Social Scientist. v 10, no. 110 (July 1982) p. 43.


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Role of Female Labour in Indian Agriculture

IN a predominantly agricultural country like India, women play a distinctive role in rural economic activities in earning a livelihood for the family. Except in the case of rich landowners and the upper castes, women of other categories are engaged in both the production and marketing of products of agriculture and handicrafts. Women of these categories also combine household work with these activities. Because of the complexities of the role of women in different types of work, it is very difficult to examine the women's contribution to family income through available employment statistics. There are almost intractable problems of definition as to what constitutes 'employment' and 'work' and as to who is a 'worker' and who is not. Whatever definition is adopted, it turns out to be over-simplistic and does not reflect the complexities of the situation. Until employment statistics relating to women are made more refined and meaningful, we are left with no option but to do the best we can with the available ones.

We shall discuss here the role of women in agriculture under the following heads: (i) participation rates in agriculture; (ii) type of farming activities; (in) wages and system of payment.

Female Labour Participation

There has been some difficulty in assessing the number of women workers, especially in agriculture, due to the fact that Census concepts have changed from decade to decade. 'Earners' and 'earner dependents' have been classified differently in different Census reports. However, the Planning Commission of India has said: "During the decades 1901-11 and 1911-21, the participation of female workers in agriculture actually increased even in relative terms. In the following two decades, a decline occurred which was followed by a rise during the decade 1941-51. Even this rise could not restore the level of economic activity among females as experienced till 1921."1

Comparison of data on female work participation between 1951 and 1961 also indicated a falling rate. Some keen controversies in this context were raised by the results of the 1961 Census relating to the work force and occupation distribution.2 The same question has



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