Grass and Leaf Graduation

The 16 village representatives with their grass coats and leaf hats

The 16 village representatives with their grass coats and leaf hats

The women farmers giggled as they were given an award by way of honour on March 8, 2014. The semi-formal ceremony was underway at the North East Network’s resource centre in Chizami, Phek district of Nagaland. The women farmers were being recognized for practicing ecological agriculture (biodiverse farming) and their significant contribution to conservation of genetic biodiversity, ensuring food and nutritional securities in their homes and communities, on the occasion of International Women’s Day 2014, and the International year of Family Farming. The women who came up with the idea to honour the farmers thought they would weave leaf hats that would protect the farmers’ heads from the harsh sun while working in the fields. This along with grass coats—all made by local craftspersons—would double up as a rain and sun shield, and make excellent honorary gestures to be given to the women farmers by the chief guest for the day.

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leaf hats ended up, inadvertently, looking like graduation hats made of leaf. The grass coats tied up at the neck and flowing on the back made the whole ceremony look like a graduation ceremony for the farmers. No one had anticipated this, and everyone went into giggles as the women farmers posed for what looked like the graduation ceremony of a Farmland University. Thereafter, everyone at the event wanted a “graduation picture” taken individually and in groups.

These are women from remote villages like Noklak (Tuensang), Fakim (Kiphire) or Laitsohpliah (East Khasi Hills, Meghalaya), among many others, who have never had the opportunity to complete their schooling, leave alone graduating from a university. Yet it is women like these who have kept nutritious and organic food on our table in this part of the world. Food is not just a basic requirement of physical life, but it defines culture, has religious significance and defines politics. While women all over the world have remained central to the production of food, they have also found themselves most sidelined and marginalized in religion as well as politics. In day to day life, apart from their obvious motherhood, they are recognized for holding little other systems of knowledge, often brushed aside for being ignorant. Many an agriculture scientist, especially among women of the North East region of India, has been lost due to this incompetent attitude of the society towards them.
With a little help from the government, to start with, this can change. Policies that recognize the equitable contribution of women on the farm land, homestead land and forest land, take the consent of women for land use, provide equal remuneration for all women farmers, agriculture labourers and workers and other such could not only empower women to deal with their position of vulnerability but make this constituency an important partner in the essential changes required in societies, especially those that are wholly marginalized. In today’s scenario of rapid marginalization and homogenization of communities, it is not just a desire but a need to recognize that women not only hold knowledge systems that could bring transformative change, but that they have the will power and diligence to execute these systems without patriarchal violence.

(The story appeared in The Morung Express. To read visit: http://www.morungexpress.com/editorial/112366.html)

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