Women, Land and Ideology in India

  • Bina Agarwal


Women in north-west India, married patrilocally among strangers and separated by considerable physical distances from their natal villages, use the medium of folk songs to decry their estrangement from the green pastures of their childhood homes to which their brothers, who customarily inherit the ancestral land, have automatic access. In rural Maharashtra, women divorced or deserted by their husbands can be found working as agricultural labourers on the farms of their brothers who are substantial land-owners (Omvedt, 1981); and in Rajasthan there are similar cases of widows, deprived of their rightful shares by brothers and brothers-in-law, seeking wage work for survival (personal observation). Women of landless labour households in the Bodhgaya district of Bihar, while actively participating with their husbands in the struggle for ownership rights to the land they have sown for years, observe: ‘If these men who are today landless beat up their wives so badly, merely using the power exercised from being men, then tomorrow when they get the land will they not become relatively even more powerful? We are part of the struggle so we should also get land’ (Manimala, 1983: 8). And in the hills of Uttar Pradesh women have taken direct charge of protecting and restoring the forests which are the basis of their lives and livelihood, successfully resisting environmental destruction in the name of development schemes, often against the wishes of the village men (including their husbands): ‘Do not axe these oaks and pines — nurture them, protect them. From these trees the streams get their water and the fields their green.’


Tribal Community National Sample Survey Land Access Natal Village Folk Song 
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© Haleh Afshar and Bina Agarwal 1989

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  • Bina Agarwal

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