Farm fortitude of Kashmir’s women food growers

Shafeeqa, Farida and Mubeena working in their Budgam farmland. [FPK Photo/Masroor Ashraf.]

What sets these women apart is their all-weather resilience to be food producers amid the growing consumerism in Kashmir.

Under the searing sun of summer, their sweat-soaked and mud-smeared clothes are hardly slowing them down. They talk about hope amid hopelessness while making most of their farm routine. Their hearty conversations often pave way to folk-singing sessions — uplifting the mood and making the moment festive for the farm friends. But more than anything else, the slog ensures their family existence.

That’s how Shafeeqa, Farida and Mubeena have been growing food ever since they were young girls.
The trio wakes up at the crack of the dawn and completes household chores before rushing to their fields where they spend most of their daytime.

In the boroughs of Budgam, the trio’s hamlet, Kharbag Ranger, is god’s own country — where swatches of paddy fields are dotted with women farmers debunking the “urban myth” about women disempowerment in Kashmir countryside.

Every next woman—including educated one—in Kharbag is doing field work and making their family survival possible.

“When we work hard the whole year, then only we produce food in the form of rice, vegetables and fruits for living,” says Mubeena. “There’s no substitute to hard work in farming.”

Woman farmer tilling her farm. [FPK Photo/Masroor.]

But due to political and pandemic lockdowns in Kashmir’s recent past, these food growers faced some crippling losses. “These years have brought more poverty in our lives,” Mubeena says. “It became very hard to manage home.”

Amid distress, these women never failed to follow their farming calendar.

They start growing food from early spring to late autumn. Traders directly buy greens from them. “But sadly,” Farida says, “not every time they want to buy from us. With the result, much of our crop remains in fields.”

But while farmers consume unsold produce for personal use, they trash the rest of the rotting greens. Wasting their ‘labour of love’ makes them sad.

“Less work causes heavy loss for farmers,” Farida says. “The condition was much better before 2019. Today, there’re no takers of my potatoes — the crop I grew after investing Rs. 5000 in seeds.”

Woman farmer collecting greens from her farmland. [FPK Photo/Masroor Ashraf.]

But despite these recent losses, these women are firmly holding their farming forts. Among them is Rafiqa, who’s dutifully carrying her family legacy forward.

Right from her childhood, she worked farmer by day and student by night. “I was lucky to learn farming from my father,” Rafiqa says. “For non-farming people, it may take them around 1 year or so.”

Among other things, she says, farming keeps her mentally and physically fit and makes her sharp on learning and earning fronts.

“Like me, many young women of my village are connected to farming,” she says. “The collective interest makes me believe that more and more educated women are only going to better the farming scenario of our village.”

Some farm produce is being sundried for food storage. [FPK Photo/Masroor Ashraf.]

What sets these women food growers of Kharbag Ranger apart is their all-weather resilience to be food producers amid the growing consumerism in Kashmir.

Most of them are real-life multitaskers—shifting their roles from being mother to the caretaker of their livestock. This engagement, says grower Parveen, gives them some solace.

“We live with hardships here,” she says. “But that’s alright as long as you aren’t dependent on others for food.”

With their spirit, these women farmers want to change the market rate disparity. “Be it milk, vegetables or livestock,” she says, “we’re getting less rates than in Srinagar. We want to change this.”

A woman farmer attending to her cattle. [FPK Photo/Masroor Ashraf.]

But beyond these rustic hassles, life for women food growers of Kharbag Ranger is empowered in letter and spirit. One of them works shoulder-to-shoulder with her father-in-law in her roadside farm.

“Despite the disappointing turnover all these years,” the young woman farmer says, “we’re happy to stick to our farm routine for producing food for masses.”


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