On the Frontline: Single rural women and farm widows are worst affected by lockdown, says Seema Kulkarni
The Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch (Makaam), Maharashtra, has been supporting 500 single and widowed women who do not have ration cards or bank accounts, access food supplies. These women are from across 11 districts of Maharashtra. Seema Kulkarni of the Society for Promoting Participative Ecosystem Management (Soppecom), Pune, which is handling donations and disbursement of funds for Makaam, spoke about this initiative.
What is the situation of agricultural village economy in Maharashtra after the lockdown?
Maharashtra has been facing an agrarian crisis for some time now. Post-Covid-19 and the lockdown the situation has only worsened. Harvesting operations have come to a halt as elsewhere, supply chains have been broken, so farmers are unable send their produce to the mandis. The curfew in Maharashtra is being implemented rather rigourously and police patrols in villages are preventing farmers from engaging labour to harvest the produce or for other farming activities. This has meant that the agricultural labourers are also without any work. Works under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) have completely stopped. Livestock has also been impacted because movement for grazing has also been restricted. Poultry and meat sales have gone down because of some of the myths around meat and the coronavirus.
Why are single women and farm widows disproportionately affected by the current situation?
Women are affected deeply by the crisis on various fronts. Many of them engaged in agriculture wage work and now they are without work and hence without any cash flow. They would often buy their ration form the wages they earned on a daily basis. Most of them still do not have separate ration cards as their names are still included in their martial home rations. However, they are living separately with their children and do not get their share from the ration. So they need to buy all their ration at a higher rate from the market.
We encountered two problems in our dialogues with the women a) no separate ration cards b) have ration cards but they are not digitally verified so cannot access food grains. This is something that needs to be brought to the attention of the government.
Vegetable vending is another task that women engage in weekly markets. All weekly markets have been stopped after the lockdown and women are not able to bring their produce to these markets.
Many of the women involved in cane cutting are still on field sites as sugar production comes under essential commodities and the crushing season is on. However, the conditions of work have not improved and no physical distancing, etc maintained.
How is Makaam supporting single/widowed women farmers in the current pandemic?
The immediate concern staring in our face is the access to food. We are providing direct relief in the form of food supplies to about 500 single and widowed women across 11 districts, primarily farm suicide affected districts. Our second and more sustainable support is through a process of dialogue with the government to ensure that these women benefit from the different schemes announced by the central and the state governments irrespective of ration cards or other forms of documentation. We are writing to state level officials and also district collectors to consider these women in their food distribution programme even if they do not have ration cards or their ration cards are not digitally verified. Secondly, we have also explicitly demanded that women who do get the widow pensions should get it as an advance for 3 months and all the arrears should be cleared as well. Irrespective of whether or not the JanDhan accounts are active or not women should get the Rs 500/month announced by the government. Most importantly, MAKAAM will soon share what support needs to be extended to these women in the post lockdown period as well in the form of work.
How is Soppecom raising funds for this initiative? How will the funds be used?
Soppecom has appealed to various people to contribute towards extending support to the single and widowed women in rural India. The funds are being used to provide basic food supplies that include cereals and pulses, peanuts jaggery all locally procured in consonance with their eating habits and soaps. The food supplies would help them to tide over the immediate crisis till the government is able to streamline its food distribution process. The support is primarily being extended to those who do not have ration cards as they would not be covered under the recently announced government scheme which caters to only ration card holders.
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