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[Notice: All images on this site are (c) Copyright Saundra Sturdevant, 2002]

India: Women's Agricultural Labor
Part I: Field and Domestic labor

WOMEN'S AGRICULTURAL LABOR IN ASIA
AND CENTRAL CALIFORNIA VALLEY

This subject is the focus of my present photographic activity; it has three parts. One is women's agricultural labor in the fields; two is women's labor when field labor is not available; and three is women's domestic labor. The India Photos are part of this body of images. I am now at the stage of archivally printing each image, preparing for exhibit and publication.

Three images are from Maharashtra State. Bombay is the port city. The land of Maharashtra is quite poor; most of it is ancient black-lava flow with low rainfall. Indeed, everything depends upon rain, for perhaps 2% of the state is irrigated. Jowar (large millet) is the principal crop, followed by cotton. Jowar grows well in the black heavy soils, doesn't require much manure, and can be raised year after year on the same land. Small amounts of acreage are in wheat and rice and vegetables.

Cotton is the second most popular crop. By contrast to Jowar, cotton depletes the soil and is often rotated with Jowar. In 1839, The British East India Company recruited tweleve planters from the southern part of the United States to introduce cotton. Before cotton, the land was in garden (vadis) crops of plantains, vegetables, beetle, potatoes, onions and chilies. This was a self-sufficient production; but due to the traditional Ryotwari tenure system, land holdings concentrated in hands of a few. The fact was that as independent cultivators faced hard years due to poor land and low rainfall, made loans and lost the land. Cotton production hired many of the landless but the fluctuations in cotton prices due to the market brought further instability.
Up to contemporary times, this relationship of land to labor has not significantly changed. Large numbers of peasants are landless, perhaps upwards of 75% must find supplementary employment, and hire out their labor locally if possible. If not, they must go to other areas as field labor or to the urban areas to find work in factories.

One development that has occurred with independence and beyond holds the promise of significant change in the agriculture sector. Peasant unions are large. It is quite possible to have gatherings/demonstrations of upwards of 200,000 peasants, 50,000 of who will be in the women's contingent. Within this movement is often found an integration of educated Indians working with labor to effect change.

The six weeks photographing in the rural areas of Maharashtra was made possible through the help of local peasant, women's and labor organizers. I am especially grateful to Miah W., village head and organizer from Yeotmal, who acted as my guide and translator during this time. She introduced me to the agricultural world that she had worked with all her adult life and to the great diversity and promise this work held.

 

 

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