From time to time several cases of women farmers being harassed and attempts to grab their land have been increasingly reported from various parts of country. One reason for this is increase in migration from villages and the growing responsibility on women who stay behind to take care of small farms. In the absence of men some land-grabbers feel they have more chance of succeeding. In addition several widows and other single women who have to take care of their small farms on their own are also more vulnerable.

Rukha lives in Baraicha village in Banda district of Uttar Pradesh. A few months back  when she went to cultivate her field she was surrounded by several men some of  whom beat her badly . She was injured badly and her clothes were partially torn. Soon after after this when I asked her about her ordeals she simply broke down and could not speak for some time. She just pointed to the injuries she had just suffered.

Rukha is just one of the many women farmers who are victims of attempts by powerful persons to grab their land. Although after the news of her distress appeared in newspapers and some social activists came to her help, her problems now appear to be sorted out at the time of writing , nevertheless her earlier story should be told because it is representative of the tendency of dominant and powerful persons to identify weak women farmers and try to grab their land.

Rukha is a very weak and fragile woman with the responsibility of bringing up two small children. Her problems started  when a dominant person of the village who had constructed a house near her land started trying to grab her family farmland, the only source of their livelihood. Her husband is a very simple man. The land grabbers first attacked him  when he was working in his field. Rukha rushed to his rescue and with folded hands requested the tormentors to stop beating her husband. They responded to her request by beating her as well with sticks. This was an attempt to humiliate and scare her as she is known to resist injustice despite being very weak physically.

Rukha decided to resist and took the entire family to  police station. Here the police was initially quite sympathetic but then suddenly something happened and the police started threatening and scolding them instead of taking any action against those who had assaulted them.

After this the husband of  Rukha was harassed by land grabbers to such an extent that one day he simply went away to some unknown destination. Now the problems of Rukha became almost unbearable as she had to somehow bring up her two children while working alone for livelihood and also facing the constant harassment and threats of land grabbers.

At this stage someone introduced her to a very committed women’s organization named Chingari who took up her case and intervened with the police and officials on her behalf. This gave new hope to Rukha and she again gathered the strength to cultivate her field. Chingari activists also visited her village to reassure her. Just when things seemed to be settling down came a new  which indicated that the land grabbers were probably fixing up some higher level connections before assaulting her again.

Next day the police was initially most reluctant to lodge a first information report or to get a medical examination done. It was only when Chingari activists persisted a lot in these attempts that at last the police took the first halting steps in this case. The entire initial attitude was of ignoring and neglecting her sufferings.

This is not just a story of Rukha alone. In Sulkhan Ka Purwa village of the same region Kammo was constructing a house on her own land. Her husband had migrated to Mumbai some time back for pressing livelihood needs. Seeing that she is alone, a local powerful person said that she will have to pay Rs. 20000 before she is allowed to construct her house. When she refused and resisted this extortion she was beaten mercilessly by these goons as well as policemen. Her wounds did not heal for a long time.

In several such villages of Bundelkhand as well as other areas where male migration rates among weaker sections are high such cases of women being harassed , humiliated and beaten by local dominant persons and goons are increasing. The motive generally is to grab some or all of their land or else to plunder their meager resources in other ways.

One device these dominant persons use is to get land records altered using their muscle and money power. Similarly they also secure the collusion of local policemen by bribing them.

A leading activist of Chingari, known for her deep commitment to helping women victims of violence, who stood and fought side-by-side with Rukha in her struggle against land-grabbers says, “We have seen several such cases in recent times when women faced violence due to the wider conspiracy to grab their land. When her husband is absent for a long time and the conspirators know that he is unlikely to come for some time, in such situation the woman struggling alone becomes more vulnerable and she is more likely to become a victim of land-grabbers.”

About her experiences in helping such women she says, “ I was really shocked at the kind of extreme violence inflicted on Rukha and Kammo. Yet despite this they did not get immediate help on their own and it is only after our intervention that some initial steps were taken.”

In times of increasing migration of male members from millions of households in our villages, particular attention should be given to protecting women farmers and workers and also ensuring that their farmland or housing land is not grabbed and encroached upon. Special directions should be issued by governments for the protection of these women and their land. This protection is needed even more in the context of widows who try to bravely cultivate their fields but are harassed in various ways by powerful persons, sometimes even relatives, who try to grab their land under one pretext or the other. In fact all single women in particular are very vulnerable in the context of efforts to grab their land and directions need to be given by the government to relevant officials to be more protective towards them.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Earth Without Borders and Vimla and Sunderlal Bahuguna—Chipko Movement and Struggle Against Tehri Dam Project.


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