Women and work

How a Dalit woman found success as a farmer, years after her debt-ridden husband took his life

Pushpa is the only Dalit widow in Warangal consistently making profits from organic farming.

Warangal in Telangana has borne a morbid and consistent association with crop loss, drought, debt traps and farmer suicides. Each suicide sends households into a downward spiral of further destitution, as families struggle to survive with meagre compensation for the loss of the only working member in a household. It took Pushpa, a Dalit widow in Damera village, ten years to break the pattern.

Pushpa lost her husband when she was 22. Bikshapati, a debt-ridden cotton farmer, ended his life with a bottle of pesticide 28 years ago – until then, Pushpa’s world had consisted of her home and farm. She cooked food for her husband and son, Sumanth, assisting Bikshapati in the farm when needed.

Unable to live alone after his death, she moved back to her mother’s home, leaving Bikshapati, and her farm barren. Pushpa’s old mother would go to the market every day and buy vegetables, which they sold in the neighbourhood market to earn a a living. Years passed, but Pushpa never considered returning to the farm because she could not afford to buy seeds and other agricultural tools. Credit for Dalit farmers was next to impossible, and they had no valuable assets to mortgage. Private creditors denied Pushpa money, and like the majority of her neighbours, who were also marginal cotton farmers with no proper documents for their land, the government did not want to give them loans either.

In 2004, an NGO in Warangal called the Sarvodaya Youth Organisation started to work with debt-ridden cotton farmers, with the objective of promoting organic farming. When they approached Pushpa to help her financial situation, she gave them no positive response. Fortunately, they didn’t give up. It took time to convince Pushpa – the organisation offered her organic cotton seeds, natural fertiliser and pesticide in the guarantee of harvest. They insisted that she keep away from BT seeds, chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

“My mother was very old, she couldn’t keep helping me to earn a living,” Pushpa said, when asked what finally changed her mind. “Besides, Sumanth had completed his schooling.”

Finally, she accepted their support. They gave her vermi-compost, neem powder and Brahma cotton seeds which are drought proof. Pushpa moved back to her home and began to work on the farm, ploughing, seeding, watering and weeding the land. Her mother and young son helped as much as they could. Other farmers didn’t think much of her organic experiment – she was frequently chided for trying to cultivate with cow dung, urine and neem, but Pushpa persisted because she had nothing to lose.

“They always laughed at my mother,” Sumanth said. “Her husband could not survive despite chemical farming, yet she experiments with all this, they would say.”

Despite the fact that it was a drought year, Pushpa harvested 1,800 kilos of organic cotton from one acre of land. Some 100 kilos of lentils, maize, vegetables and castor as inter crops proved to be the bonus for her hard work. As the barter system still prevails in Warangal, Pushpa managed to get sugar for her caster. One of the most fascinating things Pushpa discovered, was that organic farming was less expensive than chemical farming. Like many other farmers who had left chemical farming for good, Pushpa found that her own health improved – headaches and fatigue had been a regular part of farm life in the past, when she helped her husband with chemical fertilisers and pesticides. She settled her debt with the NGO, and in the following year, she bought a cow.

Pushpa is the only Dalit widow in Warangal consistently making profits. Since her husband’s death, she has entered the banking system, has repaid all his debts and even hired seasonal labourers for assistance on the farm. Her son, who married this year, has just found a job. Pushpa has built herself a small house.

Organic vegetable cultivation. Credit: Hajhouse/Wikimedia Commons.
Organic vegetable cultivation. Credit: Hajhouse/Wikimedia Commons.
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Young Indians now like their traditional food with a twist

Indian food with international influences is here to stay.

With twenty-nine states and over 50 ethnic groups, India’s diversity is mind-boggling to most foreigners. This diversity manifests itself across areas from clothing to art and especially to food. With globalisation, growth of international travel and availability of international ingredients, the culinary diversity of India has become progressively richer.

New trends in food are continuously introduced to the Indian palate and are mainly driven by the demands of generation Y. Take the example of schezwan idlis and dosas. These traditional South Indian snacks have been completely transformed by simply adding schezwan sauce to them – creating a dish that is distinctly Indian, but with an international twist. We also have the traditional thepla transformed into thepla tacos – combining the culinary flavours of India and Mexico! And cous cous and quinoa upma – where niche global ingredients are being used to recreate a beloved local dish. Millennials want a true fusion of foreign flavours and ingredients with Indian dishes to create something both Indian and international.

So, what is driving these changes? Is it just the growing need for versatility in the culinary experiences of millennials? Or is it greater exposure to varied cultures and their food habits? It’s a mix of both. Research points to the rising trend to seek out new cuisines that are not only healthy, but are also different and inspired by international flavours.

The global food trend of ‘deconstruction’ where a food item is broken down into its component flavours and then reconstructed using completely different ingredients is also catching on for Indian food. Restaurants like Masala Library (Mumbai), Farzi Café (Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru) and Pink Poppadum (Bengaluru) are pushing the boundaries of what traditional Indian food means. Things like a kulcha pizza, dal chaawal cutlet and chutney foam are no longer inconceivable. Food outlets that stock exotic ingredients and brands that sell traditional Indian packaged snacks in entirely new flavours are also becoming more common across cities.

When it comes to the flavours themselves, some have been embraced more than others. Schezwan sauce, as we’ve mentioned, is now so popular that it is sometimes even served with traditional chakna at Indian bars. Our fascination with the spicy red sauce is however slowly being challenged by other flavours. Wasabi introduced to Indian foodies in Japanese restaurants has become a hit among spice loving Indians with its unique kick. Peri Peri, known both for its heat and tanginess, on the other hand was popularised by the famous UK chain Nandos. And finally, there is the barbeque flavour – the condiment has been a big part of India’s love for American fast food.

Another Indian snack that has been infused with international flavours is the beloved aloo bhujia. While the traditional gram-flour bhujia was first produced in 1877 in the princely state of Bikaner in Rajasthan, aloo bhujia came into existence once manufacturers started experimenting with different flavours. Future Consumer Limited’s leading food brand Tasty Treat continues to experiment with the standard aloo bhujia to cater to the evolving consumer tastes. Keeping the popularity of international flavours in mind, Tasty Treat’s has come up with a range of Firangi Bhujia, an infusion of traditional aloo bhujia with four of the most craved international flavours – Wasabi, Peri Peri, Barbeque and Schezwan.

Tasty Treat’s range of Firangi Bhujia has increased the versatility of the traditional aloo bhujia. Many foodies are already trying out different ways to use it as a condiment to give their favourite dish an extra kick. Archana’s Kitchen recommends pairing the schezwan flavoured Firangi Bhujia with manchow soup to add some crunch. Kalyan Karmakar sprinkled the peri peri flavoured Firangi Bhujia over freshly made poha to give a unique taste to a regular breakfast item. Many others have picked a favourite amongst the four flavours, some admiring the smoky flavour of barbeque Firangi Bhujia and some enjoying the fiery taste of the peri peri flavour.

Be it the kick of wasabi in the crunch of bhujia, a bhujia sandwich with peri peri zing, maska pav spiced with schezwan bhujia or barbeque bhujia with a refreshing cold beverage - the new range of Firangi Bhujia manages to balance the novelty of exotic flavours with the familiarity of tradition. To try out Tasty Treat’s Firangi Bhujia, find a store near you.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Tasty Treat and not by the Scroll editorial team.