A Tale Of Gokulpur

Land Acquisition and Women's Empowerment

Arup Majumder

[This papers aims to analyse an aspect of Marxist feminism and its practice or applicability in the families of Gokulpur village, West Midnapore district of West Bengal after the land acquisition. This paper shows how the economic turmoil forced women to come out of their domestic sphere breaking free from patriarchal dominance and got employed in wage work and changed the social and economic structure that men have been taking advantage of throughout ages otherwise.]

Women Empowerment has changed the world. In the history of human liberation movement, empowerment of women has become a crucial foundation. Since the seventies due to its influence, the prevailing theories and trends about the society, men and women began to change radically around the globe. With the spreading of feminist theories a change has been noticed even in the realm of Sociology. Emphasising on the perspectives of women, analysis of issues have began that was not in the mainstream for a long period of time. Gradually a distinct genre of feminism in sociological thought has enacted in the world.

Feminism is a social ideology and movement that values gender equality. It aims at breaking the oppressive patriarchal structure, gender discrimination as well as seeks rights to women. It is also a united and conscious attempt to provide physical, social, cultural, economical, political, sexual, power, identity based rights to women.

Although there was a formal development of revolution in the Euro-American countries, the foundation of feminism was laid by women power and conscious effort even in this subcontinent just like the third world countries.

The Western White Feminism is developed in the writings by Mary Wollstonecraft, C Wright Mills, Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx, Simone de Beauvoir,Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, and the Women Rights Movement thereafter and later in the fiery writings of Kate Millett, Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer.

But besides knowing the history of the movement it must be taken into account that the battle fought for women have never been well received by the larger society. Satirical comments, ridicules or even the cold attitude of the society could not stop them. They were inexorable. Thus they were brutally violated outside and inside the four walls.

About 30 years ago, a pig-iron manufacturing company named Tata Metaliks, acquired about 200 acres of land from Gokulpur, a small village in the Paschim Midnapore district of West Bengal (Majumder and Guha 2008). About 91 families have lost 0.5-6.0 acres of paddy cultivation land, which as a result altered their lifestyle. They were much inclined to non-agricultural occupation and had to leave their main agriculture related occupation. So, they have faced food insecurity in their household level. Prior to land acquisition, they were dependent on the crops produced in their own lands but after that, people were seen to buy staplefood (paddy) from their local market (Majumder 2011).

On the other hand, the compensation money they had received in return of their lands, was vested in the marriage of the unmarried girls of the family who didn’t even complete their secondary school education (Majumder 2016). As a result, the marriage at an early age has not only deflected the social, physical and mental condition of a girl but also increased the rate of girl dropout from school in the society.

Apart from these, several others socio-economic changes are found among the land losers than the non- land losers. One such instance is the disintegration of family. That is, the joint families of the land loser have been broken down rapidly and thus resulted into nuclear family in comparison to the non-land losers which subsequently resulted in the fragmentation of the remaining land (Majumder 2016). As a result the rate of production of crop has decreased.

Amidst everything, there developed a sense of consciousness among the women which has been observed in the land loser family. And the reason for this consciousness is the acquisition of their farm lands which resulted in a socio-economic crisis in their family. The women of those families have paved the way for their social, cultural and political rights with the help of the male members of the family. The married women of Gokulpur village of Paschim Midnapore, West Bengal engaged themselves in various non-agricultural outdoor works because of the economic downturn after land acquisition.

55-24-Land Acquisition-A Majumder

In the Table-1, there is an attempt to quantify the work participation of women within and outside the domestic domain under the impact of land acquisition. The table shows that even before the acquisition some of the women (11.03%) were already doing extra-domestic work to provide economic support to their families but the percentage of women doing extra-domestic work was nearly up to 50% of the total number of women after the acquisition. The table also shows that vegetable selling in the market became an important extra-domestic job for women of the land loser families. Some of the women were also found to engage in both vegetable selling and daily agricultural work to earn money.

So, the table clearly shows prior to land acquisition the women were only in charge household chores but after this, they stepped out from their houses, and started working outside to maintain the stability of family. A comparative study between these factors and the sudden rise of women consciousness will ensure that the women of these families were established as social beings, subdued under the patriarchal system. But the family has easily accepted them when they started to work outside to protect the family from financial trouble.

However, a typical case study of one housewife of a land loser family who is now engaged in extra-domestic work is given below to depict the condition of women under the impact of land acquisition.

Archana Ghosh (Age 53 years) is a Sadgope housewife who provided a helping hand to her husband in vegetable farming in the homestead land of their family. After two months of her marriage, her father-in-laws lost 3 acres of land. At that time there were seven members in the household. After acquisition they had only 0.5 acre of agricultural land, which was not at all sufficient to feed the whole family. She was advised by her husband to work outside the home to earn money. But being a newly married bride she could not do it. During that time her mother-in-law started to sell vegetables that they grew in their homestead land. But in the course of time she, along with her three sisters-in-law also started to sell vegetables in the Kharida Bajar, near Kharagpur town. At present she lives in a separate household with her husband and two children. Her elder son had to leave school two years ago and she laments for this tragic event. She also felt bad since she did not get any chance to look after her son and daughter properly because she has to spend considerable time outside her house to earn money for the family.

Thus all the social and political restrictions on women have been wiped off. If we take a closer look on the Western History, we can see that Mary Astell’s ‘Some Reflections Upon Marriage’ in 1700 is the first written reflection of women’s consciousness. The first organised form of revolution happened in the year 1840 because of two reasons, to demandthe right to vote for women and to establish gender equality. Finally they regained their civil right after a long and blood shaded struggle in Britain on 1918 and in America on 1920.

The main reason for presenting these issues about the women of the Sodgope family was that the women could easily go outside and work without any opposition by the family members, which was quite unusual as they were strictly not allowed work outside.

Therefore it can be said that that the women had achieved financial independence for the economic development of the family without any alleged revolution. Here, a similarity can be observed with liberal feminism because liberal feminists believed that the overall progress of women will be completed by reforming the social system. They were also of the belief that apart from their family life, women should actively participate in public as well as professional fields to remove the barriers in their way. A similar picture can be seen in the land loser families after land acquisition where the women could easily join in social life and other activities.

On the other hand, in Marxist Feminism one can see that the united pressure of Patriarchy and Capitalism in both homely and economical sect exploits women who end up making surplus value than them.

Moreover patriarchy, by emphasising the basic gender difference makes free wage work and parenting based on the comparison of the outside work market, declares these to be inclusive household responsibility for women and therefore this ideology is supported by Capitalism. Similar picture is also seen in the peasant's family of Gokulpur Village before the land acquisition.

For one thing the economic turmoil after the incident reduced the patriarchal dominance and forced them to be employed in wage work. According to Marxist Socialist critics, the unpaid service and loyalty by women was an advantage for the men. Also as women devoted themselves in domestic chores, there was no competition in the job world, which proved another advantage for the men. But the scenario changed after land acquisition where both engaged themselves in outside works. A definite path of women’s consciousness can be observed in that particular social structure.

This land acquisition silently created a social norm and gender equality which apparently is a good aspect of feminism. In other words, it is clear from the above analysis that any kind of economic recession reduces gender equality in the society.o

Majumder, Arup and Guha, Abhijit (2008):“A decade after land acquisition in Paschim Medinipur, West Bengal”, Journal of Anthropological society, Vol 43, pp 121-133.
Majumder, Arup (2011):“Landlessness to Kinlessness: A case Study of Peasant Joint Families under the Impact of Land Acquisition”, Journal of Indian Anthropological Society, Vol 46, pp 239- 249.
Majumder, Arup (2016):“Role of Gender towards Income Generation: An Impact Analysis of Land Acquisition in West Bengal, India”, Sociology Study, Vol 6, No 10, pp 639-652.

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Vol 55, No. 24, Dec 11 - 17, 2022