ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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De-feminisation of Agricultural Wage Labour in Jalpaiguri, West Bengal

A study of three villages in Jalpaiguri district, West Bengal, reveals that there is an alarming decline in female agricultural wage labour, resulting in de-feminisation, devastating poverty and outmigration of young boys and men in the Terai region. De-agrarianisation in combination with the revived patriarchal “good woman” ideology explains the crises of female wage labour. The Government of West Bengal’s Anandadhara programme seeks to integrate poor women into the financial flow through microcredit/self-helf groups. However, poor landless and marginal farm women are faced with various obstacles in becoming self-employed entrepreneurs.

This paper is based on qualitative participatory studies, and three anthropological field studies conducted in three villages in different blocks of Jalpaguri district, West Bengal, under the framework of the Water, Land and Ecology (WLE) research/intervention project, titled “Poverty Squares and Gender Circles: Unravelling Agriculture Gaps, Challenges and Opportunities in the Eastern Gangetic Plains” (spanning Bangladesh, India and Nepal) initiated in 2015.1 As the WLE project also focused on interventions, which might reduce poverty and gender gaps in the research location, it was decided to analyse the government-promoted Anandadhara microcredit/self-help group programme in the study. The author would like to thank project director Deepa Joshi for her encouragement and guidance, as also the students of North Bengal University and the University of Amsterdam for their research assistance.

In the conceptualisation of the Water, Land and Ecology (WLE) project, it was assumed that globalisation and climate change have triggered a negative process of “feminisation of agriculture” in the eastern Gangetic plains, mainly because of the outmigration of men, leaving behind the women with restricted access to services, infrastructure, institutions and markets to manage productive (as well as reproductive) responsibilities. Numerous studies have pointed to the feminisation of agriculture in India and Nepal and many other parts of the world, as an effect of globalisation and the migration of men (Kelkar 2006; Ganguly 2003; Gartaula et al 2011; Sugden et al 2014).

However, Henrietta Moore had warned already in 1988 (pp 76–79) that the concept of feminisation of agriculture “is so commonplace in ‘women and development’ literature that it is perhaps worth considering the conceptual limitations which might underlie it.” The findings, detailed below, from the three villages—Khuttimari, Salbari and Uttar Khalpara—in Jalpaiguri district will reveal the validity of her prediction by sketching the crises in female agricultural wage labour leading to de-feminisation. This is in line with the current discussion on statistical findings which show a substantial decline in the female labour force in India, in particular from rural areas belonging to economically poor households (Kannan and Raveendran 2012). The author seeks to contribute to this discourse by sketching in a qualitative way the root causes for the alarming decrease at the village level.

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Updated On : 16th Mar, 2021
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