Gender, Grapes and Bullock Carts

Maharashtran grapes (640x480).jpg
By Madeleine Spain
Bachelor of International and Global Studies
Entering our second day at the Tuljapur campus of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, our group of intrepid scholars departed in the morning for a day visiting rural villages. This was a fantastic way for all of us to put what we had been learning in our seminars and our assigned readings into context, as well as having the opportunity to talk to some of the locals and gain first-hand insight into daily life in Indian rural villages. Coming from a rural background myself, it was particularly interesting to learn about the agricultural practices of a completely different country, and to compare and contrast these to what is practiced at home in Australia. When we arrived in the first village we were immediately ushered into the local temple for a welcoming ceremony. What began as a traditional ceremony, with our group leaders being done up in traditional headdresses, culminated in a question and answer session with many of the local people. Questions that were asked by the locals ranged from who is going to win the cricket world cup to asking us detailed questions on the methods of irrigation used in Australia as well as specific questions such as the average annual rainfall throughout Australia. Likewise, we were able to ask many questions, through which learned that one of the major crops grown around the village is sugarcane, and that the population of the village is approximately 3000 people.
A major observation of all members of the Field School group was the general absence of women. Of the large group of 100 or so villagers who came to the temple to talk with us, only about three were women. As gender is a major determinant of the division of roles within communities (as in many other different countries throughout the world) the absence of women in the temple was indicative of local gender division of labour: men undertake most decision making in the village, while the women looking after the household. Our tour of the local government office and village households revealed how the gender division plays out in the day-to-day life of the village.
Our visit to a grape farm just outside of the village allowed us to observe key agricultural practices at work, such as irrigation. The irrigation system of the grape farm relied on a large well, with the water pumped into the well from below the ground. This water was then piped to the vines. The farm was only 2.5 acres – much smaller than the large-scale farming we are used to in Australia. The visit to the farm also gave us an insight into the evolution of the agricultural sector in India. Liberalisation of the Indian economy has contributed to a shift from subsistence farming to cash cropping – that is, growing crops in order to earn an income. We also learned that a major problem for farmers is the ‘middle man’. The ‘middle man’ takes a large cut of the farmer’s potential income.
Driving out of the village in the afternoon, we passed a number of carts carrying harvested sugarcane. These carts pulled by large cows. This traditional method of transporting harvested crops contrasted greatly with what we had experienced in Mumbai: this old, rural practice of transportation juxtaposed against the commercial, consumer driven urban centre. From my experience so far on this field trip, what strikes me most about modern India is the contrast between rural and urban life, the traditional and Western lifestyles. India is a fascinating place to study.