Tuesday, July 28, 2020

COVID-19 and its impact on the Agri Economy of Punjab

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Women planting paddy seedlings in agricultural field | Source: Diganta Talukdar via Wikimedia

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the agricultural economy of the Indian state of Punjab really hard. Punjab’s paddy farmers have traditionally relied on migrant agricultural labourers who are mostly natives of the state of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Due to the pandemic, a large number of migrant labourers have returned to their native place causing a massive shortage of farm workers in Punjab.

Its impact became more severe as the paddy transplantation period was already around. Gurbachan Singh, a local paddy farmer told news agency ANI, "There is a shortage of labourers as the government sent back the migrant workers without proper planning."

The shortage of migrant workers forced the farmers to rely more on the local labourers. The local labourers used this opportunity to demand more wages which has resulted in almost doubling the labour cost. The migrant labourers used to charge around ₹2500 per acre for sowing paddy while the local ones were demanding ₹4000 per acre for the same work.

The  village panchayat (Local village council) tried to fix the labour charges of ₹3,000 per acre which did not go down well with local labourers. This caused a dispute which even resulted in a clash between labourers and farmers where the shots were fired as well.

The labour shortage does not appear to be ending soon as most migrant labourers are not willing to come back. Viresh Kumar, a labour contractor from Sonbarsa in Bihar’s Sitamarhi district who supplies workers to paddy farmers in Phagwara, told ThePrint, “Workers from Bihar and UP either don’t want to come back to fields in Punjab or they want farmers or us to bear the cost of bringing them back, which is a very expensive and complex procedure now. Due to the lack of sufficient number of regular trains, the cost of bringing a single migrant to Punjab is around Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000 per person.”

The shortage of cheap labour has forced the local farmers to start looking for some alternative which could maintain the economic feasibility of farming.also provided some benefit

Agricultural Secretary of Punjab government, KS Pannu noted that some of the farmers have started employing new technology to cope up with the labour shortage. "Farmers have sown paddy at around 5 lakh hectare land with Direct Seeding of Rice technology this year. Some farmers, however, shifted back to the puddling method for cultivation as they could not adapt to the technology," Pannu told ANI.

Manpreet Ayali, a member of Punjab State Legislative Assembly, and a wealthy farmer, says that this labour shortage is a blessing in disguise for the farmers as it would make them more self-reliant, rather than depending on labour for the transplantation season.

The shortage of cheap migrant labour has forced many farmers to cut down the area of paddy cultivation. Experts believe that due to the reduced area of transplantation the groundwater levels might improve in the state which tops the country in over-exploitation of groundwater reserves.

It is still too early to give a definite verdict on the long term impact of the COVID-19 on the agricultural economy of Punjab, but in the short term it is nothing short of a disaster for the local farmers.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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