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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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.