Over time, rural women of India, as women of many Global South communities, have found ways to leapfrog legal, societal, and colonial constrictions chiseled on their lifeworld and longings. And in doing so, they have relentlessly decolonized what land and food have meant for my people.

Women have been overcoming especially those boundaries incised during the British Raj (British rule) that attempted to civilize the “barbaric natives.” While the fight to salvage the condition of the woman was fought between Indian men, British men, and British women—the battleground became the “backs of Indian women.” Another set of boundaries Indian women are disentangling relates to ownership and property rights. The fervor of the British Raj, and now of transnational corporations and local elites, to shift lands from community ownership to private control of a few (usually) affluent men continues to denigrate women’s status from being equal and prolific members of an agrarian society to dependent wives with limited access to productive resources.

Many famines ravaged India during the Raj, predominantly due to British greed and mismanagement. Notably, nearly five million people perished in the Great Bengal Famine of 1943-1944, as grains were redirected to British soldiers overseas. The global share of the Indian economy, once 24 percent in the Mughal era, plummeted to 2 percent by 1947. As a result of this systematic hollowing of India’s food basket, today India is home to a quarter of the world’s hungry, 60 percent of which are women. With 65 percent of the population living in rural areas, agriculture is increasingly feminized where women perform 80 percent of farm work. However, they constitute hardly 14 percent of landowners, owning 11 percent of farmland in rural landowning households. This is concerning data, as weak control over land invariably leads to diminished food security. And inequities are exacerbating because Indigenous peoples are often not granted legal rights for lands under their customary rights.

Read the full article about women working land in rural India by Ashka Naik at Stanford Social Innovation Review.