The Neelesh Misra Show: The Unsung Heroes of India’s Farmlands

Women are the backbone of India’s agricultural economy, but are neglected by the government, lawmakers & society

Updated28 Mar 2018, 11:05 AM IST
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4 min read

Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

People laugh at us when they see us driving tractors, because we are women. They may not know how to drive tractors, but they just laugh at us. People get offended because their wives and daughters can’t work in the farms like we do. We manage both farm work and household chores.

The “farmer” in the stories of Munshi Premchand, Maithalisharan Gupt, Green Revolution, government schemes and the media, has always been a man. When you Google the word ‘farmer’, images of men crop up.

Reports suggest that male farmers in India work approximately 1,860 hours in a year, while female farmers work for over 3,300 hours in farms. That means women work for over nine hours in farms daily, other than doing household chores and taking care of the children.

In the latest episode of ‘The Neelesh Misra Show’, I will be talking about the ‘invisible’ working women of the Indian farms, who contribute immensely to India’s agricultural industry.


Guddi, 40, has been working as a farmer in Uttar Pradesh’s Lalitpur for the last 19 years. A mother of two, she is the sole breadwinner of the family. “I learnt farming by watching people work in the fields. I have been managing the farm and driving a tractor for the past 19 years. I am 40 now. My elder son has grown up and learnt how to drive the tractor.”

The Neelesh Misra Show: The Unsung Heroes of India’s Farmlands
(Photo Courtesy: Neelesh Mishra/Altered by The Quint)

Lalla Devi

Lalla Devi is a resident of Ramnathpur village in Sultanpur district of Uttar Pradesh. Her husband and son inherited the family property. But after they moved to Mumbai in search of jobs, she took to farming. “I took over the responsibility and set out to the farm with our bulls. Even Goddess Sita had to plough a field when her kingdom had no rainfall,” she says.

The villagers said I shouldn’t be farming as I am a woman, but that didn’t stop me. If women weren’t oppressed for so long, they would be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with men today.
Lalla Devi
Lalla Devi
Lalla Devi
(Photo Courtesy: Neelesh Mishra/Altered by The Quint)

Lalla Devi wants to be identified as a farmer. Initially, she worked as a labourer, and bought her own land with the money. Today, she is on a mission to help recognise other women like her who work as farmers.

Ramrati Devi

Ramrati Devi is a resident of Sarpatha village, about 40 kilometres away from Gorakhpur. She wakes up at 4 am daily, feeds the cattle, finishes her household chores and sets out for the fields. She has won several accolades for growing 35 different types of crops on a small piece of land. “I grow various types of vegetables and sell them in the market. My family has always helped me. Domestic crops yield the best. My daughter-in-law helps me too.”

Ramrati Devi
Ramrati Devi
(Photo Courtesy: Neelesh Mishra/Altered by The Quint)

Land Rights a Distant Dream

According to the 2011 census, more than six crore women in India are engaged in farming activities. According to reports, while 43 percent of Indian women contribute to agriculture, only 13 percent of them have land rights. The remaining are just considered labourers. Government schemes aren’t designed keeping the female farmers in mind, their contribution to the Gross domestic Product (GDP) and the economic growth is never documented.

As per research, Bihar, Nagaland, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan have the highest number of women contributing to farming while Kerala, West Bengal and Punjab have the least.

Possession of land is necessary to enjoy government benefits on farming, but women hardly posses any land. In 2005, the government passed a law to give parental property rights to daughters, but not many families pay heed. 

According to the 2011 census, 32.8 percent women and 81.1 percent women in India work in agriculture. But these numbers do not identify the women in the families of those 81.1 percent men, who also help with farming, as farmers.

They have long, hectic working hours with no appraisals or promotions. They cannot claim maternity leave for six months. These women are the backbone of the Indian agricultural economy. I can only hope that their voices are heard, they are given land rights and get the recognition they deserve.

(Translated by Eshwar Gole)

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Published: 27 Mar 2018, 08:23 AM IST

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