In rural Bundelkhand, women farmers work 24×7. They are sowing, nurturing, ensuring the safety of the fields, looking after cattle, harvesting, threshing— hands-on with every step of the cycle. Except when it’s ploughing or tilling time, because that typically involves driving a tractor and handling of big machinery, which typically falls under the man’s domain.
One woman in Lalitpur, however, chooses to disagree.
Indira, a woman farmer from the Lalitpur district of Uttar Pradesh, seems to be pushing the envelope and upsetting the status quo the way it should be done.
As the first woman from these parts, who drives the tractor in her farms—a task associated with men alone, since it’s a ‘heavy vehicle’—she has been breaking norms ever since she decided to try her hand at it. After all, you don’t have to lift it—you just drive it.
She’s completely self-taught, we learn, as we make our way to meet her—“that mahila tractor driver in Lalitpur”; the stuff of rural legends. She watched the men drive their tractors and learnt how to beat them at their own game. “My brother used to drive the tractor on our farm earlier. I used to simply watch him and learn. Then I started taking time out every day to drive it myself. And I was good at it.” She upped her confidence by driving it up a few notches, quite literally, “Once I took it on to the main road and drove it there. Manoeuvring it there, with people around, was a huge learning experience. After that, driving in the fields seemed like a cakewalk.”
Today, Indira is the go-to person for her entire family when it comes to farming—she is their obvious choice for to drive the tractor. She smiles and credits her parents for support. “They gave me the freedom to continue with it. And now they don’t hesitate even for a bit, while giving me all sorts of work on the fields. And I do them all.”
Farming is hard work and Indira is up for it, “I believe in work. How much ever one works, I feel it is still not enough. You can do more; you can learn more.”
Initially when Indira would start her day with the unmistakable tak-tak-tak of the tractor, people—mostly men and boys—would come to watch her. They would stand around amused, or try and mock her, waiting for her to make a mistake. But Indira managed to tune out these disturbances, just as she tuned out ‘social expectations’. “People used to find it very strange when I started driving the tractor. They would actually laugh at me; challenge me on what else I was planning to take on—which other man’s work.” We feel an eye-roll coming on at this point, but Indira would rather just get on with it. Donning her shoes and preparing to climb on top of the tractor, she says, “I didn’t pay any attention. As if I have the time to get off the tractor and listen to what they have to say!”