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Notebandi Has Forced India’s Invisible Women Farmers Into a Crisis

Drought, farmer suicides & demonetisation has become a cocktail of crisis for women farmers in northern Karnataka.

6 min read
Notebandi Has Forced India’s Invisible Women Farmers Into a Crisis
Hindi Female

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Kalavathi, 52, is running from pillar to post to get some cash to repay her loans. A resident of Madargi village in Karnataka’s Bidar district, Kalavathi’s wages are overdue and so is the cash payment from the dairy she sold milk to in the last two months.

I had taken a loan for my daily needs thinking I would pay it back with my daily wages. The land is barren here. It doesn’t rain. All these years we have survived on loans. But how do I repay my loan if don’t get paid? 
Kalavathi, Dairy Farmer and Farm Labourer

Kalavathi, a farm labourer and dairy farmer, has received just one-fourth of her daily wage payments since demonetisation. Selling milk to village households helped her earn additional income. But after the currency ban, almost every family is buying milk on credit. From land-owners to her milk buyers, everybody in her village is now 'cashless'.

If I don’t pay my monthly instalment to the Sangh (mahila swasahay Sangh, or self-help group), I will have to pay massive interest. I am ready to mortgage my mangalsutra, but nobody is lending me money. They say they don’t have cash. It is almost the month-end. I don’t have the energy to run around anymore. 
Kalavathi, Dairy Farmer and Farm Labourer
Women cultivators and farm labourers have lost both their jobs and their financial independence post demonetisation. (Photo: Parul Agrawal/The Quint)
98 million women in India work in the agriculture sector. 36 million of them are women farmers and 61.6 million are farm labourers.
Source: IndiaSpend

We rarely hear about women in the news stories about agrarian crisis or farmer suicides in India, but the reality is woman farmers are the backbone of agriculture in India.

Infamous for droughts and farmer suicides, the northern parts of Karnataka have some of the most difficult terrain to cultivate and survive on agriculture. For the woman farmers of this area, demonetisation has come as the final blow.

A resident of Chitgoppa village, Jayamma Jeevankar, 47, got the news on the morning of 9 November. Doubting what she had heard, she rushed to the local shops and then to the self-help group (SHG), only to realise that all her 500 rupee notes have indeed become useless.

There was little rain in our area this year, but we had no money for irrigation. Our crops dried up and were attacked by pests, but there was no money to buy pesticides. They suddenly banned the currency notes, so we had no time to prepare.
Jayamma Jeevankar, Woman Farmer
Hosna Bibi has never had a bank account. When the crisis struck, she requested almost everybody she knew to ‘convert’ her money. (Photo: Parul Agrawal/The Quint)

At Madargi, a small village in Homnabad tehsil, we met Hosna Bibi, a homemaker who is running around with a thousand rupee note. Co-operative banks and SHGs refused to accept the scrapped currency notes. She has never had a bank account. As the crisis struck, she requested whoever she could to 'convert' her money. As the deadline to exchange old notes neared, there were no takers for the last 1,000 rupee note she had.

My husband doesn’t know about the little savings I have earned working in the fields. He would beat me if I disclose it to him. My neighbours and other women have promised to get me new notes. I don’t want to lose these one thousand rupees. 
Hosna Bibi, Homemaker
Self-help groups and co-operative banks are critical for bridging the last-mile gap with borrowers in rural India. (Photo: Parul Agrawal/The Quint)

Women cultivators and farm labourers have lost both their jobs and their financial independence post demonetisation. Rukmini has been sitting at home for almost a month now. The 37-year-old lost her husband a few years ago and her widow pension, combined with money from her farm land, is the only hope for the survival for her two kids and herself.

The landowner says he is not getting any money from the bank. When he can’t pay, how can he hire labourers? Some landowners have even reduced wages. Following up for payments takes up most of our time now. And those who do get paid run around for change for Rs 2,000. 
Rukmini, Farm Labourer

Struggling with the reduced prices in markets, their payments stuck in the banks and anxious for the impending crop season, the landowners are equally helpless.

We have no money ourselves. How do we pay the labourers? We go to the banks and stand in queues from morning till evening, by the time our turn comes the bank closes. For almost a month banks only gave 2-4 thousand rupees in a week. If we are lucky to get some money its always a 2000 rupee note. Who do we give it to?
David Jeevankar, Farmer

For many like Rukmini, daily wage is the only income they have to buy things for their kids or an additional cup of tea. In rural India, demonetisation has turned the small necessities into luxury.

When we had lose cash in our hands, we could spend it the way we wanted. Kids need one or two rupees every morning for school. We could buy milk for the morning tea every day. Now, all that has stopped.
Rehana, Resident, Nirna Village
RBI curbs have forced co-operative banks into a severe liquidity crisis. (Photo: Parul Agrawal/The Quint)

Bidar is the national model for the success of the SHG movement in India. A decade of efforts, awareness drives and field work in the remotest of villages means that the smallest of small thanda (hamlet) is now connected to the District Central Co-operative Banks (DCC) through a network of SHGs. It may be a loan-based economy but SHGs empowered women in the villages to become financially independent.

We have more than 24,000 SHGs in Bidar alone. Each group has around 10-15 women. Their total number would be more than 2.5 lakh. Women above the age of 18 are encouraged to be a part of the group. They generate small loans and pay weekly/monthly instalments. The re-payment rate has been fantastic. Saving as little as Rs 20, the women recently crossed a total deposit of Rs 100 crore. But demonetisation has crippled this eco-system.
Jagan Nath Reddy, Director, DCC Bank, Bidar 
Ninety-eight million women in India work in the agriculture sector. (Photo: Parul Agrawal/The Quint)

SHGs and co-operative banks are critical for bridging the last-mile liquidity gap in rural India. Restrictions imposed by the RBI have forced them into a severe liquidity crisis. Women farmers in Bidar learnt to sustain themselves through small cash, co-operative banks and self-help groups. But in one stroke, demonetisation seems to have taken them several years back. Many now fear that they will turn into loan defaulters.

We are selling/mortgaging households items and that is how we have survived in the last two months. Co-operative banks or mahila sanghs are not listening to us. They say they need loan instalments on time. We have been borrowing from SHGs for last 10 years but we never faced such a problem.
Sasikala, Farm Labourer, Chitgoppa Village

Crippled by demonetisation, these women are hoping that the Prime Minister has some balm for their pain.

I am part of the barren land sangh. I took a loan of Rs five lakh. I have not paid my instalment for the last two months. Modi ji is saying he will waive farmer loans. Will he also waive the loans of farm labourers? 
Shabnam Bibi, Nirna Village, Karnataka 

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Topics:  India   agriculture   farming 

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