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Raise the salary of women working in agriculture! PDF Print E-mail
women workersIn India, it is not easy to be a woman. It is not easy to be a Dalit either. Dalit women are oppressed twice as much, because they are women and because they are Dalit. Their lives are made of discrimination and injustice. The India YCW knows the problem well as most of its members are Dalits, and it is carrying out concrete actions on the ground to make things change. Here is an example, in Pulimateau, a village in the state of Tamil Nadu. This action has been carried out with young women working in agriculture.
The background of the action
In Pulimateau, the young women working in agriculture only received INR 30 ($0.75). Note that for a kilo of rice (major food in India) they already pay INR 15. In their YCW group, they discovered that a five member family needs at least INR 150 a day to meet its basic needs. They made an in-depth review of their living and working conditions. Here is their analysis.
Unenviable living conditions
Living places are small houses with no toilets, no separate bedrooms for girls. Several generations live together in the same house and there is no privacy.
Because of the dowry system, women in India need to save money in order to get married but since their salary is so low, they are unable to do so, and some of them remain unmarried.
Because of their miserable salary, those young women workers can only eat good food once a day. It is prepared at night and they eat the leftovers for breakfast and lunch. They don’t get enough calories for the heavy work they do.
For many of them, it is impossible to plan their own future and the future of their children. They cannot send their children to school through lack of money, so children stay at home playing all day long.
A tough reality at work
While they work in the field, those young women wear no safety equipment. They have no shoes to protect them from glass or thorns that might injure them. They can also be poisoned by snake or insect bites but there are no medical facilities, so sometimes workers die in the field after being bitten by a snake and nobody is held responsible for that, neither the land owners (employers) nor the government.
Agricultural work is always seasonal work and there are no time limits or fixed working hours for them.
Very few workers own their own patch of land. Most of them work for landlords but there are not enough jobs for all. This creates a lot of competition and some workers even work for INR 25 to make sure they get the job.
Caste discrimination is an important cultural element. In some villages, the landlords sometimes provide lunch to their workers but sometimes, the Dalits are not allowed to touch the plates with their hands or mouths because the plates that belong to the landlords would become ‘dirty’.
The causes for the situation
There is no organization, no movement to raise awareness among Dalits and in society as a whole. No one sheds the light on their situation and demands. Political parties just use them to get their votes but the promises they make are never kept.
The government does not consider these people as workers. It doesn’t force the employers to implement existing labor laws like working hours or the minimum wage.
Dalit workers have no formal education and they believe very strongly in their religion. They do not reflect upon their situation but they put the blame on their religion and on god.

A strike demanding an “Increase in our salary!”

After analyzing the situation with the support of the national team, the district team and the action teams, the young women workers started judging the situation.
Soon it was clear that to improve the situation, salaries had to be increased. A local action team worked out a strategy to get the support of the local population and other workers.
As a first step, a meeting took place with a women’s organization in the area to discuss the issue with them. The action team and the women’s organization then met with the village leaders and it was decided to meet with the young women’s landlord.
The landlord refused to increase the wages, arguing that the costs were already too high for him. The dialogue reached a deadlock.
The workers then decided to go on strike during the paddy planting time, which is the period when landlords need a lot of workers.
Strike! As nobody in the village was working, the landlord brought people from other villages and paid them INR 45. So the action team went to those villages to raise awareness about their problem. They managed to convince the other workers who stopped coming.
This forced the landlord to yield. He invited the action team and other representatives to resume the dialogue and the salary was increased by INR 2.

A signature campaign to get the support of the population

A signature campaign was also organized. By April, 200 signatures had already been collected at the local level. The local action team was responsible for the plan and for drafting the petition together with the national team.
The plan was to present the petition at the beginning of the planting, when pressure was maximal on the landlord.
The national team also organized a one-day session with a lawyer to answer all legal questions the groups had in relation with the action taken.

Patrick Nell
Patrick Nell
International Treasurer

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