Social Scientist. v 15, no. 169 (June 1987) p. 16.


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Class, Gender and Agrarian Change :

An Analysis of the Status of Female Agricultural Labour in India

THIS PAPER seeks to study the status of female agricultural labourers (FALs) in rural India in terms of the nature and type of work performed by them in agriculture in the post-Green Revolution period. A study of FALs can be conceived as a study of women at a level where class and gender inequalities coincide. FALs in terms of class together with male agricultural labourers (MALs) are placed very low in the agrarian hierarchy ; in terms of gender they feel the burden of poverty and exploitation more heavily than MALs. Hence, a theoretical framework in which both class and gender inequality and their interaction is taken into consideration is necessary.

The introduction of technological change in the 1960s in the shape of High Yielding Varieties (HYVs) has been one of the major changes in the agricultural sector. It has had important consequences for women in rural areas that have not been fully studied. In theory it could be argued that technological change in agriculture could have both favourable and unfavourable effects on the position of rural women, that technology is neutral. Here it is important to remember that it is not the technology per se that promotes destitution, land eviction or proletarianization. This would mean a study of the technology in isolation which is not the aim here. Rather it can be argued that its neutrality/non-neutrality depends upon the socio-economic environment in which it is introduced and it is the interface of social and technological factors which determines the final outcome. This does not mean that the technology escapes blame. It has played a part in increasing the unequal relations inherent within the agrarian system both in terms of class and gender. As White head has pointed out, though the area—of women and technological change—is "under-researched", the evidence from empirical studies is less contradictory and ambiguous in its general trends than this neutral stance would suggest.1 The paper is divided into two parts. In Part I the concepts of class and gender as used here are briefly discussed; in Part II, some empirical

^Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.



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