Chandigarh: Punjab is known as the granary of India, as it feeds almost every part of India. However, the lush green fields that provide sustenance to a substantial population of the country hide tales of exploitation, sexual and otherwise, discussed only behind closed doors in hushed voices.
92% of the rural women labourers in Punjab are Dalits and are often forced to work under exploitative conditions, according to researchers from Punjabi University in Patiala.
One of the labours who does not even know her true age, told about the ordeal she faced. 14-year-old as per her mother, digs up potatoes and fill them in sacks and at the end of seven days she gets Rs 1000 for the work.
According to Professor Gian Singh, an expert on rural and agriculture economics, who conducted a study and collected primary data from 1,017 households across 12 districts of Punjab. Their study, released in April 2019, found that 70% of the women labourers admitted to facing sexual exploitation at some point in their lives but had kept quiet about it.
Compounding the situation for the women is their social and financial condition. Almost all of them in debt, most are too scared to raise their voice against the cruelty as they fear losing precious days of wages, even if the money is often below what can be considered minimum.
Rajbir Kaur from Khunde Halal village in Muktsar district said, “We have to face various types of exploitation and often even sexual advances. If we speak up, who will hire us?”
Another dalit labour Baldev Kaur, said, “Even when I work along with my husband for a few months, we are unable to clear the debt.”
Gian Singh also said that the loans taken by the labours are generally not a big amount, however, it is the steep interest rates which make it difficult for borrowers to repay. He said that 93.71% of women labourers who were part of the study were revolving under debt and the average amount was Rs 53,916 per household. A little over 81% of the loans had been taken from non-institutional (local) lenders.
The study by Punjabi University also found that 96% of the women respondents had cast their votes in the 2017 Punjab legislative assembly elections, but 89.3% of them did not know who the chief minister of Punjab was, 93% had no clue who the Prime Minister of the country was and 99% could not name the President of India.