From: Shiza Malik, Aug 10, 2017 in Dawn
It’s a sweltering June day in Muridke in Sheikhupura district in Punjab. The harsh summer sun glints off of the rice paddies which cover thousands of acres in this area. Some of the world’s finest Basmati rice is grown here. Dotting these paddies are the colourful figures of hundreds of women bent over the sodden earth, manually planting each seedling.
Razia Bibi and her daughters wade through the pesticide filled muddy sludge, which fills the field. They hold bunches of seedlings in one hand and use the other to swiftly place each plant into the earth at a specific distance. Doing this work for every summer of their lives has made their movements almost mechanical and working in large groups, they manage to transplant rice over large swathes of land each day. But, the land they work on is not theirs, neither is the rice they grow.
The working conditions are harsh; the water that fills the fields is full of leeches and corrosive chemicals. Each day someone in the group collapses from the heat. The wages are abysmal. But, Razia is a widow with six children, two of whom have polio. So in a place like Muridke, her options are limited.
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It’s dusk and that point in the day when all is still but for the occasional distant clatter of pans or the whoops of a few children still at play. The sun stretches shadows across the fields as the cows are being brought in from pasture.
From nowhere, the tranquillity is shattered by the blast of a megaphone that emerges atop a 4 x 4: “Vote Nilima Topno!! Vote Ath-Kosia!!” The vehicle sweeps to a halt outside our building and three women climb out, all appear bristling with election fever.
They have been on the campaign trail for some time and are ready with their pitches:
My name is Nilima Topno, I am the President of a People’s Organisation called Ath-Kosia Tribal People’s Organisation.
Namaskar … My name is Ahalya Sa and I am working with the CIRTD team in Sundergar District.
Namaskar … I’m Cicilia Kandulna and I too work with CIRTD.
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Srey Lak is a former rice worker. It’s three years since she was able to work in the fields though. The skin on her hands is now so fragile she cannot bear the pain of plunging them into the contaminated waters of the flooded paddy fields. Some of the women in nearby villages, though, have adopted SRI, a way if growing rice that can help avert these kinds of problems.
See original article here
Durga Devi deftly digs up a fistful of rice saplings and transplants them on to an empty space in the pliable soil. As her hands work without a pause, so does her tongue. She chatters non-stop with Chandrakala Devi, her sister-in-law, who is transplanting rice in another corner of their field. They talk about their children, the food they have cooked, the weather, and other household matters.
“Old age caught up with us while we were working,” Chandrakala laughingly tells VillageSquare.in, as she progresses through the field. At 34, Chandrakala considers herself an old woman.
Durga and Chandrakala spend the entire time in the field bent over double, progressing a step at a time through their little plot of land in Mandal village of Chamoli district in Uttarakhand. Their work is strenuous, leaves them with aches and pains, but they must continue. They are surrounded by mountains, and a stream gurgles down the slopes near the fields. The Himalayan village is home to 108 families, and has a population of 452.
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See the original article in Farming Matters here
Authors: BISWANATH SINHA & TUSHAR DASH
It is said that ‘rice is grown on women’s backs’. Globally, women provide between 50 and 90 percent of the labour in rice fields. They perform backbreaking tasks like seedling removal, transplanting and weeding in bent posture and under wet conditions for more than 1000-1500 hours per hectare. In addition, they are exposed to chemicals. Women working in flooded fields for long hours come into contact with various disease causing vectors exposing them to multiple health risks like intestinal to skin diseases and female urinary and genital ailments. This affects their ability to work and earn, and furthermore, it drains out their money on health care, sometimes making them indebted.
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