street protesters during the anti-CAA protests in the country since December 2019. The biggest challenge in India however remains how to transform their leadership into equal representations in high-level government positions, without gender, caste and religious bias. The very idea that the farmers movement in the country is transforming women’s presence and influence within their own patriarchal and often caste based biased set ups, there is no pushing them back into a space of invisibility.
“Without women there is no revolution,” says Nodeep. “We women have gone through so much, have fought so much, have survived so much, they thought they could put inside a prison and I will keep quiet. I am here to fight and I am here to stay, come what may, they have made their people’s leader, and I am not going to let them down.”
People’s Leader: A Dalit Woman Becomes The Voice of Farmers In India | Inter Press Service (ipsnews.net)
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