Seeds of change
They are no longer just known as wives or daughters of farmers. They no longer restrict themselves to small jobs on the field. Today, more and more women in Punjab are boldly running farm operations to reap rich returns, reports
Sanjeev Singh Bariana
Agriculturists Amarjeet Kaur and her husband were felicitated by the CM, Parkash Singh Badal, last year.
long, women have
been the ‘unseen partners’ in agriculture in Punjab. Their
role has been confined to that of daughters or farmwives.
However, with changing times, women are stepping out of
stereotypical roles and openly taking charge of farmlands in the
state. In the state which
ushered in the Green Revolution during the 1960s, women are now
managing farms, deciding cropping patterns, exploring marketing
avenues and setting new and innovative trends in the business of
The increasing list of awards bagged by women is
a pointer to the changing agricultural scenario in the state. A random survey by
the Tribune team in different parts of Punjab revealed how more
and more women are coming forward to handle farm-related
agricultural activity. Sangeeta Deol, who has received the best
agriculturist award, says: "The increasing number of women
in this field is the result of the changing socio-economic
scenario. Men need the help of their spouses in the fields
because of increased work pressures and shortage of trained
manpower. Due to decreasing land holdings, men are allowing
their wives to take care of the agricultural land, while they
look for alternate job avenues."
holdings have led to higher investments on growing crops with
state-of-the-art technology and superior fertilisers and
insecticides. There is acute shortage of trained manpower and a
number of women have effectively filled the vacancy of managers,
asserts Mohinder Singh, another progressive farmer and a state
Among the women
who have earned a name and reputation as an enterprising
agriculturist is Sangeeta Deol from Dhanal village in Jalandhar
district. In her fifties, this state awardee is one of the
pioneers in the bee-keeping industry in the state. The polio-
stricken lady did not just overcome her physical disability but
also set aside societal pressures that discourage women from
heading agricultural work. Today, Sangeeta is the chairperson of
the governing body of the Agriculture Technology Management
Agency (ATMA) and president of the Bee Keepers Association,
The story of this
former vice-chairperson of the Kisan Club of Punjab Agricultural
University (PAU) reads like that of a heroine who faced numerous
hardships before coming up trumps. Sangeeta says she did her
graduation as a private student because "students used to
tease me and call me a lame duck". In 1972, without any
background training, she took up poultry farming. She sold her
gold bangles to raise the money. "More than three years
after I began the poultry business, one day sepoys from
Jalandhar Cantonment bought my birds. Since they had not made
the payment, I went to collect the money a couple of days later.
There I saw the innocent birds being butchered. That was the day
I quit poultry farming," she says.
husband had quit the Army and was working as an automobile
mechanic, while she tried her hand at farming. She even rode a
tractor for many years.
She did a course
in mushroom farming at PAU. "During the early 1980s, there
was very little public awareness about mushrooms as a food item.
I took the 8.45 pm train to Delhi every day and reached the
market at 5 am the following day. I finished my work as soon as
possible and caught a train back. Back home, I had to take care
of my children, cook food and prepare for the next day’s
market. I did this for three months a year for four-odd years
till there was greater awareness about the taste and benefits of
mushrooms in Punjab."
In 1984, Sangeeta
took up bee-keeping as a commercial venture. I started with 10
boxes and by 1990 I had 3,500 boxes. The work for honey
production has decreased now because of falling quality of
pollen extracted from the flora," she said.
This member of the
Punjab Bee Keepers Board is among the country’s first entrants
in honey production. Buyers are always at her farm or placing
orders on the telephone. She was honoured by the Punjab
Government as a leading farmer in 1988 and by the Bee Keepers
Federation in 1999.
Sangeeta says the
government needs to give more concessions to women attempting
innovations in agriculture. "Bee-keeping and mushroom
cultivation should be treated as part of agriculture by the
government in its policies and necessary changes need to be made
in securing loans. Employment is one of the biggest problems
faced by the youth of the state. Training courses in vocational
subjects should be organised at the block level. Not only I but
a number of other women in the state have secured a good future
for their families with innovative farming practices. The
government needs to do more to make people aware about the
avenues available, particularly those related to organic
Sangeeta invites more than a dozen enthusiasts from different
parts of the state for lessons in innovative farming.
"Marketing is never a problem. Give people quality and
buyers will reach your doorstep," she declares.
Gurdev Kaur readies her speciality (saag) for sale in PAU, Ludhiana.
— Photo by Sayeed Ahmed
Gurdev Kaur comes
to PAU on Wednesdays and Fridays every week. She gets along the
flavour of the season — sarson ka saag. The food item can be
purchased, both in cooked or raw form. She is usually out of her
stock by afternoon.
Things changed for
Gurdev when she visited PAU in 1995 and became a member of the
She is currently
based in Alyali Khurd village near Ludhiana, where she has a
plot which is just little over an acre. She also has a
dairy farm with as many as three dozen milch cattle.
was a government official so he could not take up any private
business. I attended PAU classes and got interested in honey
production. A life is a beautiful gift from the Almighty and I
thought I should try to give it some purpose. I started locally
and now our team carries boxes to as far as Rajasthan to get our
honey yield during the flowering season. I have a few relatives
in Rajasthan who helped me expand my network."
Gurdev Kaur has
formed a women’s cooperative and is also engaged in pickles
and jaggery products. "Marketing has never been a problem
because in food items there is no greater publicity than word of
Gurmit Kaur has been plying the tractor for the past 20 years in Mana Talwandi, Jalandhar.
Many an eyebrow is
raised at Gurmit Kaur, in her sixties, riding a tractor in Mana
Talwandi village of Jalandhar district. As she takes on the
tough machine and rambles on uneven terrains, she challenges
mindsets that associate rough work on the field only with men.
Known as thaanedaarni, Gurmit Kaur is a familiar face manning a
tractor on the streets and fields of the village from the past
more than 20 years.
started one fine morning, more than 20 years ago, when my nephew
came to our house and suggested that we ply a tractor on our 15
acre farmland for better yield. My husband was a little
sceptical about manning "the ghost of a machine" as he
called it. He did drive for a couple of weeks but was scared of
then suggested that we give it out on rent. I however didn’t
want to waste either our machine or money on employing anyone
else. After a few days, my nephew took me for driving lessons.
By the evening, I drove home the tractor myself. That was just
the beginning because after that I even started accepting
requests from other farms who wanted my services to plough their
beginning, I would see villagers looking at me curiously
whenever I drove on the village roads. I was however always
clear in my mind what I wanted to do and never bothered about
any comments. Soon, the odd glances of villagers turned into
This mother of
three daughters (all married abroad) is a member of the village
panchayat and the mahila mandal. She also works for the Verka
Milk Society. "The government should take up examples of
success stories to the common man. I am not the only woman in
the state managing fields on a tractor. The achievers need to be
made known among the general public through different media,
including newspapers and television. Except for odd visits by
students of PAU, I have not received any government
"I have gone
abroad on several occasions but my workplace and desire to
command the machine that nurtures the plants for country’s
food always pulls me back. I have also started a dairy project
with dozen cows. I am supported by my son and my husband and we
try not to engage the services of any outsider. It is only a
matter of taking the first step to reach any destination,"
Mohinder Kaur of Jagatpur (Nawanshahr) with her mushroom produce.
Winning awards in
agriculture-related activities has become a routine for the
70-year-old Mohinder Kaur Dosanjh, who returns with them from
different kisan melas every year. Bound to the fragrance of the
land, Mohinder Kaur took to active work on fields at her farm in
Jagatpur village in Nawanshahr district soon after her wedding.
"The unconditional support by Sardarji (husband) in all my
activities has been the biggest guiding force in my life."
Her husband Mohinder Singh is a progressive farmer and an
It all began in
1965 when she went to attend her first class at PAU. "I
came back and formed the Istri Sabha involving a number of
women. During numerous interactions, we explored different
avenues to keep ourselves busy and make an earning. Making
pickles and murabbas was the first exercise which bore fruitful
says: "I learnt about rice beans from PAU, a few years ago.
The produce did not find any big buyers in Punjab. We then
discovered that the yield had a big market in Himachal Pradesh.
Many other similar innovations were tried — one of them being
confesses, "Interestingly, we never had to struggle for a
market for our produce. Our mushrooms, pickles, haldi and
certain other items have direct buyers, thanks to the publicity
by word of mouth by our network of friends. My workers even go
around villages with our vegetables. The buyers get their
purchase at a price lower than the market rates. This way, we
also get a better price."
Mohinder Kaur also
takes up social issues. She has been part of campaigns against
female foeticide, drug addiction and alcoholism. "My family
had everything that was sufficient for a normal life. Social
issues like dowry, female foeticide and drug addiction had
always troubled me. We formed small groups where small
discussions and public opinion gave me greater strength for
The lady with a
firm resolve adds, "I may not be able to usher in a
revolution, but if my endeavour at social reforming can change
even one person, it would be worth the entire exercise. A number
of success stories over the past several years goad me to get
closer to those in need of help."
Last year when the
name of Karnail Singh, a leading cotton grower from Alliana
village in Fazilka district, was announced at a state-level
prize distribution function for leading farmers, he requested
that his wife too be called on stage to share the award. His
request was accepted and Amarjeet Kaur came on stage to take the
prize from Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal.
with the production, Amarjeet specialises in the selection and
storage of seeds. She belonged to a farming family before she
got married. After a few days of her marriage, she expressed her
desire to work in the fields.
participated in planning the cultivation and marketability of
the crop. She has formed help groups for women in the area and
is also associated with the PAU centre coming up in the village.
"Determination, dedication and prayers best help a human
being," she declares.