Responsible Sugarcane Value Chain in Uttar Pradesh: A Case Study

Ombeeri Devi

Ombeeri Devi

Ombeeri Devi is a community group leader. Coming from a humble background, she was married at the tender age of 17. Being young and naïve, she was burdened with the responsibilities of household chores by her in-laws. A typical day would start at 4 a.m and end at around 11 p.m. In spite of this, she saw a ray of hope in her husband’s presence. But soon, this too shattered. Her hope turned to illusion when her husband started beating her while being in an inebriated state. Her situation got further aggravated when her in-laws started torturing her for not conceiving. According to them, it was the “duty” of the daughter-in-law to bear children, especially “sons”.

The predicament continued for a long time until she finally conceived and gave birth to a boy. Even to this day, she wonders what would have happened if she would have given birth to a girl child. It was only after the birth of her son that she started receiving some respect from her in-laws. Over a period of time, things started changing but the menace of her husband’s alcoholism did not go away. Ombeeri Devi’s husband used to work as a residential security guard, which came under the purview of the police department. On account of being a junior ranking employee, her husband was subject to being ordered around, taunted, and abused by his seniors. It was a norm in his office for seniors to vent out their frustration on juniors, who would then eventually take out on their day-long frustration on their wives, similar to the case of Ombeeri Devi.

Years of oppression by the husband and in-laws reached its peak for Ombeeri. She finally mustered the courage and confronted her husband, just as he was about to beat her again. With a determined attitude, she dared her husband to hit her and threatened that she would go straight to the police station and file an F.I.R against him. Her husband was instantly taken aback by this sudden change of attitude and passed off on the bed. The next day, she talked to him and persuaded him to give up alcohol and rectify his violent behaviour. Feeling guilty, her husband vowed to give up liquor once and for all. It was the first victory for Ombeeri Devi, with many more to come.

Ombeeri, like the majority of her fellow villagers, is a small land-holder having only 2-3 Bighas of irrigated land and thus due to this insufficient land has to work on other people’s land on a daily-wage-basis. In a discussion on sugarcane farmers and labourers’ issues, she shared that the gender-based wage gap is widely prevalent in the region. Women get around INR. 200 as wages while men are given INR. 300 per day. Despite receiving unequal wages, workers have to make several rounds to the land-owners to get paid. This usually takes one or two weeks.

Ombeeri Devi shared that apart from the wage gap, women and girls also have to face lewd and sexist remarks while working on or going to the fields, mostly by land-owners, who belong to the so-called “upper caste”. There have also been instances of attempted sexual abuse by land-owners on female labourers working in their field. She shared that due to the lack of livelihood opportunities and poor economic conditions, women workers have to unwillingly work on the fields to earn their living, in spite of these pertinent issues.

Ombeeri Devi stands up for community women and girls whenever they encounter any issue. Talking on the issue of child labour, she said that a few months back she was informed about some children who were employed by the village head to work under MNREGA. The village head used to employ children as labourers and pay them only half of the designated amount under the scheme i.e. INR. 80-90. He would himself pocket the remaining amount. She took a strong note of this and confronted the village head. The confrontation scared him, resulting in non-employment of children by him again, for any work. She shared that she still remains watchful of any such illegitimate activity. She is truly a leader. Her leadership skills, supportive nature, and determined mindset make her what she is today: a courageous woman, a role model for others who encourages them to stand up for their rights and voice their opinions against any sort of harassment.

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