People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 37

September 11, 2011


AIAWU Holds Convention of Women Agricultural Workers


ON August 2, the All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU) organised the first of its planned conventions of women agricultural labourers at Mullapur-Dakha village in Ludhiana district of Punjab. The convention was attended by 1554 women agricultural labourers, with at least another hundred male members of AIAWU and other mass organisations from the district assisting in its holding.


The convention was inaugurated by Sudha Sundarraman, general secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), who stated that rural women faced problems not only ones the women face in society at large but also those facing the poorest section of the rural society, i.e. agricultural labourers. She pointed out how gender discrimination in some states of India had gone so far as to affect the sex ratio of women to men, largely as a result of large scale abortion of female foetuses. The situation has been made all the worse by the so-called honour killings and the discriminatory practices in the distribution of food and resources within the family. Even in the fields, women were paid less than what men get for the same amount for work. The so-called lighter jobs which women were given were the work most men would find it difficult to do. Now, with neo-liberal policies and mechanisation of agriculture, works like weeding and transplantation were coming to an end and employment was becoming a serious issue. She urged them to join the workers’ organisations for their economic demands, but they must also organise themselves as women for joint property rights and against drugs and drink that are the basis of so much domestic violence in the social life of our crisis ridden villages today.


The AIAWU’s Punjab state secretary, Gurmesh Singh, urged for an increase in the statutory minimum wages of agricultural labour, a minimum wage of Rs 200 for the MGNREGA workers, a firm policy on social oppression, and 200 units of electricity free for each agricultural labour household. State AIAWU president Bhup Chand Channo highlighted the collapse of the rationing system and called for its revamping. He demanded that the proposed scheme of paying money to the families concerned must be abandoned as it would only increase corruption. The CPI(M)’s district secretary, Sukhvinder Singh Sekhon, highlighted the need to pass the new Land Acquisition Bill to prevent the loot of farmers’ lands and the arbitrary changes in landuse that were creating losses for farmers as never before. He demanded that women’s rights to land must be enshrined in the constitution as well. He also stressed the need to end the futures trading in food crops so as to ensure better rates for the farm produce while limiting the runaway inflation in food prices.


The meeting was also addressed by a number of women agricultural labourers who highlighted their day-to-day problems like non-payment of dues under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), non-payment of pensions, refusal to give BPL cards, and lack of homes to live in. The meeting was also addressed by AIAWU district secretary Dr Prakash Singh Barmi, All India Kisan Sabha’s district secretary Baldev Singh Ladala, and Amarjeet Singh Mattu, district organiser of the convention.


In his concluding address, AIAWU joint secretary Suneet Chopra congratulated the organisers for the excellent turnout and participation. He pointed out that most demands were individual but could not be resolved without collective efforts and organisation, as the government had passed many useful laws like MGNREGA, RTI, women’s reservations in local elections, equal wages for men and women etc but the state and central governments were refusing to implement them. Even now, while the statutory minimum wage in Punjab was Rs 153, MGNREGA workers were getting much less. While the Punjab government had a stock of 200 lakh tonnes of grain this year, its storage capacity was only of 94 lakh tonnes, which was scandalous, as much of the foodgrains are rotting under the open sky. Though the Supreme Court had directed the government to distribute grain free to the poor rather than let it rot, the government had refused to do so. Worse, it was taking away food security, seed development and safety measures out of the hands of the farmers, and putting everything including their lives and livelihood in the hands of corporates instead. The corporatisation of agriculture was against the interest of the rural community life and of the local government institutions which it would destroy. This would not be tolerated as it affected our lives adversely, he warned.


Chopra explained how the AIAWU had made its contribution to the battle against corruption going on in the country, to ensure job cards, work, timely wages and proper social audits at the village level under the MGNREGA. This battle could be fought out properly only by developing village level organisations and giving them state and all-India level support to ensure victory in their struggles. He pointed out that urgent individual problems constantly cropped up and needed immediate resolution. He appealed to the audience to remember an old teaching of Punjab, “Work hard and consume collectively.” Without building up on this enormous advantage of cooperation that was there in all rural cultures, success would not be easy. He appealed to them to rely on the lessons of the peasant movements of Punjab enshrined in the teachings of the Gurus, add their own lessons to these and march on to victory in the face of neo-liberalism, hunger, unemployment and marginalisation. It was a life or death struggle, he said, adding that it had to be won.