In the vast dry landscapes of Yadgir district, the extent of land one owns doesn’t mean much. Apart from the harsh weather, stones buried underneath make it hard to cultivate and produce a decent crop. If this is what nature bestows, there are others that the society gifts to its’ women. Women from certain castes are not allowed to draw water from the common well. They wait for women from other castes to draw water for them and pour into their pots. Village records show very few holdings owned by women. We wanted to meet women land owners to see how different are their lives compared to those who toil on stony land or graze animals traversing kilometers under blazing sun, without ownership or a say in managing these assets. There was four acres in Parvathamma’s name. We made two brief visits to her house within a week’s time, before she agreed for a chat under the tree near her field.
About 40 years old, Parvathamma is the second wife of 60 year old Muniappa. Muniappa married Parvathamma 20 years ago as his first wife didn’t bear children; though the family remain childless. He has been an alcoholic and too weak to do any work. When he sold some of his inherited land to the sahukar in order to pay off debts, Muniappa registered four acres of land in Parvathamma’s name and five acres in the name of his first wife.
Though there are nine acres between the two wives, Parvathamma’s share of four acres has been encroached by Muniappa’s stepbrother, who works for a local politician. A few years ago, he threatened aging Muniappa and forcefully started cultivating Parvathamma’s land. Since then, Muniappa’s family hasn’t stepped on this piece of land, though Parvathamma continues to pay the land tax. This explained their reluctance to talk to us as we started the conversation from women land owners. Though we introduced ourselves as agricultural researchers, a faint hope that we may be of some help later made them sit down with us for a couple of hours.
This family of three aging adults rely on share cropping of jowar in five acres of dry land, which fetches around Rs 40,000 annually. The two women supplement around 10,000 to this, doing farm labour (for Rs.100 a day) while taking turns to look after Muniappa. They don’t get work under the employment guarantee scheme, though a job card has been issued some time back. Annually this family needs a minimum of Rs. 30,000 for medical expenses, Rs. 30,000 for farm expenses and Rs. 15,000 for running the kitchen.
A crop loan of Rs. 65,000 taken several years ago is still outstanding. Though they keep paying the interest amount, outstanding principal makes them ineligible for a fresh loan from the bank and force them to approach private lenders to meet farm expenses. Lot of people from their village go to Bangalore during dry months in search of construction work, in order to pay back loans. Parvathamma is disappointed that they can’t do it, as they are always worried about their land and Muniappa’s health. She occasionally visits relatives when they work in Bangalore and likes the life there. This foregone opportunity or the discrimination she faces at the village well are not major concerns for Parvathamma. Cultivating her land, affordable treatment for Muniappa and getting enough wage work in the village form her wish list. Quite reasonably, she shudders at the prospect of being a child less and landless old widow in the village!