Meenu Kanwal-Ghag: Remembering My Grandmother As Women’s History Month Ends And The Farmers' Protest Continues

This month I lost my grandmother at the age of 93. As I look at the pictures of the strong women at the protest sites, it reminds me of her strength

Meenu Kanwal-Ghag
March 30, 2021 | 4 min. read

As March comes to an end, I reflect back on what was Women’s History Month or, what I like to call, HER-story month. 

To date, news articles and social media have mostly portrayed men on the front lines of the Farmers’ Protest. However, earlier this month, Time Magazine featured the brave women involved in what would become a viral cover page. Women are and play an important part in this protest and are at the forefront of this fight. 

For centuries women have been the backbone of farming, despite many being denied the right to own land. They endured long hours to ensure successful harvests, sometimes by working alongside the men in fields or by taking care of the home while the men worked. They deserve recognition.

I remember living with my grandparents in a small village in Punjab, India. During that time, I witnessed my grandmother being the main person in charge of the farming business.   Farming did not bring in as much income as we expected so my grandfather would drive long-haul trucks for a living. That left my grandmother in charge of both the home and the farm; My uncle was the main worker in the fields with my grandmother and aunt stepping in to help. He would be up at the crack of dawn and the women would rise with him to prepare food before the workday. My grandmother brought him meals, checked upon him, and even lent a hand when necessary—all while maintaining the household.

My grandmother was also in charge of ensuring that the crops were sold at adequate prices. I watched her negotiate in agricultural wholesale markets, also known as Mandis.   She had the power and voice to ensure that every transaction was fair. She would go with my uncle to teach him the negotiation skills that she acquired and learned over time. She wanted to make sure that he learned not only the art of producing but also the art of selling. 

Living in a patriarchal society did not allow her to own land, but she worked the land like it was her own.  She fought to make sure her husband, or my grandfather, was entitled to his fair share of land from relatives in order to ensure that her own family can live a comfortable life.   She knew this fight would never give her or her daughters land ownership, but she did it anyway for the greater good of her family. 

Equality is not something that exists in farming. Women work as hard or even harder than men with no recognition. They are not even given the title of a farmer. If anything, this protest should bring light and change this disparity in the farming culture.  

A lot of these farms are run by strong women like my grandmother who had to fight her whole life for equality including when she fought hard to educate her daughters at a time when it was frowned upon for a woman to go to school, let alone university, but she made that happen. These steps to equality do not happen overnight but rather over time.  

This protest is showing us that more work needs to be done.  With women in the front lines not just as caregivers to the male farmers, but also as equal protestors, will highlight the gender inequalities and will call on the younger generation to change them. Again, a change that will not happen overnight.

This month I lost my grandmother at the age of 93. As I look at the pictures of the strong women at the protest sites, it reminds me of her strength. When the protest started, she constantly shared her support for the farmers. She even said that if she was back in India, she would be on the front lines too.   

She knew that this protest was not just a farming bill fight, but also a fight for equality that would bring much-needed change.  This is the passion and strength that comes from these farming women like my grandmother.  So, when Bollywood celebrities say or spread terrible news about the protest, it makes us angry.  The idea that women joining the protests and not being competent enough to understand the proposed farming bills, is infuriating. 

Women like my grandmother have given their whole lives to support, work, and flourish these farms with no recognition at all.  They are not just a shadow in the background but are equal partners in this fight.  They understand the complexities and repercussions these bills will have on their lives and want to ensure that they are treated justly.  They want to ensure that their voices are heard. In that process, further changes to farming equality will happen.

With the women farmers featured on the front page of Time magazine, we need to understand and acknowledge the significant role these women have always played in farming. They deserve rights and recognition. These rights include access to land, financing, and equal treatment.   The images of these women are a sad reality of what we are lacking in our own cultural compass.  Most of the women featured do not own their own land but are at the forefront fighting for members of their family without having a legal financial gain.  This is the real fight that we need to acknowledge.  These are not just women protestors.  They are farmers.

I hope the stories of the women farmers, like my grandmother, will have an impact on future generations of women. I hope that this will give my daughters the strength to speak up against injustice and atrocities. There is no silencing these women. They are fearless. They understand that complacency is not an option. They are standing firm to shape HER-Story for future generations to come. It is time we celebrated this part of our story and the change it will bring in the future for women farmers.

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Meenu Kanwal-Ghag is a Chartered Insurance Professional and has been working in the insurance industry as a Litigation, Advisor/Consultant for the last 20 years. She is a mother of three girls.  


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