In a largely patriarchal rural society, most women do not own any land in their name. Nevertheless, women of small holdings work intensively on the farm. But they take charge of decisions only in distress situations – when men are un-well to work, when they migrate, die or abscond. As alcoholic, polygamous and /or sick husbands accumulate financial burden, many rural women learn to live with money lenders’ knocks at their doors while providing for the entire family including children and the aged. Childlessness and ‘son’ less ness for a rural woman pose another trauma of many dimensions – the prospect of being subservient to others in an already impoverished life and of being deserted during the sun set years, loom large. To top all of these, old age arrives early in these women’s lives exposed to harsh elements and domestic violence. We bring lives of a few such women to your attention.
Lakshmamma’s village is about 40 kilometres to the North of Bangalore, where she lives with her son. Her daughter stays closer to the city with Lakshmamma’s mother, studying in a school there. Lakshmamma was married off at an early-age, to an alcoholic. She moved to the city with her children and worked as a housekeeper in a college. End of domestic violence for Lakshmammma came with the sudden death of her drunken husband who was found dead on the road side near his village. She was landless till she won the battle to get hold of her husband’s share of the family land – 1.20 acres.
Lakshmamma cultivates this piece of land, rears two cows and a few goats. She takes help only for ploughing the field. Maize and beans from her field are enough only for home use. Ragi she sells for about 20,000 in a successful year. Lakshmamma brought up her son, repaired her house, finances her daughter’s education and supports her mother too. Her son is now enrolled for an undergraduate course, financing his studies by a part time job at a cafe, earning Rs.3,000 a month. Lakshmamma is paying back Rs. 90,000 of gold-loan taken from a bank for meeting medical expenses as also more than Rs.50,000 taken from a nationalized bank and a women’s Self Help Group (SHG) to buy cows. Income from dairying and the café job of her son are thanks to the growing city close by. But the city doesn’t seem to fetch any consistent income worth mentioning from whatever she raises on her land, especially since she cannot go to markets in search of reasonable price, given the small quantities she produces as well as the cost of transport.
It was late afternoon when we reached Lakshmamma’s house. By evening, she got up for cleaning the cow shed and cows. We accompanied her to the field and to the dairy. After dumping the dung in the field we came back home for milking. Walking with the milk can, she was talking about hope – of her son getting a better job, when she wouldn’t need to work this hard. Offering and sipping tea made from the fresh milk, she asked if we could help her son find a good job. Before we could figure out how to express our helplessness, she quickly moved on about her intention to avail new loans for buying more cows!