Mean­while

The Asian Age - - News+ -

I’ve got the chil­dren to tend The clothes to mend The floor to mop The food to shop Then the chicken to fry The baby to dry I got com­pany to feed The gar­den to weed I’ve got shirts to press The tots to dress The cane to be cut I gotta clean up this hut Then see about the sick And the cot­ton to pick.

— Maya An­gelou

It is an im­age of re­silience: women bend­ing over rice fields, women bend­ing over to lift sacks, bend­ing over to tend chil­dren, bend­ing over to draw wa­ter from wells, bend­ing over a patch of em­broi­dery, bend­ing over all the time. A woman’s work is never done. The most vivid im­age of vil­lage women is that of a woman as a daily wage farm labour, or on a family plot, legs straight, her body form­ing a V as hour af­ter hour she is bent over dou­ble, hoe­ing, sow­ing, weed­ing, day in and day out, un­der clear skies and hot sun. Some­times this work is done with a baby on her back and the only rest might be when the in­fant cries in hunger and mother finds a place at the edge of the field to nurse her child. She can be in her field as early as 5.30 am and she will work un­til mid-day when the sun, high in the sky and burn­ing hot, is too harsh to work un­der. The im­age of women pro­duc­ers is reaped mil­lions of times through­out the vast ter­rain.

From early dawn she is up and around, work­ing about house, tak­ing care of the family and the whims of her hus­band, she will then head to the field to work when the sun, high in the sky and burn­ing hot, is too harsh to work un­der. Back home in the evening, it is back to cook­ing and more chores. Even a sin­gle cha­p­ati, the In­dian flat bread, has be­hind it a chain of drudgery that has not changed in thou­sands of years. To make cha­p­ati, a woman needs wa­ter, which is of­ten sev­eral miles away by foot. She also needs wheat, which she must har­vest by scythe, un­der a blaz­ing sun, in a back-break­ing bent-for­ward mo­tion, and then grind by hand. To cook the bread she needs fuel, ei­ther fire­wood, which she col­lects her­self, or cow-dung cakes, which she makes her­self. To get the dung she must feed the cow, and to feed the cow she must walk sev­eral miles to col­lect suit­able grasses (this as­sumes that the family is lucky enough to even have a cow; many do not). The bread is at last pre­pared over a small mud stove built into the dirt floor of her hut. While she cooks, she breast feeds one child and watches three oth­ers. If she fails in any of these tasks, or per­forms them too slowly, her hus­band of­ten feels it is his pre­rog­a­tive to beat her.

These women match their male folk in ev­ery­thing — hard work, ini­tia­tive, pa­tience and ad­just­ment. Men will help with sea­sonal tasks; clear­ing the land, for ex­am­ple, plough­ing the fields par­tic­u­larly if the plough is drawn by cat­tle. At the eco­nom­i­cally lower end of the strata, women are sad­dled with hus­bands who only drink and help pro­duce chil­dren, but they still work from dust to dawn, pro­vid­ing suc­cour to their fam­i­lies, in­clud­ing a drink­ing al­lowance to er­rant hus­bands. And yet in­vari­ably the woman con­sid­ers her hus­band a god.

It is the women who pro­duce sec­ondary crops, gather food and fire­wood, process, store and pre­pare family food and fetch wa­ter for the family. From walk­ing to col­lect­ing wa­ter and fire­wood to plough­ing fields, from pre­ma­ture de­liv­er­ies to mal­nu­tri­tion, women are tak­ing the first di­rect hit of eco­log­i­cal im­bal­ances and cli­mate change.

Years of servi­tude have taken a heavy toll of them. Yet the In­dian vil­lage woman bears no grudges, no an­i­mus. She is pli­ant and adapt­able, just like the clay that her fel­low women knead as pot­ters and give myr­iad shapes and forms to. Bury her and she is stead­fast as the earth. Burn her and she will ride the flames. The only bonus she ex­pects is, love, com­pas­sion and un­der­stand­ing. For­tu­nately, the world is now awak­en­ing to a pow­er­ful truth: Women and girls aren’t the prob­lem; they’re the so­lu­tion.

This is her con­di­tion in the age of women em­pow­er­ment, in an age when lo­cal self-gov­ern­ments have al­ready granted her 33 per cent reser­va­tion and when a de­bate for spe­cial reser­va­tion in na­tional pol­i­tics is storm­ing all plat­forms. Prob­a­bly, the ba­sic ill is that her em­pow­er­ment it­self has been viewed nar­rowly. Prac­ti­cal im­ple­men­ta­tion has been lost in its vol­u­ble ca­coph­ony. Fi­nan­cial em­pow­er­ment gave her the free­dom to step out of the house and work. But not for her own free­dom or plea­sure. Only to add to the family in­come or de­crease her hus­band’s and other male mem­ber’s share of work on the farm.

Where In­dian woman has moved out from the kitchen, she has been shack­led by other ob­struc­tions such as in­her­i­tances laws for agri­cul­tural

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