Women Farmers Cultivate Leadership in Rural Maharashtra
MAKAAM grassroots women leadership building programme
Dialogue Organised in Kurkheda, Gadchiroli, 14th – 16th November 2021
From 2015 onwards SOPPECOM initiated several regional meetings in the state of Maharashtra to understand the key issues faced by women farmers. Consultations were conducted in the western Maharashtra, Marathwada, Vidarbha, Konkan and Northern Maharashtra in a two-year duration. MAKAAM Maharashtra was launched in the state in 2017 officially. The question of women farmers from suicide affected households came up in consultations in Marathwada and Vidarbha and were thus taken up systematically. In 2018 two consultations were held along with the Maharashtra State Women’s commission- one in Nagpur (Vidarbha) and the other in Aurangabad (Marathwada). Action programmes emerged to give recognition and social and economic protection to women farmers from suicide affected families. A campaign was launched and a protest was held in Azad Maidan in November 2018 and this forced the government to bring out a resolution (GR) in June 2019 in favour of the women farmers from farmer suicide households (See Annexure 1 for the translation of the GR). Implementation of this GR required a bottoms up approach of strong collective leadership from the villages. The leadership programme thus emerged and from 2020 onwards an effort has been made by MAKAAM through support from SOPPECOM and several other member organisations.
Capacity building programme
SOPPECOM has been organising the capacity building programme in collaboration with MAKAAM network to develop leadership of grassroots women farmers. Initially this project was conceived as capacity building of women farmers from suicide affected households who would be part of the district level committees that were going to be set as per the government resolution (GR) by Revenue department. Since the training had to be conducted online the programme was restructured a bit to also include women leaders associated with MAKAAM from some other areas as well. Apart from women farmers from farmer suicide affected households, the capacity building programme was also extended to other single women and active workers across 28 organisations from 19 districts. The programme was carried out with the goal of developing leadership of rural women who can strengthen the grassroots network, which is necessary to take forward advocacy programmes on issues related to women farmers.
Online trainings have been conducted on topics of gender sensitisation, MGNREGA, awareness of Covid-19, women and land rights, food security and pension schemes. Each training was followed by tasks that were carried out by women leaders.
All the training sessions and feedback dialogues had been conducted online, and as the programme was coming to an end, a need to personally meet was felt by everyone involved. With that intent a two and half day workshop was planned. The workshop was organised in Kurkheda, Gadchiroli district where Aamhi Aamchya Aarogyasathi (an active member of MAKAAM network) has been working with tribals on many issues including health and forest rights.
There were two objectives of this training programme: First was to get all the women leaders to meet personally, and to share their experiences with each other. This would go a long way in strengthening the network. The second was to take this opportunity to assess the effectiveness of this programme, and to decide how to move forward.
This report summarises the proceedings of the training programme, and then concludes with some thoughts on lessons learned and way forward.
Proceedings of the training programme
Day 1, 14th November 2021
Session 1: Introduction
All the participants have known each other through the online sessions over the last one and half years, but those sessions did not allow much room for interaction. So a proper session for introductions was planned during the training programme. Participants were encouraged to share about themselves with simple prompts like their likes and dislikes. (This was later complemented by another fun session, where everyone had to memorise each other’s names) Many women take this opportunity to talk about themselves, and it was a lively beginning for the next three days.
After the introduction three sessions were conducted on three main topics covered during the training programme: MGNREGA, women and land rights, pension and ration.
Session 2: MGNREGA
One of the first trainings conducted during the programme was on MGNREGA. And since that training women leaders have been working on the issue. They have applied and got job cards for single women, conducted transect walks in the village to identify works, have placed demands for work, and have successfully got work for women from their villages. In this session women leaders shared their experiences of doing all that, hurdles they faced, and the ways they found to overcome those hurdles.
Apathy and gender insensitivity of the local MGNREGA officials (called rojgar sevak) is starkly evident from almost all the stories shared by women leaders. Women shared experiences of how the rojgar sevaks simply refused to take their forms, disrespected them saying women are not suitable for the work, unnecessarily made women wait for days before they even talked with them, refused to give OC for the forms they submitted, asked money for submitting their documents.
Women leaders, empowered with the knowledge they had received, gradually learned how to handle these situations. Whenever rojgar sevak refused to take their demand forms or to give the receipt for the same, they stayed firm on their stand, and told him, if he refuses they would go to block office and submit the documents there instead. They collectivised single women from the village to demand for work, which helped create pressure on the officials.
In couple of cases women didn’t understand that they don’t have to pay anything, and pay Rs 100 or so to the rojgar sevak to get the job cards. But in another instance when the rojgar sevak asked for money – for travel expense to block office and his ‘tea and snacks’ (called chaha pani in Marathi) – the women leader counter argued that he gets paid for travel expense, and he doesn’t have to take hundred rupees for each one to pay for a day’s worth of tea. Women were adamant that they will not pay a single rupee, and if he refuses to take their applications, they will go to block office instead. So in the end he had to take the applications without charging them anything.
In another case when women went to the rojgar sevak with a suggestion that land preparation work could be taken up in the village, he told them that farmers of the village are not interested in that. So the women themselves took initiative to have a dialogue with some farmers of the village, who it turned out were very much interested in getting work on their land. So the women and those farmers together made an application to gramsabha, and then took it forward to the rojgar sevak. They received 15 days’ worth of work through that.
As expressed by many women leaders lack of wage labour, especially in the summer is one of the major concerns for single women. From the session it was clear that women leaders perfectly understand the importance of the issue, and how MGNREGA is a powerful tool they can use to gain employment for women. They have grasped the basic rules of the act, and the processes involved. In the future they would benefit a lot from a more in-depth understanding of various aspects like labour budgets. Conducting sensitivity trainings with rojgar sevaks, and conducting dialogues with men and women farmers from the village, and village gram panchayat members are some activities in which mentors can support them in future, so they can take this work forward. For a stepwise discussion on the processes see annexure 2
Day 2, 15th November 2021
On the second day field visits were planned to Kurkheda and Korchi gramsabhas.
The participants were divided in two groups: one group visited Salhe village in Korchi block, and other visited Naeharpayali village in Kurkheda block. There discussions were held with members of gramsabha, about workings of mahagramsabhas, as well as forest produce collection centres established by them.
Session 3: Sharing of field work experience
During this session both groups shared what they have learned from the discussions. Here are some observations from the groups:
Both men and women participate in the decision making of gramsabhas, and how conscious efforts were made to increase women’s participation
Gramsabhas set up van dhan centres to collect forest produce, and it increased employment for the people of the villages, as well as increased their bargaining power with the traders
After participants shared their observations Shubada Deshmukh from Aamhi Aamchya Aarogyasathi conducted a session about PESA, functioning and importance of gramsabhas: why the motto of the gramsabhas is “Aamchya gavat aamhi sarkar. Delhi- Mumbait aamch sarkar”.
Session 4: Women and land rights
The training on women and land rights had consisted of preliminary information on Hindu Succession Act, as well as land revenue processes involved in transfer of property. It is a complex topic, more so considering constraints of the online training methods. So we have been a bit concerned about how effective the training session had been. However, it was very heartening to find out during the session, that women had not only internalised what they had learned in the session, but had applied that knowledge to get rights over land for themselves and other women.
A young woman leader narrated her experience that her brothers were trying to get her name removed as a successor of their father, so they themselves can get the fund their father had left. She said that in the training she had learned that daughters have equal right in the father’s property, and they should not give it away. Equipped with that knowledge, she confronted her brothers, and refused to sign the release deed. Brothers retaliated against her, but in the end had to give her, her share. “The money was very little, but that is not the point. I have a right too over what my father left for us,” she said. Kalavati, woman leader from Hingoli district has been able to get land titles of six other women. In one of the cases, she successfully did a partition deed for a widowed woman, and got the ancestral land equally divided between the widowed woman and her brother-in-law. But village level revenue official (talathi), while creating the revenue record (7/12 record) noted it wrongly – giving more share to the brother-in-law. When Kalavati went to see the talathi along with the woman, talathi refused to listen to them saying ‘you village women (gavthi in Marathi – used in a demeaning way) come here and bother me all the time. Whatever I have done is correct.’ Instead of fighting with him, Kalavati then approached the tahsildar (who is a woman, and is sensitive towards women’s issues). So the tahsildar asked the talathi to come to her office personally, and reprimanded him not only for interfering with the record, but also for treating the women with disrespect.” After that the talathi corrected the record.
Vanita’s story is a classic example of how these women too are part of the same patriarchal system, and in some ways can get caught up in its working. After Vanita’s husband’s death, she had to struggle a lot to get access to his share of the ancestral land, and it is a very inspiring story. While she was telling it, she also talked about how much effort she had to take to get her sister-in-laws (husband’s sisters) to release their right over the land. For a while sister-in-laws abused the power they had over her but then in the end give away their right – as most women do in favour of their brothers. Accepting daughter’s right over property – be it oneself, one’s daughter, or sister-in-law – is not yet easy for women. But as the example of the young leader from above shows, it too can change.
For this work to continue in the future, it would be beneficial for women leaders to get trainings about handling more complex cases of property – e.g. cases that need to be resolved in the court. Also they would need support to establish dialogues with block and district level revenue officials about taking measures like varsa camps to enhance women’s access over lands. Efforts will have to be made to establish contact with district legal service authorities, in order to get support for single women to fight their cases in court.
Session 5: Pension and ration
Women leaders have been working on getting pensions scheme for widows from their village. After the session on food security, and ration system, many took it upon them to confront the ration shopkeepers about their corrupt practices.
During the pandemic Neelima was getting benefit of additional ration from the PGMKY scheme. When some women approached her saying that she was not getting it, Neelima first went to ration shopkeeper and then to tahsildar, and got their cards stamped so they would be able to avail the benefits.
Chhaya handled a case of widowed woman in her early 20s who has four kids. She has been trying to apply for her pension for a long time, but no one was paying attention. Chhaya went to the talathi and asked what the holdup was. He told her that since she is part of a joint family, and they have four acres of land, he can’t give her a certificate of income below Rs 21,000 which is a required document to avail of the pension scheme. When she asked him to give this in writing, he asked for a week’s time. When she went again after a week, this time with the family members of the woman as well, she was told that the form for pension has been submitted, she was even given an OC for the same. But when she went to block office to verify this, it turned out that the form was never submitted. So she presented the case to tahsildar instead. Tahsildar then got the talathi to solve both pension and ration problems for the concerned woman. Chhaya succeeded in her task.
After she learned in the training about what they can do to keep check of ration malpractices, Sangeeta started asking questions to the ration shopkeeper. Does he have a record of distribution? How much grains had he received, and how much was distributed? Can he show her the list of beneficiaries and how much each one has received? All this should be public record, but the shopkeeper did not give her straight answers. She asked for the receipt, which he never provides. When he realised that she is not going to let the matter go, he offered her more grains and asked her to keep her mouth shut. But she refused to take it. As Sangeetahas been constantly asking questions to the powers that be and resolving women’s issues, powerful people from village – sarpanch, ration shopkeeper, gramsevak along with 4-5 other men from village – paid her a visit at her home. They even threatened her saying, “you have become very smart since your husband died, you should give this ‘leadership’ a rest. Some people might notice one day, and you might have an accident somewhere.” But Sangeeta is fearless, and told them that she is not scared of them. When she narrated the incident, she added that she is doing all this because she believes MAKAAM is there to support her when needed.
Sangeeta’s story in a nutshell shows the potential of such a programme. She herself is an extraordinary woman –taking reins of her life in a setting where a woman, especially a widow, has to face so much abuse at the hands of family and society. And with help from a good mentor, and association with the network, she is able to gain knowledge and support that has enabled her to become a leader for women of her village.
Day 3, 16th November 2021
Session 6: Sharing by mentors
In this session members of organisations who have been mentoring women leaders shared their experiences. They talked about supporting women in various ways from providing their phones for training to intervening in the village when women leaders faced opposition.
From the observations of the entire training programme, and this session, there seem to be three trends.
First there are organisations/ mentors who have been associated with these leaders for some years, and that has helped this programme. (Nagpur, Gadchiroli, Beed, and Hingoli (Ugam)) These women have been working on women’s issues in their villages before they started this leadership programme, and this programme has helped them to either identify new issues, or provided them more information to take the work they have been doing forward. In these cases, mentors have been supporting women leaders before, and they have continued to do that through this programme.
Then there are organisations/ mentors who have started working with women with whom they were associated but who were not ‘leaders’ before. (Yawatmal, Gondiya). In both these cases the mentors have specifically used various strategies to build capacities of the women leaders. They both mentioned in the session that they made it a point to stay in the background so new women leaders would start getting recognised for their work.
Third category is the one where women leaders were getting support from male mentors. In few cases women leaders have dropped out of the programme due to various reasons, or have not been able to work in the villages effectively. It was difficult to assess for women leaders who did not attend Gadchiroli training, but in case of those who did (Nanded, Hingoli (Prerana)) it was evident that those women leaders have potential, but have not been able to do much without support from the mentors. Kalavati seems to be an only exception, who even with mentoring limitations, has been growing as a leader.
From this session, the importance of the role of the mentors is clear. As rightly expressed by some mentors in the session, mentors themselves were trying to figure out their role in this process. So in the next phase, a more detailed dialogue with them about their role and responsibility would be necessary. Especially male mentors would need to develop more sensitivity towards women’s issues.
Session 7: MAKAAM’s work in the next one year
In this session a discussion about MAKAAM’s work so far and future plans was conducted. Overall it was a very lively and engaging session. Demands of MAKAAM were read out, and how they could be updated was discussed. A detailed discussion was held about what action programmes MAKAAM could take up in the next year, and through a democratic process, a list of programmes was agreed upon. It was decided that MAKAAM would concentrate on the following programmes and campaigns in the coming year:
Implementation of GR for widows from farmer suicide affected households
Registration of cane cutters
Building state level collective of cane cutters
Campaign to rectify the Rs 21000 income rule for widow pension
Organise a state level parishad for women farmers in December 2022
Overall this training has been a very positive experience. It helped to develop a sense of camaraderie among all the leader women, who met each other for the first time. It also showed how much this programme – even with the limitations of online sessions – has helped them to take up various issues at the village level. They valued participating in the trainings, and the knowledge they gained from them. In an interesting example, a leader woman said, that she sold her goat, and got a new smartphone with that money, because she liked participating in the trainings.
Although as expected they also expressed the issues they had with online training – not having access to phone, and good internet connection, and limitations on how well they can express themselves through this medium. So a need for conducting a refresher training course once the situation gets better was felt by many of them.
This programme also helped bringing in clarity about the role of mentors in this process, and what kind of support they would need if this process is to continue and expand over the next couple of years.
Based on those insights we think that these women leaders would benefit immensely, from the continuation of this programme. As next steps we would prepare a note for a potential next phase, which would focus on a smaller group of women leaders – those who have consistently participated in the programme and are willing to take the process forward.
Annexure 1: English Translation of the Government Resolution on Women farmers from farmer suicide households
Annexure 2: Achievements of women leaders at a glance:
Below we give an example of step wise detailing of achievements made in MGNREGA which was broadly followed as a practice for most other thematic activities as well:
Step 1 : Attended meetings organized by MAKAAM (Became aware of their rights)
Step 2: Organized women and conducted transect walk (became aware of village situation and kind of work that can be taken under MGNREGA)
Step 2.1: Prepared list of different work
Step 2.2: Submission of the list of Rojgar Sevak
Step 3: Visit and observation of Gram Panchayat/ Rojgar Sevak office
Step 3.1: Checking whether Rojgar Sevak has been appointed
Step 3.1.1: If not, presenting a submission for appointment of Rojgar Sevak (specifically women)
Step 3.2: Observation of notice board – checking work on shelf displayed or not
Step 3.2.1: If not, demand the display of details on notice board
Step 4: Apply for job cards for those women who don’t have the same
Step 4.1: If they ask for money:
Step 4.1.1: In some cases, women gave money and got job cards
Step 4.1.2: Refused to give money and went to Block office in case rojgar sevak refused
Step 5: Submission of form to demand work under MGNREGA/ Demand for receipt after submission of form
Step 5.1: If Rojgar Sevak refuses to do the same:
Step 5.1.1: Go to Block office & submit documents
Step 5.1.2: Collectivize single women to demand work & pressurize officials
Step 6: Suggested Rojgar Sevak that land preparation work can be taken in farmer’s lands- Rojgar sevak neglected saying farmers are not interested
Step 6.1: Initiated dialogue with farmers
Step 6.2: Women and farmers together gave application to Gram Sabha & than to Rojgar Sevak
Step 6.3: Received 15 days’ worth of work