Widespread indebtedness at high interest rates of 36 per cent and above per annum, ignorance about standard working hours and minimum wages, sexual exploitation at work place and dependence on male family members for exercising their basic rights – these are some of the facts a survey on women farm workers in Punjab by a team of Punjabi University professors has found.
The study titled ‘Economic, Social and Political Participation of Rural Women Labourers in Punjab’, sponsored by Ludhiana-based Bebe Gurnam Kaur Memorial Education Centre, Isru, was conducted by Punjabi University’s former professor in Department of Economics Gian Singh and Professor in Department of Geography Gurinder Kaur, Kheri Gurna (Banur)-based GGDSD College’s Assistant Professor in Department of Economics Dharampal and Assistant Professor in Department of Economics Jyoti, besides Veerpal Kaur, Assistant Professor in Department of Economics, University College, Ghudda (Bathinda).
Singh had also led another study ‘Indebtedness and among farmers and Agricultural labourers in rural Punjab’ in May last year.
The study, conducted on 1,017 households—408 in Fatehgarh Sahib and Mansa districts of Malwa region, 349 in Amritsar of Majha and 260 in Jalandhar of Doaba region — started in 2016 end and completed a few months back.
The study revealed that not a single respondent was aware of the Minimum Wages Act, and 98.13 per cent of them had no knowledge about the standard working hours fixed by the government. Nearly half, 45.43 per cent of the respondents said their husbands are substance addicts, 6.69 per cent women face misbehaviour by male employers and sexual exploitation.
“On an average, the woman labourers studied, are indebted with Rs. 53,916.45, out of which 81.01 per cent is provided by non-institutional sources, which charge exorbitant rates as high as 36 per cent and above in many cases. Around 22.96 per cent of the debt taken is used for marriages and other socio-religious ceremonies followed by 15.29 per cent for healthcare as nearly 69 per cent women are suffering from some serious ailment. This as 74 per cent do not get their wages on time,” said Professor Singh.
A high 80 per cent are living in dilapidated houses having no separate kitchens in majority cases and around 37 per cent are the family breadwinners.
As many as 72.66 per cent are illiterate and mostly between the age group of 20 to 45 years. Nearly 92.43 per cent women labourers belong to the Scheduled Castes, 7.08 per cent to the backward class and only 0.49 per cent to the general castes.
Political awareness is also low. More than 90 per cent do not have any interest in politics or in reading or watching news, but use their right to vote under the directions of male family members.
Around 90 per cent of the respondents did not know the name of Prime Minister and Chief Minister and virtually none knew the name of the President.
Majority of them have no idea about female political leaders of the state. And 95.48 per cent said that women should not contact the political leaders or representatives of their area for solving the community problems.