55 years old Teeja Devi was born in village Bargadavaan in a family of farm labourers. The youngest of 4 siblings, her father died even before she was born. A father less Teeja had a tough childhood. She grew up amid fields, and from early childhood farming became part of her daily life. Teeja studied till class 5 and then was married in a rural household of a nearby village. Teeja reminiscences--"I was too young when I got married-- perhaps a child bride. I have no recollections of my marriage. The only thing I remember is that I was brought in a bullock cart to my in-laws house".
Life was not easy in her new household either. Her husband was jobless. From doing her daily household chores in a joint family to helping in tilling the land, Teeja performed all her duties with aplomb. There was just 1 bigha of land on which she grew millet, corn, wheat, paddy, and lentils. Farming was next nature to her as she had been involved with it since early childhood. And so was fighting for one's rights.
But when it came to division of family land, her husband was handed over fallow land, while the other brothers kept the fertile land as well as some prime land near the main road. Teeja blew the bugle of revolt and after many difficulties managed to get the farmland redistributed fairly among the brothers. Later, she also managed to get her husband his rightful share of the prime land, which his brothers were trying to usurp. She now lives in a house built on this land with her husband, son, daughter-in-law and 2 grandchildren.
Although the land, which Teeja tills is in the name of her husband, he dare not sell it against her wishes. "If I want I can get it in my name today. Once he wanted to sell some land. I told him to give half of it to me and then do whatever he wanted with his portion," she says.
Her achievements as a farmer
Teeja brought about many changes in her farming techniques after she came in contact with GEAG (Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group) and they saw her ability and interest in farming. She was designated a model farmer and also became a member of Aaroh Mahila Kisaan Manch ('Aaroh' is a campaign for rights and recognition of women farmers in Uttar Pradesh supported by Oxfam India). Getting involved with such organisations further helped her develop her potential as a woman farmer leader. Through them she got information about organic pesticides, and organic manure, which she had not known before. She also got trained to make organic manure, pesticides, dyes, and even organic urea with the help of cow dung, cow urine, jaggery and gram flour.
"I am an independent woman farmer. I do not depend upon my husband to help me. I do all the sowing of crops myself. I grow paddy, wheat, mustard, maize, millets, til (sesame) and vegetables on the two and a half bigha (1 bigha= 0.5-0.6 acres) of agricultural land which my husband inherited. I sell my agricultural produce in the nearby market and also in the mandi (main market) in Gorakhpur."
However things are not always rosy. Like so many other farmers, Teeja also has to contend with vagaries of weather. "This (1st week of October, 2014) was the time to grow green leafy vegetables like spinach and they would have fetched a high price too. But the fields are flooded with rainwater and by the time they are good enough to sow these vegetables the prices would fall. So that is a huge financial loss for us."