Before Marriage she used to visit field along with his father out of curiosity, for fun but will help him once in a while, she did not know that this skill will help her later on in life to ‘survive’. She got married when she was 17.
Meena Devi is 52 years old now and lives in Dangri Billia Village of Bariyarpur, Munger in the state of Bihar with her husband, a son and daughter-in-law. Due to social obligations and traditional norms* she was not allowed to step out of home and work to support the family living for around an year of marriage. Her husband, who was a domestic worker in the nearby town, was not earning enough to support the basic needs of the household and with the passing time their economic condition further deteriorated when Meena ben decided to work and earn to contribute in the family income.
She started working as an agricultural labor when she was 18. Her husband bought a rickshaw on loan from a middleman after she also started contributing in the livelihood. He would go to the field during ‘katai’ only when they get ‘anaaj’ (cereals) as wages. While she would go for both ‘katai’ as well as ‘ropai’ so that she can earn some money as well. In her own words- ‘Noon, tail khareedne ke liye paisa bhi jaroori hai, katai se jo anaaj milta hai usse khana toh pura hota nahi, bacha ko padhana toh door ki baat hai’ .
The hardship continued until the recent past when she became a member of SEWA Cooperative two years back and took a loan of Rs 30,000 to take a piece of land on lease (adhiya). By this time, Meena ben had survived more than half of her life, she was 50 when she could afford to take a piece of agricultural land on lease. She also took two small loans of Rs 5000 each from the SHG to purchase seeds, fertilizers and pay wages to the labourers. Now she is a share cropper and earns Rs 50,000 in each season by selling Corn produced in the land she took on lease. The corn seeds are sown twice an year and thus she earns Rs 1 lakh an year. All the hard work required in the field is taken care by Meena ben only starting from sowing (Bhoka in local language), Crop cutting (Katai), field prepration, hiring labor on the farm, cooking food and tea for these labourers and then keeping the crop in the storehouses. The agricultural field is across the Ganga river so she has to walk a few kilometres first and then rent a boat everyday to reach the field. Her husband comes only to pay wages to the hired labourers and selling the produce in the market. Her son either works locally or goes to Delhi and work as a construction workers but his earning is not fixed so mostly he remains unemployed. When I enquired about the how they utilize this income earned from the agriculture produce, she said-
‘wo pati aur beta he kharch karte hai, hum chahte the es baar thoda paisa jama karna per pati ne nahi diya, hum apni marzi se kuch nahi kar sakte, beta bhi unhi se sehmat rehta hai aur hamari raai koi nahi sunta’ (household income and other resources are handled by my husband and son, I have no say in the household decisions. I wanted to save some money this time but my husband did not allow me , even my son is against it when it comes to my opinion in the economic decisions)
However she expressed her happiness over the recent change in her life after she became a share holder in SEWA cooperative and SHG. She says the hard work and time she invested in other’s field when she was just a labourer and now when she is a share cropper is almost same but now she is able to earn a respectful amount and her family is stable and they do not have to struggle just to survive anymore. As sometime the annual earning is more than Rs One lakh which she could have never imagined earlier.