"Women have always been suppressed but I am not among those who can be suppressed," said Ramesh Antil, one among a group of 200 women farmers who participated in a protest against the three farm laws at Delhi's Jantar Mantar on Monday and ran an all-women "Kisan Sansad".
"We will go only after the black laws are dismissed or you have to kill us here with your lathis and bullets," said the 40-year-old, who lost her husband Satish Kumar just five months ago during the same farmers protest.
Ms Antil who is from Sonepat in Haryana had been protesting along with her husband at the Singhu border in Delhi ever since the agitation started in November last year. Even after the death of her husband in February due to a cardiac arrest, she carried on with the protest. Back home in Sonepat, she has four children who sometimes visit the protest site.
"God is with me and that is how I carry on. My husband died. Even if I lose all my four children, I will not back out. I will go only after these bills are dismissed. The PM recently had seven women ministers inducted in his Cabinet, I now urge those women to come to this stage at Jantar Mantar and see our sisters who can not only run the kitchen but also run the Parliament," she told NDTV.
In order to pay their respects to Antil's husband and manym others who lost their lives during the eight months of protests, the farmers today observed two minutes of silence during the Kisan Sansad.
CPIM leader Subhashini Ali moderated the sansad and women from different areas of Punjab and Haryana came to the stage turn by turn to keep their views but there was also an unexpected orator: a four-year-old
Kaptaan Singh, who took the stage in a white kurta-pyjama and green turban, addressed the farmers in Punjabi and said, "All laws are made only to inflict the worse upon the poor. These laws will lead to more privatisation and will benefit the rich." He then followed it up with a song on farmers' issues.
His mother, 31-year-old Manjit Kaur, from Mahalkalan in Punjab where her family owns two acres of land , said this was her second visit to the Delhi protest site. "This is a fight about our children. Our time is gone but they should know what is going on. They need to see and participate," she said.
On being asked about who taught her son his speech, she said, "We also have dharnas on the farm laws in our village. He has been attending it for a month and has learned it there. He follows what he hears." Despite the difficulties that farmers are facing, she wishes that her son takes up farming. She said, "Children these days go into government jobs a lot but I feel I want him to become a farmer."
In India, while 85 per cent of rural women are engaged in agriculture, only about 13 per cent own land. At the ongoing agitation 15-20 per cent of protesters are women. But they are still missing from leadership roles. None of the nine core committee members of Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the group spearheading the movement, are women. Women representatives have also not been part of the key negotiation rounds between the government and farmers.
The Kisan Sansad also had its own Agricultural Minister. The role was played by 67-year-old Surinder Jaipal. She holds a PhD in Punjabi literature and is a Retired Professor from Ludhiana. She comes from a family of farmers and keeps visiting the Singhu border frequently.
The Kisan Sansad also saw celebrity faces like actor and activist Gul Panag who came to extend support to the farmers. While addressing the farmers from the stage she said, "Many in the media ask me that now that the government is ready to modify the laws a bit, then why are farmers not relenting? My answer is that because these bills were formulated in the first place without any consultation, and they need to be fully dismissed and that is the only way."
Farmers have been protesting at different border points in the national capital since November last year against the three newly-enacted farm laws.