‘I Cannot Be Intimidated. I Cannot Be Bought.’ The Women Leading India’s Farmers’ Protests

‘I Cannot Be Intimidated. I Cannot Be Bought.’ The Women Leading India’s Farmers’ Protests

Amandeep Kaur, 41, from Talwandi, Punjab, is employed as a community health worker and as a farmer to support her two daughters. Her husband died by suicide five years ago; because she did not know her rights, she didn’t receive government compensation given to families of farmers who die by suicide. The new laws, she says, “will kill us, will destroy what little we have.”

Amandeep Kaur, 41, from Talwandi, Punjab, is employed as a community health worker and as a farmer to support her two daughters. Her husband died by suicide five years ago; because she did not know her rights, she didn’t receive government compensation given to families of farmers who die by suicide. The new laws, she says, “will kill us, will destroy what little we have.” Kanishka Sonthalia for TIME

The message to women was clear: Go back home. Since November, hundreds of thousands of farmers had gathered at different sites on the outskirts of the Indian capital to demand the repeal of three agricultural laws that they say would destroy their livelihoods. In January, as the New Delhi winter set in, the Chief Justice of India asked lawyers to persuade elderly people and women to leave the protests. In response, women farmers—mostly from the rural states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh—scrambled onto stages, took hold of microphones and roared back a unanimous “No!”

“Something snapped within us when we heard the government tell the women to go back home,” says Jasbir Kaur, a sprightly 74-year-old farmer from Rampur in western Uttar Pradesh. It’s late February and Kaur has been camping at the Ghazipur protest site for over three months, only returning home once. She was stung by the court’s suggestion that women were mere care workers providing cooking and cleaning services at these sites—though she does do some of that work—rather than equal stakeholders. “Why should we go back? This is not just the men’s protest. We toil in the fields alongside the men. Who are we—if not farmers?”

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