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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 6/12/15

"Hard work overcomes hard luck": Leela Shikhdar

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Leela Shikhdhar was born in a farmer's family of village Gabia. She had to leave her studies midway after passing Class 8 as her mother got sick and the responsibility of managing the household chores and looking after her four siblings fell upon her. But after her marriage she managed to finish her high school. Leela was married at the age of 13 years, in a farmer's household that owned 30 bighas of land. Her husband, the eldest of 3 male siblings, had studied till class 7 and was into farming.

Life after marriage

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Two years into her marriage, Leela had serious menstrual problems and there were remote chances of her recovering from her illness. Her husband had to contribute his income to the family pool and had nothing left to spend on her treatment. Since her husband's family declined to pay for her medical treatment, her parents bore the cost of seeking medical advice from several private doctors, including faith healers. Eventually both she and her husband were asked to leave the family house without being given any share in family property.

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Her work and achievements

Establishing their own house and making an independent living was a major concern for them, but they managed to survive. Both of them started working as daily wage labourers to earn their livelihood. Meanwhile Leela's health also improved and she became the proud mother of 2 sons in quick succession.

After sometime they could save enough money to rent 2 bighas of land for contract farming and began growing pointed gourd (parval) on it, while continuing to work as daily wage labourers. They would take their vegetable produce on a bicycle to sell it in Puranpur mandi. At this point of time, they were managing to save INR 10,000 -- 15,000 every year after taking care of the living expenses. Within 2-3 years they could save enough to invest in opening a small roadside grocery shop. But unfortunately Leela was once again became sick and had to close the shop. All the family savings were used up during the next 2-3 years in her treatment. None of her extended family from her parents or her husband's side came to attend to her. Those were testing times. Her husband would do the farming and labour work while taking care of her and the family. She gradually regained her health and since then has not become sick ever.

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Leela had no previous experience of farming. She learnt her lessons in farming-- such as sowing, weeding, ploughing, and harvesting-- while working as a farm labourer. Now they own 2.5 acres of land and also have 3 acres of land leased from someone else for contract farming. So now they are doing farming over 5.5 acres of land. Today she grows spices, brinjal, banana, potato, turmeric, etc. She sells her farm produce to local middlemen who sell it in Delhi.

Leela is also actively involved with Aaroh Mahila Kisaan Manch ('Aaroh' is a campaign for rights and recognition of women farmers in Uttar Pradesh supported by Oxfam India). Her engagement with Aaroh led her to get trained in vermi-culture and vermi-composting, with support from Vinoba Sewa Ashram. Earlier she had no knowledge about its benefits, but now she has shifted from chemical farming to organic farming. This has increased her farm's productivity--while her neighbour's field is able to produce 20 quintals of bananas per acre with chemical based farming, her organic farm gives a yield of 30 quintals per acre. She also saves money that was spent earlier on buying urea as there is no need of urea in organic farming. The risk of crops getting infected is also less in organic farming.

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