5 Bigha Zameen
A year long socially engaged art practice with the women farmers along the Yamuna in Delhi towards rights based advocacy and rethinking our collective imaginations of the city
As our cities gradually engulf the rural areas around them, some fragments of ‘rural’ stay embedded within them. However, their practices of food production and habitation have become peripheral spaces within the city. In Delhi, these are the farming and fishing communities who have been living on the edge of the river Yamuna for decades. These communities are slowly and violently being pushed out of the city whose ‘world class’ dreams grow bigger by the year. The farmers on the floodplains have been facing regular evictions and live in constant precarity due to lack of formal land tenure.
5 bigha or 1 acre is the minimum unit of land for subsistence of the farmers of Yamuna Khadar - the eastern floodplains of Yamuna in the city. While this unit of area has been long used as a guiding principle in urban planning, it is more importantly the basic element linked to the lives, livelihoods and histories of farmers who are today facing the imminent threat of erasure from the heart of the capital city. The year long engagement as part of the "Peripheries and Crossovers" project supported by Khoj Studios focused on rights based advocacy with the women of Yamuna Khadar on one hand and creating public awareness on their invisible role in the city, on the other.
Women form a significant part of farming activities across the world (43%, according to the Food and Agricultural Organisation) and an even larger contribution when it comes to farming in urban areas. However, most women in urban farming across the world are also landless, which is the case in Delhi too. As with most other occupations, a large part of their work is hidden labor such as sale of fresh produce at markets, tending to cattle or processing activities such as winnowing, threshing and grinding of grain or making jaggery, weaving baskets etc. This is often on top of the household work that almost entirely falls on them. The women who grow our food (roughly 20% of Delhi’s vegetables are farmed along the Yamuna) are, hence, the invisible and silent labor within the communities that are already invisible to the rest of the city and left ignored by policy makers.
It is critical to share these stories of their lives and livelihoods with the rest of the city that is at a threat of losing them completely. There is an urgent need to change the existing public perception of farmers along the Yamuna who are often stigmatised as polluters of the river due to their marginalized status. On the contrary, they are food producers who support the city, which became visibilised for a while, during the lockdown months when state borders were sealed and neighboring areas sustained on fresh produce from the floodplains. We need to understand and share tacit knowledge on indigenous farming practices to be able to change the current narrative of ‘farm to plate’. A ‘farmers market’ is seen as a clean, desirable and ecologically sustainable space by the bourgeoisie of the city while the ‘mandi’ is a utilitarian but messy space seen as fit only for the lower middle income groups and the urban poor.
The project concluded with an outdoor public exhibition on the floodplains of the Yamuna and public walks led by the farmers called 'Chalo Yamuna' to create public awareness on their contribution to the city and the imminent loss that faces us through their forced eviction. The walks by the farmers and community leaders continue through https://www.chaloyamuna.com/