Featured Storyteller

INDIA: Fighting for a Future in a ‘Graveyard for Farmers’ ​​​​​​​

Minakshib
Posted January 25, 2019 from India

In a region devastated by drought and insecurity, Minakshi Birajdar helps widows who have lost everything rebuild their lives.

“Just as new grass grows and new flowers bloom even on a burial ground, I dream of building a new world.

If I tell you I am from Soegaon, Aurangabad, you will probably ask, “Where?” But if I tell you I live near the UNESCO World Heritage Sites Ajanta and Ellora Caves in India, you may respond with recognition. Your knowledge helps you pin my location, my origin.

Knowledge is confidence. But for millions of women in my country, knowledge remains beyond reach. The first right to information—whether about education, career, livelihood, medical care, law, or policy—always goes to the men. This is not decided by law. It is not decided by any religion or holy book. But it is how it is.

The man of the house opens the newspaper first, reads it first, gets the news and information on the world first. The woman? She is busy doing household work. It’s only when the man has left for work, and she has finished her hundreds of duties around the house, that she will have a minute to pick up the paper and look at it, provided the man has not taken it with him to the office. 

It is like this where I live. Women’s lack of access to knowledge makes life especially challenging for widows who have lost their husbands to the farming crisis in my community.

People have called my region, Marathwada, a “graveyard for farmers.” In my community, every man and woman has seen a cycle of drought, loss of crops, debt, and depression. The suicides of men after losing their crops have now become a part of life. To give you an idea, in 2017, more than 800 farmers died by suicide in Marathwada.

Imagine this: a woman's husband has died. There is no food at home. There will be no food coming from the field since drought destroyed it. And in addition to everything, she has no knowledge of where she can go to look for help.

Now, ask the woman left behind how much money her husband earned. What size loan did he take? How much does it cost to buy seeds? What is the ideal price of grains and fertilizer? Ask any question and the only answer you will hear is, “I do not know. Only my husband knew.”

She has no knowledge of what alternatives she has to get a livelihood and survive. Extreme loneliness, extreme helplessness, and extreme poverty all combine together. If this is not insecurity, what is?

It is this insecurity that I am fighting today. I am trying to free all our women—especially the single women whose husbands died by suicide—by helping them find information and knowledge.  

The government has policies to help farmers who are affected by drought and who have lost their crops. There are also policies for families of the farmers who have died in this situation. For example, only this year, the government launched four programs which include free, job-based skills training and a program for doing group farming.

What is missing is a plan to take this information to the widows and explain to them how to access these opportunities when they need them the most.

I have taken this on as my job for the past 18 years. As the president of the Integrated Agricultural Rural Development Organization, an organization dedicated to the welfare of women from rural communities, I organize meetings in villages with women and inform them of different opportunities that are available to them. I help them write their applications and I follow up with the government officials to move these applications along until the funds are released for these women to start a new life.

This may sound simple, but even convincing women to come to a meeting can be a big challenge. They are mourning, depressed, lonely, and frustrated with the whole world. Coming to sit and listen to someone speak is often the last thing they want to do, especially since I am not directly giving away money or aid.

So, I have to try again and again and again. But I think this is how the road to empowerment is—it is not easy; it is hard, complicated and sometimes it is frustrating. I tell myself, I started with a mission to empower those who are not empowered. It is a mission to save lives from a cycle of insecurity. It is not a mission where I can just stop. No, I have to give it all I have. I have to try till I succeed because security for a woman never comes without a good fight.

So my fight is on. I have a long way to go. Droughts and suicides are not showing any signs of ending. There is a thick darkness of insecurity. But just as new grass grows and new flowers bloom even on a burial ground, I dream of building a new world, even in this region. I dream of women who have the knowledge and the power of information to re-write their destiny and create a secure future for themselves and their loved ones.


STORY AWARDS

This story was published as part of the Future of Security Is Women digital event and is sponsored by our partner Our Secure Future. World Pulse runs Story Awards year round—share your story with us, and you could be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more.

 

Comments 18

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Sis. Salifu
Jan 25
Jan 25

Congratulation on your featured story! Cheers :-)

Minakshib
Jan 30
Jan 30

Thank u

Dawn Arteaga
Jan 25
Jan 25

Beautiful story, Minakshib! The fight is on! And we are with you.

Minakshib
Jan 30
Jan 30

Thank you mam for support

Tamarack Verrall
Jan 25
Jan 25

Dear Minashib,
Only tiny bits of news of farmers in India reaches the international news and none of that news has been about what women in drought areas have been facing. Your news, and especially your work is so important. That you are challenging this assumption that women not be offered education, and that women must do all of the unpaid work, is such great news. I so agree that this assumption wherever it is happening, must be ended. You lay it out so well that there is no reason for it apart from forcing women to continue to live without basic rights. I love seeing the photo with you pouring information and support on so many. Working against the extremes of climate change, and against an economy that does not benefit women must be a global effort. Your story is a strong reminder.
In sisterhood,
Tam

Minakshib
Jan 30
Jan 30

Right mam, thank u mam

jlanghus
Jan 26
Jan 26

Hi Minakshi,

Congrats on winning the story award! Looking forward to hearing more about your organization and mission.

Minakshib
Jan 30
Jan 30

Offcourse mam I will contact u

jlanghus
Jan 31
Jan 31

Great! Hope you're having a great day!

Anita Kiddu Muhanguzi

Dear Minakshib,
Congs on your featured story. This is a wonderful story. I can understand your kund of work because i am also working with rural farmers especially women and its not easy at all. Thank you for your determination and persistance. With this right atittude you will change the world one day at a time.
Stay blessed

Minakshib
Jan 30
Jan 30

Keep it on mam and thank u. I hope so

Dodell
Jan 28
Jan 28

Their strength and yours will be immovable, beyond threat when they go through this. You are providing not just security through information but connection in loneliness- they are not alone.

Congratulations, Sister Minakshib! Tragic that suicide rate is that high. It is hard when it our enemy is nature, we cannot control it. Thank you for sharing this story and for the honorable work you are doing.

Evelyn Fonkem
Feb 16
Feb 16

Beautiful piece sister

gslevin
Mar 07
Mar 07

Hi Minakshib! Thanks for sharing your story and for doing this important work to lift up the women in your community and help them find long-term financial security.

Kathy Dixon Crowley
Mar 08
Mar 08

Great story. Congratulations on being featured! So proud of you, and excited for your story to be heard.

Kirthi
Mar 20
Mar 20

Thank you for all that you do, Minakshi di!

Febeosemeke
Apr 18
Apr 18

Well done ma