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.
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

Play

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.