A large number of women are among the hundreds of farmers who converged on Azad Maidan on Sunday night to protest against the controversial farm laws, and in solidarity with the farmers protesting at Delhi’s borders.
They carried on their heads bags full of provisions to sustain them and their families for the duration of the protests. Tai Dhoulu Ram from Peth, Nashik, was carrying bedsheets, chapatis wrapped in plastic bags, and a change of clothes for her husband and herself, to last them three days.
“I last came to Mumbai in 2018 when farmers had taken out a rally. But now we are poorer than before. These farm laws must not be enacted,” she says. Asked where she will sleep, she smiles, “Here on the grass.” Dhoulu left behind her children in Peth to join the protest.
“The presence of women in large numbers in such agitations is due to the conscious efforts taken by activists to make them a part of the consultation and discussion process. After all, women play a major role in the agrarian economy and any impact on this sector is bound to affect them as well. The presence of a large number of women here is because they feel that their future is at stake,” activist Prasad Subramaniam said.
From Navapur, Nandurbar, 140 vehicles with farmers reached Mumbai on Sunday. The vehicles were full of women who left their families behind to participate in the protest march. Neeta Valvi (50) grows rice and tur dal on her farm land. “We heard about the three laws. Whatever I heard I don’t believe it will benefit us,” she says. When villagers planned to join a three-day protest, she volunteered to come along. Her neighbour, Manila Gavit, wrapped her bedsheet and joined Valvi. Both left their families behind to embark on their first journey to Mumbai.
On Sunday, they were scouting Azad Maidan for a place to eat and sleep. “We are not afraid to come alone. We have our villagers around us,” Valvi said. A large tent came up on the maidan on Sunday with red dhurrie spread on the ground. When the tent could hold no more, farmers spread their bedsheets on the grass and sat cross-legged.
Shanti Padvi from Nandurbar says: “What will we do sitting at home. This is the time to come out.” She was traveling with a group of women from a village in Navapur. Her husband was managing their farm back at home.
From Trimbakeshwar, Hirabai Dumne (40) left with her family on Saturday for Mumbai. She says women are strong and can bear the slight chill in air at night and long walks in the protest march. The only problem is finding that many toilets for the huge crowd, she said.